Sunday, July 18, 2010

Letter from Pachauri

Edward Carr blogged on the recent letter from Rajendra Pachauri to the authors and editors of AR5. This created something of a buzz (see, e.g., Dot Earth) which may have lead to a clarification (see, again, Dot Earth). The reason: In the first letter, Pachauri issued a fatwa: Thou Shalt Not Speak To Journalists. This came on top of an earlier letter by Pachauri which had: Thou Shalt Not Blog. Fortunately, what Pachauri really meant to say was that we are not supposed to pretend that we speak on behalf of the IPCC, as indeed we do not.

Carr lamented the apparent "bunker mentality" of the IPCC with regard to communications with the outside world. I share that regret.

I would add two things, though. Firstly, Pachauri apparently does not trust IPCC authors and editors to be mature enough to say sensible things to journalists. Most of us have PhDs, after all, and many are full professors. We might just slip into juvenile language and compare people to Hitler, accuse them of practicing voodoo, or recommend they rub asbestos in their faces. Better to leave communication to the IPCC leadership, who would never say such things.

Secondly, Pachauri describes the IPCC as a "family". I had always thought that the IPCC was a professional organization. The word "family" evokes a sense of loyalty that is too strong (bunker mentality again). It implies that the composition of the team is determined, somewhat randomly, by a higher power. A family does not invite outside experts to fill gaps in knowledge, and it does not release weaker members from their duties.

Ed Carr was right so: We have learned nothing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

IPCC Scholars

The IPCC is meant to assess the academic literature on climate change and policy so as to inform decision makers. This is important. It has also proven to be difficult to keep policy advocacy out of the IPCC.

There are two further issues. Some of the authors seem to have built a career on their involvement in the IPCC rather than on the strength of their research. This is just wrong. The IPCC should use the best people available, rather than the best IPCC people.

In some areas, the IPCC has deemed the available research to be insufficient and stepped in to develop the field. Scenario development is the prime example. Filling research gaps is always good, but in this case it led to the IPCC assessing its own work. The unsurprising result is that the IPCC declared that its own research is wonderful. I disagree, as documented here and here.

Now, there is a new development: The IPCC has started a scholarschip programme, seed-funded with the Nobel Peace Prize money. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, although one should wonder whether it is appropriate to lure bright young things in developing countries into climate research as that implies that they will not investigate other problems that may be more urgent. For the IPCC, there is the danger that the IPCC scholars of today will be preferred IPCC authors of tomorrow; and that their publications will be given preferential treatment in future IPCC assessments.