Apr 30, 2010

Press Release Masquerade - Part 2

We've been told the 2007 climate bible, produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is written by the world's most qualified people working within a framework that has no "parallel on this planet". But the fact that some of the IPCC's analysis is based on suspect documents like press releases undermines this view.

I recently blogged about a press release that, in an abridged form, masqueraded as a news article which then got cited by the 2007 climate bible. On closer examination it turns out this news item doesn't say what the IPCC says it does. The full article appears at the top of the second page of this PDF. (The original press release is here.) The reference looks like this:
Anon, 2004: Government of Canada and Canadian pulp and paper industry agree on blueprint for climate change action. Forest. Chronic., 80, 9. [see it in the list here]

As the title indicates, it announces a plan to reduce the emissions of Canada's pulp and paper industry. But the IPCC uses this article to back up a claim regarding how climate change could, sometime in the future, affect certain industries.

It gets cited by the IPCC in the bottom right corner of this table – as Anon, 2004. But scan left, over to the beginning of that row, read all the way across, and what you discover is that the IPCC thinks the global pulp and paper industry, as well as the food processing sector, may face some risk from climate change because:

  • raw resources may cost more
  • production patterns may change
  • supply chains may shift or be disrupted and
  • changing lifestyles may influence consumer demand
All of the above are perfectly plausible with or without climate change. Nothing stays the same forever. So what?

What merits attention, though, is that the above-mentioned news article addresses none of these issues. And it says even less about how climate change will affect the international food processing sector.

In other words, the IPCC chose to rely on a news article that is actually an abridged press release to backup certain claims – but received no benefit from this decision. The news article doesn't talk about the issues the IPCC is discussing. Not even close.

So what about the second reference, the one listed after Anon, 2004? In its full version, it looks like this:
Broadmeadow, T., D. Ray and C. Samuel, 2005: Climate change and the future for broadleaved forests in the UK. Forestry, 78, 145-161. [see it in the list here]

An abstract of that paper appears here. (There's a discrepancy in the latter part of the title. The IPCC says "broadleaved forests in the UK", but the paper reads: "broadleaved tree species in Britain". The journal name, volume, date, and page numbers match, however.)

I've read this 17-page paper and, first of all, it's important to note its narrow focus. It discusses how climate change might affect a subset of trees in a particular country. It says increased C02 in the atmosphere is expected to enhance tree growth, improve the ability of forests to survive with less water, and extend the growing season. On the other side of this "largely positive" ledger, it says climate change will likely result in "an increase in the frequency and severity of summer droughts" in the UK (pp. 146-147).

Long story short, this peer-reviewed research paper concludes that the UK forestry industry might, sometime in the future, consider planting different sorts of trees. Only under the "most extreme" climate change scenarios, it says, are lower yields expected to be a concern (p. 159).

So how does the subject matter of this paper relate back to the IPCC's claims listed above? Employing a highly charitable interpretation, there's a tenuous link to the idea that production patterns and supply chains might be altered. In extreme situations, because a portion of the part of the global pulp and paper industry that happens to be located in the UK might face reduced yields, costs could increase. But I think that's a stretch.

What's more clear-cut is that this second source – like the news item discussed above - says nothing about climate change and the food processing sector. Nada. Zilch. The IPCC wants us to believe food processing will suffer due to climate change but it can't come up with a single reference that even mentions the sector.

So would it surprise you to learn there's at least one peer-reviewed research paper that argues climate change will benefit the global pulp and paper industry and consumers alike? An 18-page PDF of that paper is available here. According to its abstract: "Consumers in all regions benefit from the lower prices, and the overall impacts of climate change in timber markets are expected to be beneficial, increasing welfare in those markets from 2% to 8%."

The IPCC knows about this paper, because it cites it five times on this page, three times on this page, and once here. But the folks who put together this table preferred instead to rely on an irrelevant news item that's really a press release in disguise.


I am embarrassed to report that I made a mistake in my post two days ago. I said the IPPC did not italicize journal names in its reference lists, even though this is standard academic practice. (See the navy-coloured sidebar text here.) This is untrue. In the online version of the references, journal names are, in fact, italicized. Because formatting depends on a style sheet internal to the IPCC's website, however, when one cuts-and-pastes the references into a new document (as I did in order to send the list of chapter references to citizen auditors) the style is lost and the italics disappear. My apologies to the IPCC and to you, dear reader.


>> IPCC falls for press release masquerade
>> What the IPCC learned from press releases

>> The Stern Review scandal - the IPCC breaks 3 of its own rules
>> IPCC reliance on grey literature 30 times greater than UK threshold
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?

Apr 28, 2010

IPCC Falls for Press Release Masquerade

Those with an informed view of journalism know that some news articles are simply press releases in disguise. A reporter in a hurry will snip a little here, reorganize a little there - and presto! they have a story to file.

