Wednesday, February 10, 2010

IPCC Credibility, Denier Credibility

For the umpteenth time, an article in yesterday's NY Times discusses what it calls a "credibility siege" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its director, Rajendra Pachauri. The articles rehearses the claims against Pachauri and the IPCC. Although a number of flagrantly false claims have been leveled against the IPCC, the two main, legitimate criticisms regard, first, Pachauri's role as occasional expert advisor to various companies and banks. He also happens to provide advice to governments and NGOs. Some of the companies, however, have donated to the NGO Pachauri also directs, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), based in New Delhi. And, although Pachauri earns around $50-60K per year according to his Indian tax returns, he has been called out for years now on what are alleged to be conflicts of interest. The second criticism is directed more at the entire IPCC for recent lapses in scientific rigor, including citing a claim in its most recent, Fourth Report about the rate of Himalayan glacier melting which the original scientist has since retracted. The IPCC has responded here.

I suggest you read through the links and judge for yourself. Consider also that some 450 scientists were involved as lead authors in drafting the Fourth IPCC Report, with an additional 800 as contributing authors, and another 2500 as reviewers. You're bound to get a wanker or two doing shoddy work, not following the IPCC's own principles and procedures (pdf). Doesn't excuse the shoddiness and stupidity, of course. And my own view is that Pachauri ought to resign - he's non-essential to a task that is essential. The lapses say nothing about the reality of climate change, however.

But the reality of the science also illustrates that criticism from most climate skeptics is highly selective from a massive amount of studies, claims, reports, etc.

Further, in addition to oil industry funding of several key thinktank climate deniers, we ought to take a look at some of the most public skeptics themselves. Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brentley, who has a training in classics and journalism, has taken on perhaps the most public climate skeptic role. He refers to climate change as an invention of the political left in the name of taking over the world and spends much of his time away from reading the classics disputing climate science. One major political tool has been not simply to dispute the science but to misrepresent some climate scientists' claims altogether for political (and often economic) gain or to destroy the reputations of climate scientists.

As I've said before, legitimate criticism and skepticism is essential to good, rigorous science (and philosophy, economics, etc.). See Cheryl's post here too. And there are uncertainties in climate science as there are almost by definition in any science or pursuit of knowledge. Most of the legitimate criticism and skepticism goes unreported or underreported, actually, because it's all academic-y. Public spokespeople add their own language for public consumption. Much of this comes out of the politically volatile mix of over 1000 climate change lobby groups.

But the issue of climate change is not simply a matter of science. The science provides us with a basis for our decision-making and its substance. The problem of climate change is largely a matter of the effects of climate change on human beings and ecosystems, and how then the science might inform our thinking about our economies, politics, and ethics. In other words, legitimate climate change disputes are also about policy. The thing is that we can only make intelligent policy decisions to the best of our current abilities, decisions about the future well-being of our progeny, if the empirical descriptions we have of the world are accurate. And there are then very real policy discussions to be had involving different, competing values.

I think there's a pretty big difference between shoddy science that was essentially an unsubstantiated claim retracted when discovered, and making unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable claims deliberately.


barba de chiva said...

Even India -- for reasons I don't totally understand -- is committed to working with the IPCC. It's a good sign, in general, as is the IPCC's owning up. Seems like that's the way it's supposed to work.

Anonymous said...

at one time everyone said the world is flat...
that didn't make it so -
the credibility problem is twofold...
1. There seems to be a one track objective of "proving our point"
2. There is a political objective - (tax the industrial world)

Until the IPCC deals with these foibles they will continue to be "less than credible."

helmut said...

At one time some people denied overwhelming evidence staring them in the face by making a couple of half-baked, conspiracy-driven conjectures based upon hearsay from demagogues who know nothing about science in general. That doesn't make the overwhelming evidence not so.