This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is holding its 37th session in Batumi, Georgia. One of the items on the Agenda, under “Other Business” is “IPCC-XXXVII/Doc. 17 which, although not advertised as such on the Agenda, turns out to be a “Potential Study of the IPCC Process”.
This document is a submission from the IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri (or someone who wrote it for him); it begins as follows:
To promote greater transparency for the IPCC process and also to ensure that awareness is created among the scientific community and the public in general about the manner in which the IPCC carries out its activities, encouraging objective study and assessment of the IPCC process by credible scientific groups would be desirable. [emphasis added -hro]
Wait a minute! Hasn’t Pachauri always claimed that the IPCC process is the most transparent process ever?! And is the InterAcademy Council (IAC), which conducted a review of the IPCC’s policies and procedures in 2010 no longer a “credible scientific group” and/or when and by whom was it determined that the IAC’s review and findings were not “objective?!
Notwithstanding Pachauri’s recent claim to the contrary, the IPCC powers that be have not implemented all the recommendations of the IAC.
Among these unimplemented recommendations, is one which derives from the fact that the IPCC reports provide no traceability for many of their conclusions and “expert” judgments, not the least of which is the much publicized but rather inexplicable increase in confidence (from 90 to 95%) in their projections of doom and gloom (and that it’s mostly our fault, so we must have a carbon tax now). But I digress …
Pachauri’s introduction continues:
In the recent past two requests have been received for carrying out such assessments, the first from Oppenheimer et al on behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF) […] Oppenheimer et al would like to carry out this exercise from the beginning of a potential Sixth Assessment (AR6) process if the Panel agrees. […]
Oppenheimer? That would be Michael Oppenheimer, whose bio, as Donna Laframboise had noted a few years ago, indicates that he spent more than twenty years as “chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program” for the very well-endowed Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In fact, he continues to act as “science advisor” to the EDF.
He also happens to have a long history with the IPCC – and (although Pachauri didn’t mention this for some reason, perhaps because he himself wears so many conflicting hats, he sees no problem with anyone else doing so) Oppenheimer is a coordinating lead author for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (AR5).
One Oppenheimer et al just happens to be Naomi Oreskes – who calls herself a science historian; her most recent oeuvre, Merchants of Doubt, as Andrew Montford noted in a post at Bishop Hill, has drawn a rather damning critique from Reiner Grundmann.
Jeff Tollefson at Nature has also noted this proposed study in which, to his credit. Oppenheimer acknowledges his bias:
Study aims to put IPCC under a lens
Social scientists want to examine how climate panel’s internal dynamics affect outcomes.
The proposal, part of a larger “assessment of assessments” funded by the US National Science Foundation, could offer insight into the ways that social dynamics, unconscious biases and seemingly mundane rules affect the final product — and what might be done to improve the process.
“Most previous studies have looked at how the IPCC interacts with the outside world, but we’re interested in how it interacts with itself,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey, who recognizes his own biases as a participant in the past four climate assessments. “The truth is that very little is known about the actual process.”
Perhaps Oppenheimer should read the IAC’s report – and Laframboise’s The Delinquent Teenager … There is far more that is now known about “the actual process” than he might realize, thanks to the responses of insiders to the IAC’s questionnaire.
Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the prospective study team, argues that allowing ethnographers inside the process will promote transparency and enhance the panel’s credibility with the public and policy-makers. “Most people on the outside have no idea what the IPCC does,” she says, and the black box inevitably generates suspicion and fuels criticism among climate sceptics. Clarifying the process might make the IPCC’s assessments seem a little less like magic — and a little more like sausage-making. [emphasis added -hro]
Not sure if it was Tollefson or Oreskes speaking in that last sentence. But, while I don’t think I ever considered any of the IPCC-niks to be magicians (even though some, such as WG I Co-Chair, Thomas Stocker, are quite adept at “disappearing” inconvenient rules!), I would certainly not dispute the “sausage-making.”
But back to Pachauri; he concludes by echoing his opening words (and those of Oreskes):
The ExCom [IPCC Executive Committee -hro] believes that “Assessing Assessments” would be a worthwhile exercise which would strengthen the credibility of the scientific community as being transparent and objective. It would fill the knowledge gap which exists within the scientific community about how the IPCC functions. In addition to being of academic interest, it could also help the IPCC improve and innovate the process of assessment.
The Panel is invited to consider this request and provide further guidance.
The “proposal” from Oppenheimer et al is appended to Pachauri’s document. Here are some excerpts from this word-salad:
Society today faces many serious problems whose identification and solution depend, at least in part, on scientific judgments. In diverse domains, scientists have either been asked by society to provide those judgments, or have volunteered them. But how do scientists decide which facts from an indefinitely large population are worthy of highlighting for the attention of others? How do they judge the status of insecure or competing factual claims? When scientists are asked to assess knowledge for the purposes of public policy, how, exactly, do they do that? Our project seeks to understand how assessments are conducted, and how expert judgments are made in the scientific assessment process.
While there are procedures in place to answer these questions from a technical perspective, our research seeks to deepen our understanding of the intellectual and social dynamics at work in making expert judgments in scientific assessments. […]
Public visibility and stature brings with it, for better or worse, public interest, curiosity and scrutiny. Our research will contribute to visibility, transparency, and legibility of the IPCC and its reports, helping policy-makers, scientists in other disciplines, and the public at large to better understand the intellectual basis for IPCC conclusions.
Our study’s findings will be published first and foremost in peer reviewed scientific journals, but we will also seek to communicate in venues where our results will reach policy makers and interested citizens. Our work will clearly explain the IPCC process and findings as well as analyze some of the innovative and challenging features of the IPCC. Most publicity about the IPCC comes from the IPCC itself or its detractors: our research team provides a neutral vantage point from which to educate the public and experts on the dynamics of climate assessments. [emphasis added -hro]
The IPCC lacks “legibility”?! Who knew?!
I can think of many words to describe a “research team” which includes Oppenheimer and Oreskes; however – unless the word has recently been, well, redefined – “neutral” is definitely not among them!