Such activities bear little relation to the romantic notion of the hard-nosed journalist who, much like a detective, begins with an open mind, digs deep, and then tenaciously pursues the story wherever it leads. In the real world few journalists behave that way, only the rarest of publications reward such behaviour, and readers with busy lives and short attention spans often just want the basics.

Which brings me to The Forestry Chronicle, published by the Canadian Institute of Forestry. Part trade magazine and part scholarly journal, it keeps readers abreast of new developments. Pages 8 to 15 of the January-February 2004 edition were devoted to "National News" and one of the items appearing there was titled: "Government of Canada and Canadian Pulp and Paper Industry Agree on Blueprint for Climate Change Action."

Those involved in preparing this news item had no way of anticipating that, three years later, it would get cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But that is what happened. In the references at the end of Chapter 7 of the report written by the IPCC's Working Group 2, the news item is listed like this:
Anon, 2004: Government of Canada and Canadian pulp and paper industry agree on blueprint for climate change action. Forest. Chronic., 80, 9. [bold added]
SIDEBAR: Allow me to digress for a moment. A number of the citizen auditors who helped examine all 18,531 references in the climate bible commented on the poor quality of many of these references. It's almost as if the IPCC went out of its way to obscure publication names, to throw up barriers against the uninitiated.

Take a look at the bolded part of the reference above. Both words have been abbreviated even though this accomplished little. The first word - Forestry - normally has eight characters. In its abbreviated form it contains seven (because a period must be inserted). The same goes for the second word. Chronicle - if fully spelled out so that there's no mystery - contains nine characters. But the IPCC chose to abbreviate it to eight.

Whatever rationale explains this, the end result is that readers trying to follow the conversation must first play hide and seek with many of the references on which the IPCC bases its arguments. Step one is figuring out what the full publication name actually is. (Had the IPCC provided a list of abbreviations and then used them consistently throughout the report, that would be another matter. But it did not.)

And since we're on the subject of reference formatting, it is standard practice in academic circles that journal names are italicized. Science and Nature on down demand this as a matter of course from their authors. Italics provide a visual cue so that readers may quickly determine the source of a citation. Although we hear a great deal about the high-quality of the IPCC's scholarship, it's worth noting that it can't be bothered to follow this simple convention.

Apr. 30 UPDATE: I am embarrassed to report that I'm mistaken regarding this last point. In the online version of the references, journal names are, in fact, italicized. Because formatting depends on a style sheet internal to the IPCC's website, however, when one cuts-and-pastes the references into a new document (as I did in order to send the list of chapter references to citizen auditors) the italics disappear. My apologies to the IPCC and to readers.

But let us return to the news item. The eagle eye of a citizen auditor noticed that it bears the same title as a 2003 government of Canada press release. Was this, in fact, merely a reprint? Had the IPCC inadvertently based its analysis on yet another media release?

Answering these questions required that we examine the article that appeared in The Forestry Chronicle. But that content is behind an online paywall and although several of our citizen auditors were academics with electronic access to an array of journals, no one seemed to have the keys to this specific publication.

I therefore sent an e-mail to the appropriate IPCC technical support unit (there's one for each working group) which began: "I'm hoping you can help me. I would like to read [the] full text of this article, cited in Chapter 7 of the Working Group 2 report..." [mea culpa, I left out the "the" in my e-mail]

The next day, the IPCC replied (kudos to them for their prompt response), regretting that they couldn't be of assistance:

Unfortunately, we are unable to provide subscription access to online journals cited in IPCC Assessment Reports. Perhaps you might check your local library as they frequently have thousands of subscriptions to online journals such as The Forestry Chronicles. [sic, bold added]
Sigh. I wrote back, asking them to please re-check their records. Since the article in question appeared to be a non-peer-reviewed news item I argued it was surely covered by the policies described on page 14 of this IPCC document. According to the IPCC's own policies and procedures, the news article should have been collected prior to the first round of IPCC expert reviews - so that it could be provided to any reviewers wishing to read it for themselves.

I quoted from the first paragraph at the top of page 14 which explains that those policies:
...have been designed to make all references used in IPCC Reports easily accessible and to ensure that the IPCC process remains open and transparent. [bold added]
Well, what do you know? After I cited chapter and verse the IPCC replied with an e-mail that read, in its entirety:
Here is the complete text of the article you requested. You will find it on page 9 of the attached document.
A PDF of the entire news section from the relevant edition of The Forestry Chronicle accompanied this e-mail. See pages 8-9 here.

