InterAcademy Council Rebukes IPCC: Pachauri To Resign?

You’ll have heard that the InterAcademy Council had a look-see at the inner workings of the IPCC (more on that below). This council, previously unknown to civilization, is, as the IPCC was supposed to be, an independent conglomeration of scientists and other large-brained individuals, spread the world over.

Now, whether the IAC is sufficiently qualified to dress down the IPCC down is debatable. But dress them down they have. In a brutal report, the IAC found that the IPCC leadership was “less agile and responsive than it needs to be” in answering it many criticisms.

The strongest recommendation was that the fellows at the top of the IPCC should only serve for limited terms. Many are interpreting this as suggesting that sex novelist Rajendra Pachauri should bow out tout de suite. But there’s no need to be coy: of course this is what the IAC is suggesting!

However, when Pachauri departs to retire to a life of penning bodice rippers, it will be no kind of political victory for climate doomsday skeptics. Pachauri was originally chosen to be the boss only because of his unquestioning loyalty to the cause and because he possessed a, let us call it, internationality that Americans or Brits do not.

Pachauri’s appointment would have been fine, but he made the mistake of assuming it was based on merit. This delusion caused all the usual symptoms, such as his holding forth idiotically on all sorts of matters of which he had not a clue.

In one recherche episode, Pachauri called another man’s work “voodoo science” because that man’s careful observations on the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers was not consonant with the rate quoted in the IPCC report. But it turned out that the IPCC’s source for the melting rate was culled from an environmentalist propaganda brochure written by a pal of Pachauri.

So he will resign. But I repeat, this will be no victory because the UN is unlikely to make the same mistake twice. They’ll still appoint a True Believer as boss, but whoever it is will almost certainly be a scientist. The net effect will be a lessening in the comedic output of the IPCC, but that’s about it.

Beyond a shift of nameplates in the bureaucracy , it’s anybody’s guess whether the other IAC recommendations will be adopted. The IAC’s juiciest admonitions are in an appendix. Here’s one after our own hearts:

[The IPCC should] give greater attention to assessing uncertainties and confidence in [key findings]. Avoid trivializing statements just to increase their confidence…Determine the areas in your chapter where a range of views may need to be described…to form a collective view on uncertainty or confidence.

If you’re not used to reading peer reviews, I can tell you that this appendix is hot stuff. Rarely have I seen so strong a rebuke. The IAC felt it necessary to lapse into pedantry. For example, they include a table of “A simple typology of uncertainties” because they believed that the IPCC was unaware of what the word “uncertainty” meant. To illustrate “Unpredictability”, they list, “Projections of human behaviour not easily amenable to prediction (e.g. evolution of political systems). Chaotic components of complex systems.”

For examples of “Structural uncertainty”, they say, “Inadequate models, incomplete or competing conceptual frameworks, lack of agreement on model structure, ambiguous system boundaries or definitions, significant processes or relationships wrongly specified or not considered.”

Finally, “Value uncertainty: Missing, inaccurate or non-representative data, inappropriate spatial or temporal resolution, poorly known or changing model parameters.”

The IAC had to tell the IPCC that their pronouncements should not be spoken in the same tone Moses used when descending Sinai; they reminded the IPCC that “probabilistic approaches are available” and that they should consider reporting “ranges of outcomes and their associated likelihoods”. To make this complete, there’s a sarcastic lesson on rhetoric: “A 10% chance of dying is interpreted more negatively than a 90% chance of surviving.”

Folks, this is elementary! But school wasn’t over. There’s a hilarious table in which various wordings of uncertainties are mapped to numerical measures, e.g. “Very low confidence” maps to “Less than 1 out of 10 chance.” This is so basic it is like reminding a physicist that the speed of light is constant. IPCC members must be furious to be spoken to in this manner!

But the IAC wasn’t finished. The knife was already in and had already cut the vital organs, but they gave it a twist anyway, by stating, “[The IPCC should] be aware of a tendency for a group to converge on an expressed view and become overconfident in it”. About this quip Bertie Wooster would have said, “And they meant it to sting!”

