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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Brass farthing

he Australian has published my review of Donna Laframboise's book here.

The review prompted a tweet from Michael Mann that I was wrong to say the IPCC had dropped the hockey stick. Here's a source: judge for yourself.

Here's the text of the review:

A LITTLE-KNOWN Canadian freelancer whowrites a short book dense with data and argument, and self-publishes a kindle version on Amazon, can hardly expect fame and fortune.

Yet this seems to be what is happening to Donna Laframboise, the author of The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken For The World's Top Climate Expert.

Her book has garnered nearly 90 reviews on amazon.com in just two weeks, about four-fifths of them giving it five stars.

The web is alive with discussion of this remarkable little book. The World Wildlife Fund has put out a press release denouncing it.

What is all the fuss about? Like many people, me included, Laframboise used to take climate science at face value. She thought the case had been made by a committee of many neutral scientists working for the UN that global warming was a serious threat.

After all, as Mark Twain once said, "people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing".

"After all," she writes, "journalists are supposed to be sceptical. They aren't supposed to take anyone's word for anything. They're supposed to dig, and question, and challenge."In 2009, two years after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received a Nobel Peace Prize, Laframboise, growing irritated with the shallow analysis of the issue in the news sources she trusted most, began reading and digging into the issue herself to get the first-hand version.

She was not the first Canadian outsider to do this. About seven years before, an expert mathematician named Stephen McIntyre, also a resident of Toronto, had begun to request the data and analysis behind the famous "hockey stick graph" that appeared six times in the 2001 report of the IPCC.

He eventually found that it was a house of cards, based on faulty data filtered through a distorting statistical lens. McIntyre's careful "audit" is now legendary, as is the resistance and calumny he encountered. The hockey stick graph was dropped by the IPCC.

(Incidentally, both McIntyre and Laframboise were influenced by encountering stubborn injustice earlier in their careers: McIntyre experienced police corruption at first-hand; Laframboise investigated a miscarriage of justice in a murder case.)

Laframboise focused on the IPCC reports themselves. How were they actually written and who by? The impression the UN gave was that they were composed by thousands of senior scientists.

In the words of Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC: "These are people who have been chosen on the basis of their track record, on their record of publications, on the research that they have done . . . They are people who are at the top of their profession."

In fact, as Laframboise meticulously documents, world experts on malaria, hurricanes and other topics are excluded because of their sceptical views; while a relatively small clique does the actual writing, many of whom are young and have such a short "track record" that they barely have higher degrees.

Moreover, many of the authors are up to their necks in activism.

For example, two of the four lead authors of the Asia chapter of the 2007 IPCC report were affiliated with the World Wildlife Fund.

That chapter was where the report claimed that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, based on a non-peer-reviewed publication from, you guessed it, WWF.

Likewise, nine chapters of the 2007 report were based partly on the work of the Australian marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg who was also a contributing author, and has been promoted to a co-ordinating lead author for the next report.

As Laframboise discovered: "Hoegh-Guldberg has had close ties to activist organisations for the past 17 years. Between 1994 and 2000 he wrote four reports about coral reefs and climate change that were funded, vetted and published by Greenpeace. Since then he has written two more for the World Wildlife Fund."

Is this organisation supposed to the judge or the prosecution?

Laframboise goes on to document the ways in which "reviewers" of the report, who are supposed to cast a critical eye over the first draft, have been blocked, ignored, even threatened if they ask for the data to back up a claim.

In one case, McIntyre asked for help in getting access to unpublished data that had been cited in evidence by the draft. He was told "if your intent is to . . . challenge (the rules), then we will not be able to continue to treat you as an expert reviewer for the IPCC."

Which brings me to Laframboise's most startling achievement. Noting that this incident and the WWF glacier claim revealed non-peer-reviewed sources being used by the IPCC, Laframboise set out to test Pachauri's claim that "we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry (the) credibility of peer-reviewed publications -- we don't settle for anything less than that."

In March last year, Laframboise recruited 43 private citizens in 12 countries online to audit the entire IPCC 2007 report and count the number of non-peer-reviewed references. Each section was audited by three people and the lowest (most conservative) estimate used.

Even so, the audit showed that 5587 of 18,531 -- fully one-third -- were non-peer-reviewed sources: including newspaper articles, activist reports, even press releases. The IPCC had a rule that such sources must be flagged as such. It had been ignored. When criticised for this last year by a panel of the world science academies, it simply changed the rule.

To those who are being asked to make significant economic and environmental sacrifices to prevent global warming, and are relying on second-hand accounts of this threat from the press: you have been let down. The press, derelict in its duty, has passed on opinions that in many cases are not worth Twain's "brass farthing".