Sign of slight improvement detected in IPCC green files

In her book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert, Donna Laframboise highlighted in Chapter 29, The Cut-and-Paste Job (Kindle Locations 1725-1728) the highly dubious appointment of an Anthony McMichael as the Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Climate Bible’s first health chapter. McMichael is an Australian epidemiology professor.

Donna had noted:

According to a 2001 bio, McMichael’s early research interests spanned a considerable range of topics – mental health, occupational diseases, the link between diet and cancer, and environmental epidemiology. In the late 1980s he co-authored a “bestselling guide to a healthier lifestyle” that discussed nutrition and physical fitness. The bio tells us it was only “during the 1990s” that McMichael developed “a strong interest” in the health risks associated with global environmental change. So in the early 1990s, out of all the experts in the entire world the IPCC might have chosen to oversee the writing of a chapter examining how climate change might impact human health, why was McMichael selected?

I suspect it had a great deal to do with another book he wrote – the one that appeared in 1993 titled Planetary Overload: Global Environmental Change and the Health of the Human Species. This book’s central theme is that human activity is undermining the planet’s ecosystem. Its tone and analysis are similar to hundreds of other environmental treatises published in recent decades.

But the really interesting part about the IPCC’s first ever chapter on climate change and human health is:

There is a straight line between what the UN’s 1995 Climate Bible told the world about health issues and what McMichael had already written in his 1993 book. Planetary Overload isn’t included among the 182 references listed at the end of the health chapter. Which is curious, since entire passages of the Climate Bible were lifted directly from it.

My research has indentified 11 instances in which the wording in these two documents is almost identical. (Kindle Locations 1759-1775) [emphasis added -hro]

Quite astounding that such a thorough and transparent “gold standard” process should have let so many examples of blatant unattributed text slip into an assessment report, don’t you think?!

Kind of makes one wonder how many more such examples might be found in other assessment reports.

But at least this time around – according to the files leaked to Donna by the Secret Santa – the IPCC is making an effort to identify (prior to publication) any suspect text.

On the Green data stick there’s a folder called “WGII AR5 FOD Plagiarism Screen” [path green\Buenos Aires Documentation\c_ExpertReviewFiles\]

There’s a report for each chapter, as well as a document entitled “Explanation of iThenticate Report.pdf” [copy available here] which indicates the following:

iThenticate checks written work for duplicate and unattributed content against the world’s largest comparison database, providing in–‐depth reports to the WG2 TSU. This software ensures that all work in the FOD is original before the AR5 goes to press.

Every chapter has been checked using the iThenticate software. The report generated for your chapter was then edited by the TSU to include only pages that contain passages of content that is inadequately attributed.

The PDF is comprised of 2 parts. The first part lists what iThenticate identifies as original material. This is listed starting with the largest match. These original sources are then ranked according to the size of the match within the text. Each source is given a different color to help identify it within the text. [emphasis added -hro]

It’s certainly too bad for the IPCC that a product such as iThenticate was not available at the time of McMichael’s involvement in authorship, don’t you think?

I also wonder what might have precipitated the IPCC’s decision to utilize such technology – and when it was first implemented. If – as I’m inclined to suspect – it’s because they got caught with their pants down as a consequence of Donna’s investigations, the very least the IPCC could have done was say “thank you”, wouldn’t you agree?!

And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the powers that be (i.e. the Chapter Authors – or perhaps the TSU?) are obliged to follow the recommendations – just as they are not obliged to respect Reviewer Comments, or those of the Review Editors.

YMMV, but I find it quite astounding that they would go to all this trouble to make sure that source material is “adequately attributed”, yet they find it “too impractical” to include a simple flag which would identify non-peer-reviewed source material.

[UPDATE: 01/11/2013 11:39 AM PST: Please see additional info on use of grey lit in my comment below -hro]

Unlike the recommendation that existing rules on flagging be strengthened, this check for plagiarism wasn’t even included in the InterAcademy Council’s 2010 Review of the IPCC Procedures and Processes.

But all of that aside … it is a sign of slight improvement. First one I’ve seen, come to think of it ;-)

9 thoughts on “Sign of slight improvement detected in IPCC green files

  1. On the Grey literature front, it is interesting to note that one of the files [path Blue\Tsukuba Documentation\QuikStart Guides\NJLite-Search_QuikStart.pdf] contains the following:

    As part of the review process and for long-term archival, the IPCC Working Group II Technical Support Unit (TSU) must be able to provide to any requester all cited material in the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) first-order (Expert Review) and subsequent drafts that is not available via traditional sources (e.g., peer-reviewed journals). NJ Lite is the online database created by the WGII TSU to catalogue the non-journal (grey) literature referenced by the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). This guide provides a brief overview of how to browse and search the AR5 NJ Lite library. [emphasis added -hro]

    And yet it is too “impractical” to add a flag to the reference indicating that the material is “non-journal (grey) literature”.

