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Donna Laframboise is a journalist and civil libertarian in
Toronto, who made her name as a fearless investigative reporter in
the 1990s. She has recently been investigating the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has come up with
startling results about how its reports are compiled. For those of
us who took the IPCC's evaluations of climate at face value when
they came out -- I know I did -- and thought that they were based
on an impartial and careful process that relied on peer reviewed
evidence, these revelations are shocking. Her book The Delinquent Teenager is now available on
kindle and will shortly be in paperback. It is one of the most
important pieces of investigative journalism in recent years. It
demolishes the argument that we need the mainstream media because
the blogosphere will never do the hard work of investigative
journalism. The opposite is true.
Here I take the liberty of extracting one fairly lengthy tale
from the book, but there are many more:
The IPCC's transparency shortcomings have
been obvious for some time. In 2005 Steve McIntyre, a Canadian with
a PhD Masters degree in mathematics and a flair
for statistics, was invited by the IPCC to be an expert reviewer
for what would become the 2007 edition of the Climate Bible.
McIntyre, who writes theClimateAudit.org blog, was by
then a well-known IPCC critic, so this invitation was a promising
sign. But it didn't take long for matters to go off the rails.
McIntyre noticed that, in a particular
section of the report, the IPCC was basing its arguments on two
research papers that hadn't yet been published. In itself, this
should ring alarm bells. Since the wider scientific community had
been given no opportunity to scrutinize them, it was surely
premature to consider them solid pieces of evidence.
McIntyre asked to examine the underlying data
associated with these two papers. Since IPCC rules say it's the job
of its technical support units to provide expert reviewers with
material that isn't readily available, he contacted the head of the
appropriate unit. That gentleman's name is Martin
Manning. An atmospheric scientist who now heads a research
institute at a New Zealand university, Manning is one of the
authors of the Scientific American article that
refers to crystal balls. He refused - not once,
but twice - to help McIntyre. This is what his second
"Let me repeat - If you wish to obtain data
used in a paper then you should make a direct request to the
original authors yourself. It would be inappropriate for the IPCC
to become involved in that communication and I have no intention of
allowing the IPCC support unit to provide you with what would in
effect be a secretarial service. There are over 1200 other
scientists on our list of reviewers and we simply can not get
involved in providing special services for each...I will not be
responding to further correspondence on this matter."
One would think that a scientifically
rigorous organization would go to some effort to ensure that its
expert reviewers (all of whom, by the way, volunteer their time)
have access to all the information necessary for them to make an
informed judgment. One would also think that whenever the IPCC
chooses to rely on as-yet-unpublished papers it would welcome the
fact that someone was offering to take a close look at the data on
which such papers are based. The Climate Bible isn't just any
report, after all. It informs the decisions of governments around
Shortly afterward, McIntyre
sent two e-mails, dated a few days apart, to
Susan Solomon. In 2008 Time
magazine named this US atmospheric chemist one of
the world's 100 most influential people largely due to her senior
role in assembling the 2007 Climate Bible. McIntyre told Solomon
that Manning had declined to help him. He also reported a far more
shocking development. Both authors had
subsequently refused to cooperate. One said the
underlying data would only be released after the paper had been
published. The other advised him to contact the journal to which
the second paper had been submitted.
Solomon's own response could hardly have been
less helpful. IPCC rules, she said, only oblige the technical
support units to provide copies of unpublished papers themselves.
The IPCC does not, said Solomon, concern itself with the raw data
on which papers - published or otherwise - are based.
In a bizarre turn of events Solomon then
accused McIntyre of behaving improperly. By contacting the journal
as he'd been advised to, she said McIntyre was interfering with
that journal's internal decisions. She also claimed it was
inappropriate for him to suggest to the journal that his role as an
IPCC reviewer entitled him to examine this data.
In her capacity as a high-profile member of a
body that claims to be totally transparent
Solomon took the strange position that the unpublished papers were
confidential material. As an IPCC reviewer, McIntyre had been
granted access to them for one purpose only: to read them. By
seeking more information, she said, he was
violating IPCC confidentiality provisions and therefore risked
being struck from the IPCC's list of official reviewers:
"we must insist that from now on you honor
all conditions of access to unpublished, and therefore
confidential, material...The IPCC rules...have served the
scientific and policy communities well for numerous past
international assessment rounds. If there is further evidence that
you can not accept them, or if your intent is to...challenge them,
then we will not be able to continue to treat you as an expert
reviewer for the IPCC."
This organization says it welcomes scrutiny,
but actions speak louder than words. Rather than embracing
inquiring minds, it threatens them with expulsion. As a commenter
on McIntyre's blog aptly observed, it would seem
that IPCC reviewers are supposed to behave like rubber stamps
rather than microscopes.
The IPCC's leadership - represented by
Solomon and Manning - failed more than a transparency test here.
Solomon had a choice. If safeguarding the integrity of the IPCC was
her top concern, she should have scolded the authors of the papers
who were refusing to let McIntyre double-check their work. She
should have advised them that, their decidedly unscientific
behavior having been brought to her attention, the IPCC had no
choice but to exclude their papers from its consideration.
Instead, Solomon behaved like a bureaucrat.
Rather than championing openness, rather than behaving as though
important questions affecting the entire planet were at stake, she
chose to defend individual researchers' pre-publication
It's worth noting that the author who refused
outright to make her data available prior to her paper's final
publication was Gabriele Hegerl. You may remember
her name from the climate model
Hegerl isn't just anyone. Rather, she served
in seven distinct capacities with regard to the 2007 Climate Bible.
Significantly, she was one of the two most senior people in charge
of the attribution chapter - the section that decides the degree to
which human influence versus natural causes are at work.
In other words, the IPCC entrusted the most
central question of all to the judgment of a person it was fully
aware had declined to share her data with one of its own expert
reviewers. It has never had the grace (or the wisdom) to be the
least bit embarrassed about this.