When is an IPCC rule not an IPCC rule?

Some months ago, I had noted that the rules of the climate change game are very elastic. The IPCC is good at doing giant leaps back to the future, and application of their “strict” rules is flexible for the CRU crew and their cronies (but not, alas, for others).

In the so-called “The Independent Climate Change E-mails Review“, [sometimes called: “The Independent Climate Change Email Review” or “The Independent Climate Change Email inquiry” (sic)], Sir Muir Russell and his team demonstrated that they are quite adept at asking the wrong questions of the wrong people in order to secure the right answers.

When they knew in advance that the answer would be very inconvenient, they simply avoided asking the question. One of the most damning Climategate emails was that in which Phil Jones had asked his cohorts to delete any emails in which there was discussion of AR4. Yet, as Fred Pearce noted in the Guardian:

Most seriously, it finds “evidence that emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them [under Freedom of information law]”. Yet, extraordinarily, it emerged during questioning that Russell and his team never asked Jones or his colleagues whether they had actually done this.

Pearce also noted:

On the issue of peer review and the IPCC, it found that “the allegations cannot be upheld”, but made clear this was partly because the roles of CRU scientists and others could not be distinguished from those of colleagues. There was “team responsibility”.

However, IMHO, the “team responsibility” crutch is nothing but a “revisionist” inversion of convenience after the fact; this crutch collapses not only by virtue of the instructions to those responding to the reviewer comments, but also by Briffa’s actions – and by his very own words, as cited in the Muir Russell report. The report’s (careful) framing of the allegations:

“It has been alleged that Briffa, in his role as lead author for Chapter 6 in Working Group 1 for AR4, and as the member of the writing team with the most relevant expertise, attempted to bias the scientific conclusions towards those of the MBH98/99 and to set aside the inconvenient evidence of M&M2003.” [p. 77]

“It was alleged that the material derived from WA2007 that was the rationale for the text in the final version of Chapter 6 was based on material that was not published or openly available until after the last deadline for the final draft. Their evidence should therefore not have been included.” [p. 79]

“Briffa broke confidence by asking Wahl, who was not involved in the IPCC process, to comment on Chapter 6 text. [p. 79]

In summarizing Briffa’s responses, as noted by Pearce, Muir Russell observed:

“Briffa also rejected the implication that this text was his responsibility, asserting that it was the responsibility of the whole writing group, not of any one person.

This strikes me as being a rather peculiar response in light of the procedure for responding to reviewer comments. Briffa had been designated as the “chapter team” responder to the comments on the section in question. His post-Wahl consultation responses to the reviewer comments (on behalf of the “chapter team”) certainly had considerable influence on the text contained in the final version.

More importantly, Briffa’s E-mail to Wahl (as cited in the report, p. 79) stated:

I have to consider whether the current text is fair or whether I should change things in the light of the sceptic comments.” [emphasis added -hro]

If the “implication” that the text was “[Briffa’s] responsibility” is incorrect, how does one explain the imperative that he consider whether he “should change things”?

Then again, perhaps post-normal science dictates an attribution of meaning to the word “I” that is significantly different from the common understanding of this particular subjective, 1st person, singular, pronoun.

Update, Sep. 6: It is also worth noting that the IPCC’s very own rules include the following:


“The task of Lead Authors is a demanding one and in recognition of this the names of Lead Authors will appear prominently in the final Report.


“[…] responsibility for the final text remains with the Lead Authors[…]”

Briffa’s E-mail to Wahl also clearly stated:

“Gene I am taking the liberty (confidentially) to send you a copy of the reviewers comments (please keep these to yourself) of the last IPCC draft chapter. […]” [p. 79]

It may well be the case, that, as Muir Russell argues [p. 81-82]:

Breaching confidentiality

Briffa responded to the allegation of having broken confidentiality in sending draft text to Wahl to comment on, that there is no proscription in the IPCC rules to prevent the author team seeking expert advice when and where needed. The Technical Support Unit (TSU) and the CLAs of Chapter 6 agree that the author team was allowed to seek such advice. Copies of communications from both CLAs (Jansen and Overpeck) and the IPCC WG1 TSU are provided by Briffa (and published on the website) to provide support to Briffa‘s claim that his actions did not contravene IPCC procedures.

Briffa asserts that Wahl was asked for comment on text as a knowledgeable and objective arbiter and as such was a wholly reasonable judge of whether the responses were appropriate. [emphasis added -hro]

Considering that Wahl’s unpublished paper was ultimately used as the basis for supposedly refuting M&M2003, “objective arbiter” is not a phrase that comes immediately to my mind. “Interested party”, definitely; or, more to the point, “very interested party”. Actually, I’d be more inclined to describe Wahl’s input as outright conflict of interest. YMMV.

But that aside, it seems to me that if Briffa was merely asking for “comment on the text” perhaps he should have indicated this in his E-mail to Wahl. And perhaps he should have sent him only “the text”, (for which he now claims he was not responsible) and omitted the package of “reviewer comments”. And if Briffa’s actions “did not contravene IPCC procedures”, why do you suppose that all the compilations of reviewer comments contain the following:

“Confidential, Do Not Cite, Quote or Distribute” [emphasis added -hro]

in the footer of every single page?

IOW, when is an IPCC rule not an IPCC rule? … curious minds would like to know.

P.S. There are many criticisms to be made of the Muir Russell report (and of the other major inquiries to date); Ross McKitrick’s response to the 3 U.K. inquiries and the Penn State inquiry is well worth a read. McKitrick concludes:

“The public uproar over the climategate revelations has abated: people cannot stay angry forever. But public suspicions about what they are being told regarding global warming have not been alleviated. Thus far four inquiries have failed to put the issues properly to rest. Scientists working on climate issues should take no comfort from these events. Until a real inquiry is formed that is prepared to tackle the real questions, hear all the evidence, properly cross-examine witnesses and follow the evidence wherever it leads, climategate will remain unresolved and the public will continue to look upon climate science with mistrust and suspicion.”

For the short version of the above, do take a look at McKitrick’s recent op ed at the National Post.

Andrew Montford, author of the eminently readable (and highly informative) The Hockey Stick Illusion, has also been commissioned by the Global Warming Policy Foundation to write a report on these inquiries, which will be released on Sept. 14.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s