Inch by inch, row by row, I now had my answer. The IPCC had, indeed, based its arguments on yet another press release. This time, though, the press release had masqueraded as a news item.
The original press release is 700 words long. The news item published in The Forestry Chronicle is 480 words. The Chronicle cut four paragraphs from the press release and re-wrote the release’s first five words. In every other respect, the text is identical. A press release was transformed into a news article that was later cited as evidence by the IPCC's climate bible - a document on which governments around the world base multi-billion-dollar decisions.

This story, however, does not end here. There's a whole second chapter. Stayed tuned.


>> What the IPCC learned from press releases
>> The Stern Review scandal
>> IPCC reliance on grey literature 30 times greater than UK threshold
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?

Apr 26, 2010

What the IPCC Learned from Press Releases

We now know that the UN's Nobel-winning, allegedly gold-standard climate bible bases factual assertions on dodgy source material like press releases.

For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is confident that "many genuine efforts" are being made to help the poor cope with energy price increases. Why? Because a press release talks about one initiative in one country: [read it here]

World Bank, 2005: An open letter to the Catholic Relief Services and bank information centre in response to the report ‘Chad’s Oil: Miracle or Mirage for the poor?’. News release no: 2005/366/AFR, Washington D.C. [IPCC reference listed here]
The IPCC declares that the United States decreased its greenhouse gas intensity by specific percentages during 2003 and 2004. There seems to be no need to verify these facts since a White House news release (no longer available at the supplied online address and, we might note, issued by an administration not usually trusted by climate change activists) apparently said so.

Snow, T., White House Press Briefing, 2006: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/10/20061031-8.html# accessed 31 October 2006. [IPCC reference listed here]
Although we all know that weather is not climate, the IPCC seems confused on this point when it discusses the 2003 European heat wave. In a report that's supposed to focus on the impacts of long term climate change, the IPCC thinks it's worth mentioning that "Wine production in Europe was the lowest in 10 years" in 2003. The evidence for such a claim? A press release issued by a lobby group for European farmers:

COPA COGECA, 2003a: Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union, CDP 03 61 1, Press release, Brussels. [IPCC reference listed here]
It's a similar story for the IPCC's claim that, also in 2003, "Forage production was reduced on average by 30% in France and hay and silage stocks for winter were partly used during the summer." According to an IPCC supplementary document (PDF - see p. 4), the above press release is actually the source of the hay claim, while the wine production data comes from a second press release that is cited thus: (see p. 6 of the above PDF)

COPA COGECA, 2003b: Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union General Committee for Agricultural Cooperation in the European Union, CDP 03 61 1, Press release, Brussels.
Since the European farmers' organization website only has press releases from the last three years online, if we want to sort out which of these 2003 documents actually says what, we'll need to submit a special request.

And then there's the case of the vanishing World Bank press release. Issued in 2002, apparently in Spanish, the IPCC cites it to backup two separate claims. It is used in this context:

Conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem structure and function are important for climate-change adaptation strategies, due to the protection of genetically diverse populations and species-rich ecosystems (World Bank, 2002a; CBD, 2003);
and in this one:

According to the World Bank (2002a, c), some developing countries are losing 4-8% of their GDP due to productive and capital losses related to environmental degradation.

Unfortunately, while the World Bank website lists hundreds of news releases from 2002, this particular document remains elusive. The website's internal search engine doesn't seem to think a press release with the ID number 2002/112/S exists - even though that is how the IPCC identifies this source:

World Bank, 2002a: Desarrollo en riesgo debido a la degradación ambiental: Comunicado de prensa (Development at risk from environmental degradation: News release), No. 2002/112/S. [IPCC reference listed here]
Google seems unable to provide assistance, either. Has the IPCC made an error? It's unclear.

But never mind, the celebrated IPCC report demonstrates its commitment to top-notch scholarship when it relies on an amateurish press release during a discussion of the relative energy densities of new technologies such as ultracapacitors and Ni-MH batteries (see the bottom of this page). That a smallish company might have its own reasons - competitive kung fu, an upcoming round of capital-raising, entrepreneurial enthusiasm run amok - for embellishing or exaggerating in a release aimed at the media doesn't appear to have occurred to anyone at the IPCC.

Instead, the IPCC is prepared to base its analysis - and its reputation - on a reference that looks like this:

Power System, 2005: Press release 2005.6.27. Development of High Power and High Energy Density Capacitor (in Japanese). <http://www.powersystems.co.jp/newsrelease/20050627nscreleaser1-1.pdf> accessed 30/05/07. [IPCC reference listed here]
generated by a company whose motto appears to be: "For sustainable growth of the human beings" [sic].

Oh dear, oh dear. The closer one peers at the IPCC report, the more tawdry it all seems.


COMING SOON: The press release that masqueraded as a news item before hitting the big time


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?
>> The water cannon of the climate debate

Apr 24, 2010

The Stern Review Scandal - IPCC Breaks 3 of Its Own Rules

The IPCC broke three of its own rules when it cited the Stern Review 26 times in 12 chapters.