    Speaking of which, while perusing the comments of Chapter 3 of the Zero Order Draft (ZOD) I came across the following [path \Gold\San Francisco Documentation\Meeting Information\Comments\Collations\AR5ZODCh03_comments.xls

    There are four references to Ackerman and Stanton (2008). This paper has not been peer-reviewed. In all four instances, there is peer-reviewed literature available, with conclusions that differ from Ackerman and Stanton. Why do you give precendence to gray literature? (Tol, Richard S.J., Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

  2. I do not know whether WG1 and WG3 also use iThenticate. I’m not sure what to make of it. Reading iThenticate reports is not trivial, and it only guards against plagiarism.

    The TSU of WG2 insists that all gray material be collated in a central database. The software used would allow the database to be opened to anyone upon publication. That is a clear improvement, but it of course does not guarantee that the IPCC report faithfully reflects the literature.

    • Thanks, Richard.

      Having looked at a few of the iThenticate reports (as helpfully edited by the TSU), I can understand your observation that reading (and presumably making appropriate use of) them is not a trivial matter.

      Would I be correct in assuming that WG2 has not used iThenticate (or similar … uh … precautionary technology) for previous assessment reports?

      Would I also be correct in assuming that – for the most part – each WG continues to interpret and adapt all the IPCC policies, procedures and “guidance” notes to their own liking requirements?

    • iThenticate is indeed a new development for the IPCC.

      There are indeed large differences between working groups, and even between chapters within the same working group, with regard to attitudes towards gray literature, systematic literature review, promotion of own work, politicization, etc.

      I’m always a little wary of people talking about “the IPCC” as if it is a monolith.

    • I’m always a little wary of people talking about “the IPCC” as if it is a monolith.

      I’m inclined to think that your “wariness” is not without foundation.

      Nonetheless, I trust you will agree that it has always been presented/described as though it is a monolith. A presentation that the MSM (the primary promulgator of IPCC findings/pronouncements) – is no doubt encouraged/misled by the IPCC’s very own advertisement/message:

      The IPCC provides governments with a clear view of the current state of knowledge about the science of climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation, through regular assessments of the most recent information published in scientific, technical and socio-economic literature worldwide. IPCC assessments are policy-relevant, but not policy-prescriptive.

      YMMV (as may that of others), but the view from here, so to speak, is that it would be extremely difficult to detect any signal of diversity in – or diversion from – a monolithic message.

      And thanks for the confirmation that use of iThenticate and/or facsimiles thereof is a new, improved enhancement to the work of the IPCC (well at least that of WG2)

      In light of your:

      There are indeed large differences between working groups, and even between chapters

      Perhaps my own assessment that:

      Each WG continues to interpret and adapt all the IPCC policies, procedures and “guidance” notes to their own liking requirements

      is not too far off the mark.

    • Agreed.

      WG1 and WG2 both had their stuff leaked. In the first case, the IPCC reacted angrily. In the second case, the IPCC response was much milder. That may be because Rawls spun his leak, and Laframboise just wrote “here it is”. It is more likely, though, that it is because Stocker and Field, the respective working group chairs, are very different people.

      I indeed also wish that the IPCC would stop presenting itself as a monolith. Back in the days of Bert Bolin, the guidelines were that IPCC work would be referred to as (Smith et al., 1996). Nowadays, references are to (IPCC, 2007).It is not just that a reference to a 3000 page document is meaningless, the old style reflects human fallibility, the new style bureaucratic fatwa.

    • [re different responses to leaks:]

      It is more likely, though, that it is because Stocker and Field, the respective working group chairs, are very different people.

      My perception is that Stocker seems to have his fingers in an awful lot of IPCC pies. (I wonder if he’s positioning himself to replace Pachauri if the IPCC survives AR5).

      And I was not impressed with Fields’ “responses” to Pielke Jr’s well-documented litany of errors a few months ago.

      But, IMHO, there is one other distinctive difference between backgrounds to the IPCC responses to Rawls and Laframboise: Rawls was a reviewer who “broke confidentiality”. But, assuming that the IPCC is somewhat cautious in distributing these data sticks at the Lead Author meetings, they had to have been gobsmacked by this “betrayal” on the part of an insider.

      I would guess that they probably felt just as “betrayed” by this action (although, curiously, they make no mention of it in their Press Release!), as they probably were by the many critical comments from “insiders” in response to the IAC’s questionnaire – which, as I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, provided so much of the source material for Donna’s TDT…!.

      Incidentally, have you heard any mutterings – or received any “reprimands” and/or “take it down” demands – from the powers-that-be regarding your “experiment” with the drafts (and comments and your responses thereto)?!

      Speaking of which … any chance you would give some consideration to selecting a different template (or at least colour scheme) for that blog?

      White on black is really challenging for aging eyes, such as mine; it does not make for a smooth read – or ease of comprehension – I’m afraid:-(

  3. PS, reading trick. For perversely inverted font color schemes like that, it sometimes helps to highlight what you’re reading; it reverses the colors, generally.

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