Responses to questionnaire on IPCC processes and procedures

As I had noted previously, the InterAcademy Council is a body that is conducting “an independent review of the processes and procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Based on this review, the IAC will issue a report with recommended measures and actions to strengthen IPCC’s processes and procedures so as to be better able to respond to future challenges and ensure the ongoing quality of its reports.”

There is now a questionnaire to which anyone may respond (deadline is July 1, 2010) For the record, the following are the questions, and my responses:

1. What role(s), if any, have you played in any of the IPCC assessment processes?

None whatsoever – unless one considers my own personal (albeit a layperson’s much belated) investigations and due diligence regarding the extent to which the IPCC has lived up to its stated objectives and procedures, as “play[ing] a role in the IPCC assessment processes”. Which, for the record, I would not consider as playing any “role(s)”

2. What are your views on the strengths and weaknesses of the following steps in the IPCC assessment process? Do you have any recommendations for improvement?

a.Scoping and identification of policy questions
b.Election of bureau including working group chairs
c.Selection of lead authors
d.Writing of working group reports
e.Review processes
f.Preparation of the Synthesis report, including the Summary for Policy Makers
g.Adoption of report by the IPCC plenary
h.Preparation of any special reports

I have no comment on a. or b.

Regarding c. I believe that it is unfortunate that the selection of “Lead Authors” frequently includes those whose “contributions” are often featured/cited in the Assessment Reports, thereby contributing to the perception of lack of impartiality, if not outright conflict of interest.

Regarding d. From what I’ve seen, the writing is quite unprofessional. As one Lead Author (Andrew Weaver) has recently commented, during an interview (CBC radio program “The Current”, Feb. 10, 2010) “scientists put together [their contributions to the Assessment Reports] ‘off the side of their desks’.”

Regarding e. In my view, the so-called “Review Process” – which the above noted Weaver has called “incredibly intense” – is probably the weakest link in the entire IPCC process. The IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri has frequently claimed that “The [IPCC] process is so robust – almost to a fault” and much ado has been made of this “review process” – often described as “peer review”.

Yet the record clearly indicates (for example in the “chapter team’s” responses to Reviewer Comments on the Second Order Draft of AR4) that fewer than 24% of the 34,000 Reviewer Comments could be categorized as “Accepted”.

It is also somewhat jarring that (with the exception of Government Representatives) the Reviewer Comment author is always identified; yet the one who Accepts/Rejects or otherwise qualifies in response is never identified. Surely such a process is contrary to the “peer review” process as practiced by academic journals (notwithstanding the now known deficiencies of academic peer review – i.e. validaton/verification of data and methodology – as far as climate science is concerned)

As far as f. is concerned, it is quite obvious that the preparation of the Synthesis report and SPM is totally inadequate, in that it appears designed to be policy prescriptive and lacking in nuance – and more importantly makes little or no mention of any uncertainties – or contradictory studies/opinions

I have no comment on g. or h. – other than that considering my comments above, both should be rigourously reviewed by those external to the IPCC who have some familiarity with this part of the process.

3. What is your opinion on the way in which the full range of scientific views is handled?

There is no indication (at least in AR4) that any consideration has been given to the “full range” of scientific vews. This is confirmed by the fact that, for all intents and purposes, 76% of the Reviewer Comments to the Second Order Draft could not be readily categorized as “Accepted”

4. Given the intergovernmental nature of IPCC, what are your views on the role of governments in the entire process?

Government agendas should not be permitted to “pollute” a process such as that which the IPCC is purportedly mandated to pursue.

5. Given that IPCC assessments consider a vast amount of literature, what are your views and suggestions for improvement on the sources of data and the comprehensiveness of the literature used, including non-peer-reviewed literature?

I’m afraid that your “given” is a presumption that is not borne out by the facts. The IPCC currently has in place a process for dealing with non-peer-reviewed literature, in that it is to be clearly noted as such in the References to each Chapter.

Yet, of the 5,600 non-peer-reviewed references cited in AR4’s 44 Chapters, only six were identifiably designated as such.

6. What are your views and suggestions regarding the characterization and handling of uncertainty in each of the working group reports and the synthesis report?

I would have to give some thought as to suggestions for change, but it is quite apparent the current handling of uncertainty (in both the WG reports and the Synthesis Report) is woefully inadequate (if not deliberately misleading)

7. What is your view of how IPCC handles data quality assurance and quality control and identification and rectification of errors, including those discovered after publication

The IPCC has been a complete (and embarrassing) failure on all counts.

8. What is your view of how IPCC communicates with the media and general public, and suggestions for improving it?

I’m sorry but the only words that come to mind when thinking of IPCC communications with the media and the general public is “dishonest, self-serving propaganda”.

Furthermore, when considering the pronouncements of the IPCC Chair, this impression is magnified by his lack of consistency. For an example of the latter, pls see:

9. Comment on the sustainability of the IPCC assessment model. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative process?

This question requires considerable rewriting, as it currently lacks clarity. What is meant by the “sustainability of the IPCC assessment model”?

10. Do you have any suggestions for improvements in the IPCC management, secretariat, and/or funding structure to support an assessment of this scale?

Yes, I’m sure I could make some. But until I see your responses to my replies to 1-9, I’m not sure that it is worth the time I would need to devote to making such suggestions.

11. Any other comments

I didn’t make any


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