In March 2007, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was interviewed by a reporter from the Bloomberg business news service. The discussion centered on the soon-to-be-released second installment of the IPCC's newly updated climate bible.

Tangentially, Pachauri was asked about the Stern Review, a report written by economists employed by the British government. Pachauri told Bloomberg the IPCC was aware of the 700-page report but that his organization's ability to make use of it was limited because it was not peer-reviewed.

Imagine my surprise therefore, when an audit of IPCC references I organized recently revealed that the IPCC had cited the Stern Review all over the place. Not once or twice. And not in a chapter or two. I'm talking at least 25 times across 12 chapters.

Given that Pachauri told a reporter that relying on this report would be improper why would the IPCC cite it on this page, this page, this page - and on two separate occasions on this page?

Why would the Stern Review be used as the sole supporting evidence for an IPCC claim regarding how many people in India and China depend on glaciers for their water supply? Why would it be cited on this page, this page, this page, twice on this page, on this page, this page, this page, in an executive summary here, and five times on this page?

Why would it be mentioned here, here, here, two more times here, and here as well? I mean, how many more times could it possibly have been cited had it been a full-fledged, peer-reviewed document?

But that isn't the only irregularity. The IPPC likes to brag about its allegedly rigorous internal review process. After the first draft is written, expert reviewers are invited to offer their feedback. A second draft is then prepared and, once again, reviewers are invited to submit comments.

The IPPC is at perfect liberty to ignore these comments, but that is a discussion for another time. What's important here is that, in order to be eligible for inclusion in the IPCC report, documents had to be published prior to a hard deadline. As chairman Pachauri explained in an essay four days ago, the 2007 IPPC report:

...was based on scientific studies completed before January 2006, and did not include later studies...

The big reason for this deadline is that all material discussed in the IPCC report needed to be available for inspection by the expert reviewers.

Moreover, there were cutoff dates after which comments from said reviewers were no longer accepted. For the two sections of the IPCC report where references to the Stern Review abound those dates were July 21 and September 15, 2006.

So guess when the Stern Review was released? Not until October 30th - ten full months after the publication date deadline, and well after the expert reviewers were out of the picture. Which begs the question: why bother with an elaborate internal review process if, after all the reviewers go home, you're going to insert new material into 12 different chapters?

Not one of the "2,500 expert reviewers" Pachauri boasted about as recently as four days ago was given any opportunity to read the 700-page Stern Review - never mind advise the IPCC as to whether that report disregards evidence from bona fide peer-reviewed studies.

The conclusion here isn't pretty: by citing the Stern Review, the IPPC broke not one, not two, but three of its own rules. First, it had to deliberately overlook the fact that this document is not peer-reviewed. (See examples here of Pachauri claiming that the IPCC bases its report solely on peer-reviewed literature and that non-peer-reviewed material belongs "in the dustbin".)

Second, it had to violate the published-before-January-2006 rule about which Pachauri recently reminded us.

Third, it had to subvert its own requirement that text in the IPCC report be subject to two rounds of expert review.

Are we impressed yet?


April 25th UPDATE: The orginal post implied, in the first line of paragraph six at the first link, that the Stern Review was cited twice on this page. Actually, it's mentioned twice by name within the same paragraph, but there's only one citation. I've therefore removed the "twice" that originally appeared in that clause. Having now quadruple-checked the numbers, it seems the 2007 IPCC report cited the Stern Review on 26 separate occasions. I arrived at my findings this way (clicking on the links in paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 above will take you to each of these pages):

Working Group 2
-page 4.7.2 cites the Stern Review once
-page 6.6.5 cites it once
-page 7.5 cites it once
-page 9.1 cites it twice (5 so far)
-page 10.4.2 cites it once
-page 16.5.2 cites it once
-page 16.5.4 cites it once
-page 16.6 cites it once
-page 18.4.2 cites it twice (11 so far)
-page 18.5 cites it once
-page 19.3.2 cites it once
-page 19.3.7 cites it once
-page 20 cites it once
-page 20.6.1 cites it 5 times
TOTAL: 20 citations, 9 chapters

Working Group 3
-page 1.2.2 cites it once
-page 1.2.3 cites it once
-page cites it once
-page 9.1 cites it twice
-page 11.5.1 cites it once
TOTAL: 6 citations, 3 chapters


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?
>> Dr. Pachauri, call your office
>> The water cannon of the climate debate

Apr 22, 2010

Earth Day & the Media

photo by Michael Mauney, Life, Jan. 30, 1970.
© Michael Mauney/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
reproduced here in a scholarly/fair-use manner

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which was first celebrated across America on April 22nd, 1970. It is often said that 20 million Americans participated in that event, and that it was therefore the largest protest in US history.

