Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change Broken, Says Matt Ridley

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Matt Ridley castigates IPCC

Writing in the Times (London), rational optimist Matt Ridley forcefully argues that the bums who currently run the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be thrown out for the sake of honest science. Keying off the new InterAcademy Council report issued yesterday arguing for numerous reforms to the organization and processes of the IPCC, Ridley recites the many scientific sins of the IPCC:

IPCC reports are supposed to be the gold standard account of what is — and is not — known about global warming. The panel boasts that it uses only peer-reviewed scientific literature. But its claims about mountain ice turned out to be anecdotes from a climbing magazine, its claims on the Amazon's vulnerability to drought from a Brazilian pressure group's website and 42 per cent of the references in one chapter proved to be to reports by Greenpeace, WWF and other "grey" literature. Yesterday's review finds that guidelines on the use of this grey literature "are vague and have not always been followed".

For instance, the notorious claim that glaciers in the Himalayas would disappear by 2035 seems to have been based on a misprint (for 2350) in a document issued by a pressure group. When several reviewers challenged the assertion in draft, they were ignored. When Indian scientists challenged it after publication, they were not just dismissed but vilified and accused of "voodoo science" by the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.

By contrast, when two academics, Ross McKitrick and Pat Michaels, found a strong link between temperature rise and local economic development — implying that recent warming is partly down to local, not global factors — their paper was ignored for two drafts, despite many review comments drawing attention to the omission. It was finally given a grudging reference, with a false assertion that the data were rebutted by other data that turned out to be non-existent.

We now know the back story of this episode: the e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia include this from Professor Phil Jones, referring to exactly this paper: "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" …

All the errors and biases that have come to light in recent months swerve in the direction of exaggerating the likely impact of climate change. According to the economist Richard Tol, one part of the 2007 report (produced by Working Group 2) systematically overstated the negative impacts of climate change, while another section (written by Working Group 3) systematically understated the costs of emissions reduction.

Indur Goklany, an independent science scholar, likewise noticed that the report had quoted a study that estimated the number of people at increased risk of reduced water shortage in the future as a result of climate change, but omitted to mention the same source's estimate of the number of people at decreased risk. The latter number was larger in all cases, so that "by the 2080s the net global population at risk declines by up to 2.1 billion people". …

Frankly, the whole process, not just the discredited Dr Pachauri (in shut-eyed denial at a press conference yesterday), needs purging or it will drag down the reputation of science with it. One of the most shocking things for those who champion science, as I do, has been the sight of the science Establishment reacting to each scandal in climate science with indifference or contempt.

The whole article is well worth reading at Ridley's The Rational Optimist blog.

See also my Reason TV interview with Ridley about his great new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, here. And why not hear Ridley's insights directly while joining us for Reason's Caribbean cruise this coming February?