by Judith Curry
I’ve finished reading Donna Laframboise’s book “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert: An Expose of the IPCC.”
Reviews are pouring in at amazon.com: 38 out of 46 reviewers give it 5 stars. Peter Gleick gives it 1 star, stating “This book is a stunning compilation of lies, misrepresentations, and falsehoods about the fundamental science of climate change. ” It is difficult to believe that Gleick has read the book from the statements in his reviews; the book is not about the science of climate change. Rather, it is about the IPCC as an institution: the use of graduate students, WWF and Greenpeace sympathizers as IPCC authors; the use of gray environmentalist literature in IPCC (especially WG2); lack of conflict of interest oversight; the review process and the process producing the executive summaries; etc.
The book is well written with ample documentation (numerous hyperlinks in the kindle version). The target audience is the broader public, and the “spoiled child” metaphor provides a readable narrative for her arguments about the IPCC. Most (not all) of this material I’ve seen before, but Laframboise’s narrative makes a clear and compelling case regarding problems with the IPCC. Notably, she covers distinctly different ground from Montford’s book “The Hockey Stick Illusion.” Her final chapter is entitled “Disband the IPCC.” She makes a good case for this.
As a student of the IPCC since December 2009 (yes I was defending the IPCC until that point), I’ve looked at many of these issues myself. I’ve made some of the same points raised in this book. Here are some comments on passages from the text that struck me in some way, and provide a flavor of the parts of the book that I think are most significant:
“In the grown-up world, whenever important decisions and large amounts of money are involved conflict-of-interest mechanisms are firmly in place. . . well into the 21st century [the IPCC] saw no need to even discuss conflict-of-interest.
A quote from Mark Twain: ” . . . people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
“We all made the mistake of believing the IPCC was a gem of an organization simply because it is connected to protecting the environment.”
“How can a young man without even a Masters degree become an IPCC lead author? Good question. . . Rather than recruiting real experts like Reiter the IPCC enlisted young, inexperienced, non-experts instead.”
A quote from an IPCC lead author: “There are far too many politically correct appointments, so that developing country scientists are appointed who have insufficient competence to do anything useful.”
A quote from a team member from a developing country: “The team members from the developing countires (including myself) were made to feel welcome and accepted as part of the team. In reality we were out of our intellectual depth as meaningful contributors to the process.”
Laframboise attributes these appointments to UN diversity goals. I suspect that the UN’s objective is to obtain “buy in” from the developing countries for the UNFCCC policies.
“Rather than keeping its distance from those whose careers have been associated with activism, the scientific establishment now honors, celebrates and promotes such people.”
“The research bodies that fund climate modeling teams don’t appear to have taken any precautions against groupthink. Nor has the IPCC subjected climate models to rigorous evaluation by neutral disinterested parties. “
“It turns out that few people understand how the IPCC makes some of its most important decisions.”
A quote from an IPCC participant: “After being [either a lead author or a coordinating lead author] several times, I still have no idea how I was selected. This is unacceptable.”
‘[The IPCC] feels no need to look under the hood- and discourages its expert reviewers from doing so.”
A quote from an IPCC insider: “As far as I can tell, there is no data quality assurance associated with what the IPCC is doing.”
Statement from Pachauri: “everything that we look at and take into acount in our assessments has to carry the credibility of peer-reveiwed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that.”
From Laframboise’s Citizen Audit: “Of the 18531 references in the 2007 Climate Bible we found 5,587 – a full 30% – to be non peer-reviewed.”
“It would appear that the relationship the IPCC has with its expert reviewers borders on the abusive. FIrst it asks these people to volunteer their time in good faith. Then it gives its authors the right to dismiss their input with nothing more than a single word: “rejected.” While expert reviewers are expected to comply with the IPCC’s deadlines, this organization feels no need to respect such deadlines itself. Instead, it nonchalantly adds in, after the fact, arguments and source materials these reviewers had no opportunity to asses.”
“People who know people at the IPCC have their yet-to-be-published work taken into account, but researchers without these sorts of connections are out of luck.”
“But a problem surely arises when journals are run by IPCC insiders themselves.”
“This is a circular, incestuous process. Scientists make decisions as journal editors about what qualifies as peer-reviewed literature. They then cite the same papers they themselves played midwife to while serving as IPCC authors.”
“What’s happened here is that the cart was put before the horse. The UN didn’t wait around for climate science to mature. They’d already decided that human-generated emissions were dangerous. Back in 1992, 154 nations endorsed this premature conclusion when they became signatories to the UNFCCC. . . The fourth edition of the Climate Bible, which contains the strongest yet still speculative and qualified language, appeared 15 years later.”
“One day the IPCC may come to be seen as a textbook case of how badly things can go wrong when political amateurs are recruited and manipulated by UN-grade political operatives.”
“Honestly. The IPCC was established by politicians, its experts are selected by politicians, and its conclusions are negotiated by politicians. A predetermined political agenda has been part of the landscape for the past 20 years. For [anyone] to whine that people who disagree with the IPCC are motivated by politics is the equivalent of someone who has lived by the sword complaining that they might die by it.”