The press coverage today, four decades later, is unlikely to talk much about the media's role in promoting and building the first Earth Day. But this is an important issue to explore.

My primary source for what follows is a 2008 award-winning paper authored by Finis Dunaway, now a history professor at Trent University in Canada. Please note that Dr. Dunaway is no right-wing anti-environmentalist. Her paper repeatedly accuses the 1970s green movement of "ignoring issues of class, race, [and] power" (p. 79) in order to "speak primarily for white, privileged Americans" (p.93). While the paper used to be available online free for all to read, regrettably this is no longer the case.

Many of us imagine early environmental activists as beleaguered souls struggling to be heard, working hard to attract any attention at all from the mass media. But historian Dunaway paints a different picture:
In January 1970, three months before Earth Day, Life magazine joined other popular periodicals in making the new environmental movement the focus of a feature article. (p. 71)

A series of environmental posters, including one reproduced in Time magazine two months before Earth Day [highlighted the issue of pesticides in human breast milk] p. 75

In January, for its lead story in a special issue on "The Ravaged Environment," Newsweek closed with [a quotation that declared: "We have met the enemy and he is us."] p. 78

In the months leading up to Earth Day, the mass media - including television news and Life magazine - gave extensive coverage to a popular form of environmental protest: people destroying automobiles or burying combustion engines. (p. 81) [bold added]
In other words, the media spent months publicizing - and thereby according legitimacy to - the very first Earth Day. As Dunaway notes on her second page, the fourth estate has a track record of being unusually friendly to environmentalists:
Although other social movements at the time, including feminism and the New Left, were frequently ridiculed or dismissed by the mass media, environmentalists were not subjected to mockery...the mass media accorded considerable respect to the environmental cause.
Indeed, the role played by the media in 1970, when the dominant issues were air pollution and over-population (rather than climate change), sounds much like the current situation. Lots of hype, dramatic imagery, and loaded language.

Then, too, the world was experiencing environmental "crisis." Then, too, the future of the planet was thought to be at stake. Life magazine's January 1970 story featured a staged photograph of a mother and child wearing gas masks outdoors - a visual representation, as Dunaway puts it, "of the apocalyptic future" (p. 73):
John Pekkanen, who wrote the story and whose two-year-old daughter, Sarah, is pictured in the image, described the sense of fear that gripped him as he researched the piece, a "feeling of dread," he explained, "about the prospects of my own two children" growing up in "a world without a future." Pekkanen was "deeply shaken" by the dire warnings of leading scientists, who told him that unless Americans solved the problem of air pollution, "we would all be walking the streets in gas masks ten years from now." (p. 71)
According to Dunaway:
  • an editorial cartoon featuring Rodin's The Thinker wearing a gas mask was reprinted frequently at the time (p. 73)
  • a meteorologist was often cited warning that "All civilization...will pass away, not from a sudden cataclysm like a nuclear war, but from gradual suffocation in its own wastes." (p. 74)
  • Newsweek told its readers that "The villains are consumers who demand...new, more, faster, bigger, cheaper playthings without counting the cost in a dirtier, smellier, sicklier world." (pp. 78-79)
History, it seems, has important lessons to teach us. By noticing the relationship between that first Earth Day four decades ago and media outlets at the time, it becomes clear that environmental scare stories have long been a media staple.

Depending on the era, the specifics change, but the general themes remain constant. Things are dire. Scientists are alarmed. Humans are stupid.

And a happy Earth Day to you, too :-)


For more historical perspective, see Ronald Bailey's "Earth Day, Then and Now" and "Earth Day Turns 40" over at Reason.com.


>> Global disaster is so 1976
>> We're always out-of-touch with the future
>> Green time capsule: 1970 eco ideas not pretty
>> We have heard this rhetoric before

Apr 21, 2010

Dr. Pachauri, Call Your Office

A week ago, I announced the results of a citizen's audit of the climate bible - the 2007 report written by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, has insisted for years that the climate bible is based solely on source material published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, our audit found this not to be the case.

Of the 18,531 references cited by the report, a full 30 percent (5,587) were not peer-reviewed. Almost one third. Among the documents on which this supposedly gold standard report bases its arguments are press releases, discussion papers, student theses, news clippings, and advocacy material produced by green groups.

I issued a media release regarding our findings on April 14th and, within hours, our results were disseminated via some of the largest and most influential websites in the climate change blogosphere.