16 Comments

  1. Hhhmmmm….consider the communications methods used by the IPCC & those of that ilk & compare with the following excerpt from the US Holocaust Museum summary regarding Propaganda (emphasis added with CAPITALS) — its easy to see the parallels:

    “Modern propaganda draws upon techniques and strategies used in advertising, public relations, communications, and mass psychology. It SIMPLIFIES COMPLICATED ISSUES OR IDEOLOGY for popular consumption, is ALWAYS BIASED, and is GEARED TO ACHIEVING A PARTICULAR END. Propaganda GENERALLY EMPLOYS SYMBOLS, whether in written, musical, or visual forms, and PLAYS UPON AND CHANNELS COMPLEX HUMAN EMOTIONS towards a desired goal. It is often EMPLOYED by governmental and private organizations TO PROMOTE their CAUSES and institutions AND DENIGRATE their OPPONENTS. Propaganda functions as just one weapon in the arsenal of mass persuasion.

    “In contrast to the ideal of an educator, who aims to foster independent judgment and thinking, THE PRACTITIONER OF PROPAGANDA DOES NOT AIM TO ENCOURAGE DELIBERATION by presenting a variety of viewpoints and leaving it up to the audience to determine which perspective is correct. THE PROPAGANDIST TRANSMITS ONLY INFORMATION GEARED TO STRENGTHEN HIS OR HER CASE, and consciously OMITS DETRIMENTAL INFORMATION.”

    FROM: http://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/resources/

  2. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, factual finding of public agencies are admissible, “unless sources of information or other circumstances indicate a lack of trustworthiness.”

    I think we have our other circumstances.

  3. Regarding the subject of Global Warming, if anybody has a considered, objective, and scientific rebuttal to dismiss the correlations (apparent cause-effect relationship) between the sun, cosmic rays, and clouds — affecting warming/cooling/climate — I’d really like to read it.

    Here’s the links & Jasper Kirkby’s presentation is particularly compelling:

    CERN’s CLOUD & correlation between cosmic rays & climate: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/16/cern_cloud_experiment/

    Jasper Kirkby’s Lecture at CERN: http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1181073/

    Given that CERN is currently running the CLOUD experiment to gather objecitive data, and, that cloud data from any & all sources is very poor to nonexistant, I find it very difficult to dismiss this particular relationship “out of hand” as an entry or two at RealClimate (& more) have done.

  4. Some public agencies simply reject evidence contrary to their agenda. For instance, the EPA declared DDT a carcinogen and banned it despite lack of evidence. Evidence or lack of didn’t matter to EPA director Rickelshaus because he wanted to ban DDT.

  5. I wonder what this review does to those parts of recent EPA regulation premised on IPCC “science.” I suppose the first subject of such EPA interpretation who doesn’t like it enough to challenge it in court will find out. Discovery could be revealing. I assume EPA must demonstrate due diligence in its considerations.

  6. Turn off the tap. Cut the funding.

    It makes no difference if this fool or that fool directs the IPCC. The entire effort is a fraud and a hoax, about as far from science as it can be. So just pull the plug on the entire affair.

    What we really should do is eliminate tax-funded science altogether. If some over-rich person want to give his money to some puddinghead who claims to be a scientist, that’s fine with me. But don’t give them MY money, please.

    What’s the difference between a “scientist” and a homeless beggar? I mean it, what’s the difference?

  7. Pauchuri was a mistake the IPCC won’t soon repeat. Now they’ll be able to select Ed Asner as chief. He’s a bona fida “True Believer” and can talk his way out of a wet paper bag so seems fully qualified for the post. Besides, it’s only a “role”. This is all theater, anyway, so who better to front them?

  8. Wow William, I wonder just how representative Mike D.’s comment is of the level of discourse and understanding of process of a segment of the readers of this site? I link to your site not because I’m in complete agreement with all the you present but rather because of the level of intelligence with which it’s presented.

