by Judith Curry
Donna Laframboise at NoFrakkingConsensus has a new post entitled “IPCC Nobel Laureates Lack Scientific Credibility,” with the subheading:
IPCC insiders say many of those who shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize have weak scientific credentials. They were chosen because they are of the right gender or come from the right country.
The calibre of the participants has been declining. For the Second Assessment Report, the WG III policy chapter had a Nobel Laureate in economics (Kenneth Arrow) and a future Laureate (Joseph Stiglitz). For the Third Assessment Report, the WG III policy chapter had full professors of environmental economics and law from three prestigious universities – Peter Bohm, Stockholm; Thomas Heller, Stanford and Robert Stavins, Harvard. For the Fourth Assessment Report this had fallen to one full professor of environmental economics – Charles Kolstad, UC Santa Barbara. (p. 71)
Since I have been selected for several IPCC reports, I have no personal prejudice (or grouse) on the process. However, regarding the selection of Lead Authors, I am more worried since the distortions, opaqueness and arbitrariness that is lately creeping into the process seems alarming. It seems that knowledge and scientific contributions are increasingly at discount in selection of authors compared to the personal connections, affiliations and political accommodations. (p. 78)
The rationale for selecting IPCC authors is described in a paper by Hulme and Mahoney entitled “Climate Change: what do we know about the IPCC?” A relevant excerpt:
The second area where critical analysis of the expertise mobilised in the IPCC assessments has been made is with respect to the participation of developing country experts. Despite increasing attention paid by the IPCC governing bureau to these concerns since they were first expressed in the early 1990s (and continue to be expressed; e.g. Demeritt, 2001; Miller, 2007; Grundmann, 2007; Runci, 2007), the proportion of IPCC authors and reviewers from OECD versus non-‐OECD has not changed. For each of the Second, Third and Fourth Assessments Reports of the IPCC, the percentage of both authors and reviewers from the OECD nations has remained remarkably constant at between 80 and 82 percent (authors’ own assessment). For example, Kandlikar and Sagar (1999) examined the IPCC First and Second Assessment Reports with respect to the participation of Indian expertise and found the participation “heavily skewed in favour of some industrialised countries” (p.134).
The consequences of this ‘geography of IPCC expertise’ are significant, affecting the construction of IPCC emissions scenarios (Parikh, 1992), the framing and shaping of climate change knowledge (Shackley, 1997; Lahsen, 2007; O’Neill et al., 2010) and the legitimacy of the knowledge assessments themselves (Elzinga, 1996; Weingart, 1999; Lahsen, 2004; Grundmann, 2007; Mayer & Arndt, 2009; Beck, 2010). As Bert Bolin, the then chairmen of the IPCC remarked back in 1991: “Right now, many countries, especially developing countries, simply do not trust assessments in which their scientists and policymakers have not participated. Don’t you think credibility demands global representation?” (cited in Schneider, 1991). Subsequent evidence for such suspicions has come from many quarters (e.g. Karlsson et al., 2007) and Kandlikar and Sagar concluded their 1999 study of the North-‐ South knowledge divide by arguing, “… it must be recognised that a fair and effective climate protection regime that requires cooperation with developing countries, will also require their participation in the underlying research, analysis and assessment” (p.137). This critique is also voiced more recently by Myanna Lahsen (2004) in her study of Brazil and the climate change regime: “Brazilian climate scientists reflect some distrust of … the IPCC, which they describe as dominated by Northern framings of the problems and therefore biased against interpretations and interest of the South” (p.161).
JC’s comments: Back in 1979, the Charney Report on climate change was a model in the sense of providing an insightful assessment about the problem from the leading thinkers in the U.S. on this topic. The first IPCC assessment report had a good list of lead authors and coordinators, but each IPCC assessment report seems to have had a progressively weaker collection of scientists working on it (the problem is acute for WGII and III, but also exists for I). The emphasis of geographical diversity rather than elite scientific expertise and insight seems to have been motivated by getting “buy in” from the countries that were expected to participate in the UNFCCC treaty. The end result is industriousness rather than insight, designed to support a treaty. Participating individuals may not see it that way, but that seems to be the net result.