On April 17th, our audit was mentioned by a columnist in Britain's Telegraph newspaper. On April 19th, US-based FOX News posted an article about our audit on its website. It contained this paragraph:
The U.N. is not commenting in depth on the audit, but it has acknowledged its existence. Isabel Garcia-Gill, a spokeswoman for the IPCC in Geneva, told FoxNews.com that the U.N. knows of what she terms the "Laframboise report." She declined to answer further questions, and she asked that queries be sent by e-mail; she did not respond to such e-mails.
It is therefore distressing to read, in an essay published yesterday (April 20th) on Yale university's Environment 360 blog, that Pachauri continues to misrepresent the peer-review issue. He writes:
By the time it was completed, AR4 cited approximately 18,000 peer-reviewed publications.
Uh, sorry. Someone at head office clearly forgot to tell Pachauri that the numbers are now in and that no one believes a word he says. Three different citizen auditors sorted and counted the list of references at the end of each of the 44 chapters in AR4. On those occasions in which their totals diverged slightly, we incorporated the number most favourable to the IPCC in our calculations.

Altogether we found found only 12,944 peer-reviewed references. That's a far cry from 18,000. Pauchauri continues:
[The IPCC report] also included a limited amount of gray (or non-peer-reviewed) literature in cases where peer-reviewed literature was unavailable. (For example, there is often no peer-reviewed literature on impacts of climate change, both current and projected, in many developing countries.) [bold added]
Excuse me, but one in three references cannot be characterized as "a limited amount." And is this really the same Rajendra Pachauri who told the Times of India in November that non-peer-reviewed research didn't meet IPCC standards and therefore would not even be considered by the IPCC? (see the last lines of this article):
IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it; otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin. [bold added]
Overall, the Pachauri essay is bizarre. On the one hand, its title calls critics of the IPCC "attackers". "Despite Attacks from Critics, Climate Science Will Prevail" it announces. On the other, it begins with the line: "Science thrives on debate."

So which is it? Is debate important - or should critics be denounced? Almost immediately, the confusion clears and Pachauri's true colours shine forth. It turns out his definition of debate is quite different from yours or mine. Preposterously, he suggests it's possible to conduct a debate about climate change minus a political component. According to him:
..the process relies on the debate being devoid of political taint and grounded in sound scientific knowledge.
Well that takes care of Al Gore, doesn't it? The former Vice President of the United States and longtime Democratic Party partisan can in no way be considered "devoid of political taint." When that gentleman - who possesses no science credentials whatsoever - jointly accepted the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Pachauri, did the IPCC chairman interrupt the proceedings and insist that the climate change discussion should not be tainted by politics?

It's important to recognize the profound threat to free speech Pachauri's line of argument represents. By suggesting that his own opinions are never political but that those of his critics are entirely so, Pachauri attempts to de-legitimize voices with whom he disagrees.

A genuine, free-for-all debate is the last thing in which he's interested. Instead, he wants to define the parameters of the debate so that only opinions of which he approves get aired.

This is the equivalent of someone running for town council declaring that candidates B, C, and D should all be disqualified prior to the arrival of the audience at the all-candidates-meeting. Those other candidates are, after all, just "attackers."

If the IPCC is to regain its credibility, Pachauri has to go. He is an embarrassment.


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?
>> A seasoned veteran's view of the IPCC
>> Let there be no more scientific consensuses

Apr 19, 2010

A Seasoned Veteran's View of the IPCC

Economist Richard Tol has prepared a statement for a committee of the Dutch parliament examining climate-related controversies this week. I discovered it on the Dutch website Climategate.nl and Tol has kindly provided an English translation.

AR2 = the IPCC's Second Assessment Report, published in 1995
AR3 = the Third Assessment Report, published in 2001
AR4 = the Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007
AR5 = the upcoming IPCC report, expected in 2013 or so
each IPCC report is comprised of 3 smaller reports, produced by
Working Groups 1, 2, and 3

Having participated in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since the early 1990s, Tol is more informed than most of us with respect to the IPCC's strengths, shortcomings, and history. The following is a slightly edited version of his statement. (bold added by me)