    To Ken: While I don’t disagree with that description of propaganda, atmosphere-ocean-land-insolation interactions and the physics thereof are not something that can be reduced to the level of “this is what these people think, this is what those people think” in order to let those without the background decide for themselves. They must instead choose their horses. The policy decisions to be taken based on the range of possible outcomes of our continuing geophysical experiment are certainly amenable to such a discussion, though I see little of that in blogs and blog posts devoted to climatological issues.

  9. You are absolutely right. The IPCC will stumble on, and as long as it remains a centralized political-scientific bureaucracy of global extent, we will continue to get what we have always got.
    I have a friend and associate who served on the NAS Council that participated in the InterAcademy review; he reports that there was indeed considerable anger and frustration directed at the IPCC — as your take on the Appendix suggests — but that anger was not for bungling the science, rather it was for doing such a miserable job of managing the process and the communications embodied by the reports..

    Now step back… as a good Bayesian, consider the probablility that the IPCC has got the science right, given that the organization and the process they managed has been bungled and is, dare I say, corrupt.

    What are the odds?

  10. To be pedantic but correct …

    “This is so basic it is like reminding a physicist that the speed of light is constant.”

    Au contraire. The speed of light is NOT constant but you are not the first, nor will you be the last, to make this mistake.

    The speed of light is only constant in vacuo. It is slowed down when it passes through any other medium. For example, the speed of light is reduced by c. 35% when passed through fibre optic cable.

  11. Alan,

    Yes, Mr Bates, this is true. But to say it in long form is tedious and, as you say, pedantic; and nature abhors a pedant. The briefer version makes the point.

  12. I am on the side of the guys with the white hats.

    The problem is the Internet is full of pedants who are looking for an excuse to disbelieve the main point because they have debunked a trivial one:

    “No point in reading him, he can’t even get elementary physics right …”

    I’m in favour of not giving the guys with black hats an excuse, if possible.

  13. With all due respect, Mr. Briggs, I believe you are mistaken in concluding that the paragraphs you cited from the Appendix were explicit admonishments from the IAC.

    This appendix is noted in the document as comprising excerpts from the IPCC’s own guidelines!

    All the paragraphs you quoted can be found in: “Guidance notes for lead authors of the IPCC fourth assessment report on addressing uncertainties”

    http://www.ipcc-wg1.unibe.ch/publications/supportingmaterial/uncertainty-guidance-note.pdf

    However, the fact that the IAC saw the need to include this document in the appendix certainly gives considerable force to their conclusions/recommendations in the body of the report [p. 37]:

    “Recommendation: Chapter Lead Authors should provide a traceable account of how they
    arrived at their ratings for level of scientific understanding and likelihood that an outcome
    will occur.
    […]
    “Recommendation: Quantitative probabilities (as in the likelihood scale) should be used to
    describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence.
    Authors should indicate the basis for assigning a probability to an outcome or event (e.g.,
    based on measurement, expert judgment, and/or model runs).

    “The Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers in the Fourth Assessment Report contains
    many vague statements of “high confidence” that are not supported sufficiently in the literature, not put into perspective, or are difficult to refute. The Committee believes that it is not appropriate to assign probabilities to such statements. There is, moreover, a danger that the confidence scale may be misinterpreted as indicating a statistical level of confidence in an outcome. Subjective probabilities may be assigned legitimately to well-defined outcomes using the likelihood scale. The presentation of results in the Fifth Assessment Report would be strengthened by assigning subjective probabilities only to well-defined conclusions.

    “Recommendation: The confidence scale should not be used to assign subjective
    probabilities to ill-defined outcomes.”

    All of which strongly suggests that, once again the IPCC is found to be guilty of not following its own rules, as many (including me!) have found in the past:

    http://hro001.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/the-climate-change-game-monopoly-the-ipcc-version/

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