How individuals, communities, and nations should respond is up for debate:
- Should we place our faith in new technologies, trusting that human ingenuity will find a way to neutralize excess carbon dioxide before global warming becomes acute?
- Should we focus the bulk of our attention on shoring up seawalls – and on ensuring that adequate water supplies are available to those most at risk of drought?
- Should we triple-check the world’s temperature records, just to make sure that the few tenths of a degree change that has everyone in a tizzy aren’t, in fact, the result of errors?
- Should we trust that future generations will be smart, well-equipped human beings capable of taking care of themselves?
- Or should we declare that the one and only acceptable solution is drastic worldwide emissions reductions starting now?
[The] IPCC doesn’t write scientific reports for their own sake. Those scientists are there for a purpose. That purpose is to produce material useful to the UNFCCC.
A whole chapter of Pachauri gems, here is one: “I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible form the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development. That’s the real issue. Climate change is just a part of it.”
“A grotesque aspect of the malaria issue is that anyone who truly cares about this disease need not concern themselves with global warming. A world that can’t rouse itself to do more about today’s malaria victims surely has no business using theoretical, sometime-in-the-future victims as ammunition in the climate debate.”
“The claim that 20-30% of the Earth’s species are at risk of extinction has been a hallmark of Pachauri’s speeches . . . [That chapter] depends almost entirely on a single, highly questionable piece of research. . . five out of 10 of this chapter’s most senior personnel have a formal documented link to the World Wildlife Fund. There is no way to know which sections of this IPCC chapter represent the opinions of scientists who’ve jumped into bed with the WWF and which sections are . . . scientifically sound.”
Regarding the WWF infiltration of the IPCC:
- 28 out of 44 chapters (two-thirds) included at least one individual affiliated with the WWF
- 100% of the WG2 chapters included at least 1 WWF affiliated scientist
- 15 out of 44 chapters (one-third) were led (coordinating lead authors) by WWF-affiliated scientists
Re the hockey stick: “The essential point here is that the IPCC aggressively promoted a graph that had been produced by a young scientist who’d just been awarded his Ph.D. Even though that graph overturned decades of scholarship, even though it negated a widespread consensus about what the temperature record of the past 1,000 years looked like, the IPCC didn’t bother to verify its accuracy.”
“What goes on at the IPCC is not peer review as that term is normally understood . . . To sum up, the IPCC is inordinately proud of its review process. It expects us to be impressed by how many people are involved and by how many comments it receives and addresses. But this process is fatally flawed. It is not independent. It is easily short-circuited and circumvented. Nothing about it measures up to academic peer review.”
Regarding the impact of the IAC review of the IPCC: “Pachauri lingers, the flagging rule [of non peer reviewed papers] has vanished, and real action on conflict-of-interest has been pushed well into the future. [While the IPCC has established the new Executive Committee] there’s just one problem. While the IAC report said it should contain three independent voices, including people from outside the climate community, the IPCC thumbed its nose at that advice . . . instead gave four of its fulltime staff members seats at the table.”
“Their overarching message has been that this doesn’t touch the science, that the basic premise that human beings are altering the climate in dangerous ways remains unchallenged. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear this argument. What it conveniently ignores is that we’ve been told for years that the reason we should believe in human-caused climate change is because an elaborate and reliable IPCC process had examined matters and pronounced it a genuine and pressing problem. . . We’ve been urged to believe in the end result because the IPCC’s process is itself trustworthy.”
“What does all this tell us? It says the IPCC process is broken. It says the verdict that humans are responsible for causing dangerous climate change cannot stand. A new trial must be held.”
“The real moral of this story is that scientists are merely human. They can be as short-sighted and as political and as dishonorable as the rest of us.”
Overall, this is a very good book on an exceedingly important topic. I give it 4.5 stars rather than 5 stars, since the writing was a bit uneven. The unruly teenager metaphor too often leads to explicit scolding, which to me sometimes goes too far in leading the reader. Some of the points, while broadly valid, didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, IMO. A few examples:
- Much text is given the Landsea-Trenberth kerfuffle regarding hurricanes and the AR4. Laframboise doesn’t quite capture the complexity of this issue, and she mistakenly states “If not a single hurricane expert thinks there’s a link between hurricanes and global warming, how can it possible be OK for an IPCC senior author who is not a hurricane expert to make statements to the contrary at a press conference?” The press conference in question occurred in Spring 2005 when Emanuel was working on his paper (and the press conference motivated Webster to start working on this topic). By the time of the 2007 IPCC report, the IPCC did draw reasonabley responsible conclusions with a substantial degree of uncertainty.
- Chapter 3 The Top Scientists and Best Experts? makes a very valid point, but cites William Gray as an example of an expert that should have been included in the IPCC (Gray is far from the top of my list of people whose input I would value on the IPCC.)
- A digression into the Y2K bug opens up an unncessary can of worms.