  1. As far as I know, the climate is really changing and for the last 150 years this has been primarily caused by humans. My own research shows that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved. There is convincing evidence that climate change is not the biggest problem of humankind. It is probably not the main environmental problem either. There are strong indications that politically feasible climate policy is expensive.
  2. I was a lead author of two chapters in AR2's Working Group 3 report (1995), convening lead author in the Special Report on Regional Impacts published in 2001 (Working Group 2), contributing author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 1 report (2001), lead author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 2 report (2001), and contributing author of one chapter in AR4's Working Group 2 report (2007).
  3. Over the years, the IPCC has changed from a scientific institution that tries to be policy relevant to a political institution that pretends to be scientific. I regret that. There are already more than enough climate activists, while there are too few solid and neutral bodies that make down-to-earth and well-founded statements about climate change and climate policy.
  4. The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection of authors and bureau members. This is not based on academic quality (as it should be) but rather on political colour. The IPCC member states are represented by their environment departments. This responsibility should be transferred to their research departments or their academies.
  5. The nominations for AR5 have been made already. The selection process should be suspended until transparency is guaranteed. If needed, the IPCC should request additional nominations.
  6. Working Groups 2 and 3 of the AR4 violated all IPCC procedures. The conclusions are partly scientifically unfounded, and even partly copied from the environmental movement. The AR4 was substantially changed after the final review, also in parts that had already been accepted by the referees. Valid comments were ignored.
  7. As a result, AR4 contains crude errors, only some of which are public knowledge. These errors can be found in the chapters, the technical summaries, the summaries for policy makers, and the synthesis report. The errors are not random. Working Group 2 systematically portrays climate change as a bigger problem than is scientifically acceptable. Working Group 3 systematically portrays climate policy as easier and cheaper than can be responsibly concluded based on academic research.
  8. Another problem is that the executive and supervisory powers are not separated in the IPCC. The Chair of the IPCC and its Working Groups should leave the IPCC Bureau, and the Bureau should adopt a supervisory role under a strong and independent chairperson.
  9. The reputation of climate research has been severely damaged by the IPCC. The IPCC should therefore be drastically and publicly reformed.
  10. Climate change is a complex problem. The solution requires global cooperation over a long time. This is hard enough if all parties have access to the same, independent, scientifically sound information. The IPCC has played that role in the past. It has abused the trust placed in it. A reformed IPCC should resume that role.

>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The water cannon of the climate debate

>> IPCC reliance on grey literature 30 times greater than UK threshold
>> The great peer-review fairy tale

Apr 18, 2010

IPCC Reliance on Grey Literature 30 Times Greater than UK Threshold

For years we've been told the UN's climate bible bases its conclusions solely on peer-reviewed scientific literature. A few months ago, the wider world began to wake up to the fact that this is not the case.

One of the most dramatic claims in the climate bible - that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 - turned out to have been based on a non-peer-reviewed World Wildlife Fund document which in turn was based on a magazine article which itself was based on an interview with a single scientist. [see background info, in navy text here]

With no peer-reviewed literature in sight - and a growing number of glacier experts saying the 2035 date was absurd - the organization that produces the climate bible (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - or IPCC) admitted the glacier claim was mistaken. This occurred on January 20th.

On February 1st, a British newspaper reported that the UK government had declined to express confidence in the IPCC's embattled chairman, Rajendra Pachauri. This is one of those news clippings about which we should be abundantly cautious. It quotes an anonymous "senior government official" rather than an identifiable individual. And because it appears in The Guardian, a paper aggressively sympathetic to the green movement, the motives of everyone involved are murky.

Nevertheless, this article is illuminating because of one paragraph in particular:

The government has told the IPCC through official channels that it must ensure review standards are robust and its communication effective. "They need to communicate that 99% of the science on which they base [their work] is peer reviewed," the official said. [bold added, first set of parenthesis in original]

As the citizen audit results I released four days ago reveal, the 18,531 references cited by the IPCC are so far from being 99 percent peer-reviewed it's laughable. A full 30 percent of them (5,587) were not published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Moreover, in 21 out of 44 chapters (48 percent) the level of peer-reviewed references was so low the chapter received an 'F' on our report card.

Let's restate this: the rate of non-peer-reviewed source material cited by the IPCC is thirty times larger than what the British government suggested would be acceptable a mere 12 weeks ago.


>> Climate bible gets 21 Fs on report card
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?
>> The water cannon of the climate debate
>> The great peer-review fairy tale

Apr 16, 2010

What's Left if We Disregard Non-Peer-Reviewed Claims?

[click image to enlarge - original image here]

Does it matter that 1 in 3 sources cited by the climate bible aren't peer-reviewed? Yes it does. Because once you strike out all the statements that don't rest on peer-reviewed research there sometimes isn't much left.

Economist Richard Tol blogged about a particular section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in early March. When I took a look for myself, I discovered seven studies in total being used to support the IPCC's point-of-view on this page of the report.

That sounds like a reasonable basis for drawing conclusions. But checking the full entry for each of these studies in the list of references provided for that chapter reveals that only one out of seven is a peer-reviewed document.
  • Bollen et al. (2004) was produced by an agency of the Dutch government
  • Russ, Ciscar, and Szabo (2005) was published by the European Commission
  • EEA (2006) is a European Union report
  • the Stern Review (2006) was produced by the UK government
  • Anderson (2006) was published by the Imperial College of London
  • Barker et al. (2006a) is a working paper from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Only Den Elzen et al. (2005) experienced the peer-review process prior to its publication in the academic journal Energy Policy.

So if we subtract all the verbiage associated with those six non-peer-reviewed papers how much remains? You can get a better look at the image above by clicking to make it larger.

Altogether, the four paragraphs on the page amount to 593 words. But only 98 of those words - 17 percent - are backed up by peer-reviewed research. And remember, according to the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, all other research deserves to be thrown into the dustbin (see the end of the linked article).


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The water cannon of the climate debate
>> Earth Hour 2010
>> Global disaster is so 1976

Apr 15, 2010

The Water Cannon of the Climate Debate

Whenever I've tried to ask questions about climate change I've practically had to run for cover. Greens have responded by rolling out a weapon intended to disperse all opposition.

That weapon is known as the climate bible. Most people have never heard of it, but the current version is 3,000 pages long and was published in 2007. It was written by an organization called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the IPCC, for short.

The IPCC is a child of the United Nations. The idea is that United Nations countries send representatives to this panel which then writes a report (it's actually three smaller reports) about what the world's leading scientists think about climate change, what the consequences of climate change are expected to be, and what humanity should do about it.

People who want to ask questions are told the experts have spoken, that the gospel is contained in the climate bible, and that that book identifies carbon dioxide as the Great Satan. So shut your mouth, stop impeding attempts to save the world, and get with the program we're told.

Aside from the fact that adults in democratic societies resent being treated like children, there's another big problem: much of what has been said about the climate bible turns out to be a myth.

The biggest myth of all is that this report is based entirely on impeccable source material that was published in scientific journals beforehand and was therefore rigorously vetted via the academic peer-review process.

Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, has spent years telling everyone that this report is based only and solely on peer-reviewed literature. Important, influential organizations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency have deflected criticism of their own positions by pointing to the climate bible and to Pachauri's insistence that it "relies entirely on peer reviewed literature in carrying out its assessment."

The myth has been disseminated most effectively, however, by the media. Some of the most reputable outlets imaginable have told their readers and viewers over and over again that the climate bible should be trusted because it is based 100 percent on peer-reviewed scientific literature.

The citizen audit report I released yesterday puts this myth to rest. More than 5,000 of the sources cited in the climate bible are not peer-reviewed. Many turn out to be press releases, discussion papers, and working papers. These are all informal documents, whose veracity has not been tested. In numerous cases, they were produced by advocacy groups - or by political and bureaucratic bodies with their own agendas.

Politics, in other words, is part of the very fabric of the climate bible. This document is not 100 percent pure science. It was produced by a political organization, an intergovernmental panel, set up by the granddaddy of political organizations - the United Nations. Politicians and bureaucrats have their fingerprints all over it.

Let us therefore be clear about one thing: the 100 percent peer-reviewed science claim is not true. It is bogus. A fabrication. A marketing ploy. So when will the IPCC chairman be held accountable for misleading us?


>> Climate bible gets 21 'F's on report card
>> The great peer-review fairy tale
>> Let there be no more scientific consensuses
>> Systemic failure: invasion of the drama queens

Apr 14, 2010

Climate Bible Gets 21 'F's on Report Card

21 of 44 chapters in the United Nations' Nobel-winning climate bible earned an F on a report card we are releasing today. Forty citizen auditors from 12 countries examined 18,531 sources cited in the report – finding 5,587 to be not peer-reviewed.

Contrary to statements by the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the celebrated 2007 report does not rely solely on research published in reputable scientific journals. It also cites press releases, newspaper and magazine clippings, working papers, student theses, discussion papers, and literature published by green advocacy groups. Such material is often called "grey literature."

We've been told this report is the gold standard. We've been told it's 100 percent peer-reviewed science. But thousands of sources cited by this report have not come within a mile of a scientific journal.

Based on the grading system used in US schools, 21 chapters in the IPCC report receive an F (they cite peer-reviewed sources less than 60% of the time), 4 chapters get a D, and 6 get a C. There are also 5 Bs and 8 As.

In November, IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri disparaged non-peer-reviewed research in an interview with the Times of India (see the end of the article):

IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it, otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin.


Apr 10, 2010

Poll: How Many Non-Peer-Reviewed References?

This coming week, I'll be releasing the results of a crowd-sourcing project involving 40+ people from 12 countries. Together we've examined all 18,531 references in the 2007 IPCC report and calculated the percentage that appeared in peer-reviewed academic journals.

This poll is a version of the "how many jellybeans in the jar" game. Please feel free to supply your own answer to the question: How many 2007 IPCC report references are not peer-reviewed?

Tip: When contacted by the Times of India last November, IPCC chairman Dr. Pachauri said that a discussion paper released by the Indian environment ministry was not considered legitmate research according to IPCC standards:
When asked if the discussion paper could be taken into consideration in the on-going round of scientific review by IPCC, [Pachauri] said, "IPCC studies only peer-review science. Let someone publish the data in a decent credible publication. I am sure IPCC would then accept it, otherwise we can just throw it into the dustbin." [bold added]


>> Who's concerned about the climate report?