People in Greenhouses Throwing Stones

We promised to provide a breakdown of the IPCC’s WGI as we did for WGII and III. So here goes:

As before, we’ve limited ourselves to those contributors based in the UK or USA. That gives us 303 authors to work with out of a total of 618. That’s nearly half the total – strange, for an institution which claims to represent scientists from all over the world.

It was very difficult to establish the discipline, background and level of expertise of scientists who work at the UK’s Hadley Centre and Meteorological Office, and NOAA and NASA in the USA, as they tend not to have personal web pages. 31 of the UK contributors work at the Hadley Centre, 43 of the US contributors work at the NOAA. Where we have been unable to locate these people properly (nearly always), we’ve given them the benefit of the doubt, and included them in the same category as scientists in climatology, meteorology, and oceanography. There were 215 scientists in this category. So there is certainly a higher proportion of people who could reasonably be called climate scientists in WGI compared with II and III. But it’s worth pointing out that this figure is also boosted by a whole bunch of people who work in climatology but who are modellers by training. That’s not to knock modelling – well, maybe a bit – but it does raise questions about what a climate scientist actually is, when you get to call yourself one even if you’ve spent most of your career modelling traffic flows or whatever. We’ll try to come up with some numbers for that at some point.

As for the other 88, 24 are atmospheric physicists, 27 are geophysicists or geologists. Arguably, these could also be lumped in with the so-called climate scientists. Ach, what the hell, let’s call it 266 climate scientists out of 303. Of the rest, we have four statisticians, eight mathematicians/physicists, eight engineers, two biologists/ecologists, and one each from history of science, computer science, and a lonely economist. There were also solos from an NGO, an agronomist, and a lawyer (who curiously seemed to double up as an oceanographer). Which leaves another eight whose expertise we can’t establish.

So, across WGI, II and III, we have a very generous 314 contributors among the 510 we sampled who can reasonably be described as scientific experts. Which scales up to 1539 out of the putative 2500. Some of our critics have argued that it was dishonest to look at WGII and III, and that the climate scientists are all in WGI. Of course WGII/III are not all climate scientists. This criticism misses the point that the IPCC is neither, as is frequently claimed, 2500 of the worlds best climate scientists, nor indeed climate scientists at all. This is precisely the misconception we have been challenging, following claims made by the likes of Andrew Dessler about the Inhofe 400 list. The composition of the IPCC, it turns out, is not so different.

Tony Gilland points out in his review of Bjørn Lomborg’s ‘Cool It’, the IPCC expertise is spread across many chapters, with the result that most of the scientists involved will have read only a minimal proportion of any report. That’s to say, a reviewer or contributing author to WGI on glacial recession has not made any statement about his or her agreement in WGIII on what is the best way to approach the problem of climate change from a policy or economic perspective – or even on chapters of WGI to which he or she did not contribute. So the idea that the IPCC represents a scientific consensus on climate change and what to do about it is a complete misconception of the functioning of the IPCC. At best, each chapter from each working group represents the work of just tens of authors, across a range of disciplines and levels of expertise. Yet activists, politicians, and journalists will claim that de facto policy recommendations from WGIII have the support of the consensus of 2500 climate scientists.

That ‘the consensus’ does not represent agreement among 2500 scientists might not be news to some people. But others are quite oblivious. We flagged up a few examples in our last post; here’s some more (courtesy of a commenter).

And here’s Robert F. Kennedy doing the same (thanks to another commenter)…

 

RFK: The science on global warming is settled. Twenty-five-hundred scientists in the IPPC [sic] report – the top meteorologists and climate scientists from around the world have announced the consensus that global warming exists, that we are causing it and that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. You don’t need that science though, all you need to do is walk outside. I just came back from the Ar’tic [sic]. The Ar’tic [sic] is melting. It is catastrophic. The Good news is that everything that we need to do to solve global warming are things which we ought to be doing anyway for the sake of America’s prosperity, for our national security… 

The evidence of the IPCC needs to be treated for what it is – not as the last word on the science of climate change, but as a contribution to a political process. A political process that, despite the best efforts of the global warming fraternity (including the IPCC) to nip it in the bud with their claims that ‘the science is in’, has barely even started.

Anyway, where did the whole ‘2500 climate scientists of the IPCC’ figure come from in the first place? If this flyer from the IPCC itself is anything to go by, it refers to the expert reviewers.

So having taken a look at the authors, we’ll have a go at the reviewers next. The IPCC certainly seem pretty proud of them. One wonders how many of those ‘scientific expert reviewers’ will turn out to be social scientists and economists that Andrew Dessler et al make such a fuss about when they turn up in the Inhofe 400, not to mention, Heaven forfend, web officers, administrative assistants and activists . Intriguingly, many warmers have no time for the reviewers. Stoat, Desmogblog and Tim Lambert claim that anybody can be an expert reviewer, which is a handy argument when you want to cast doubt on the credentials of any pesky ‘denialist’ who happens to be one, but kind of backfires when you’re trying to defend ‘the consensus’.

WGIII – But is it Science?

Following our breakdown of the expertise comprising the IPCC’s WGII, we’ve now done the same for WGIII, “Mitigation of Climate Change”.

First, the numbers: Of 270 contributors, 66 were from the USA and UK. We haven’t been able to establish the expertise and discipline of 12 of those – yet. 14 contributors had expertise in physics, chemistry or engineering. 4 from other engineering disciplines. 2 were bio/geochemists. 5 were from forestry ecology, or soil science. 2 had expertise in law. There were 7 social scientists, and a whopping 20 economists.

There were no obvious instances of administrative assistants or web designers being included on the list, unlike WGII. However, the 12 contributors we couldn’t locate don’t appear to possess a great deal of the academic credibility Andrew Dessler demands, and work for business or the US EPA – no surprises there. There appear to be fewer PhD candidates, and among the contributors who did not work in the private sector, most had academic positions. The best in the world though? It didn’t seem likely.

The presence of 27 economists/social scientists again gives the lie to the claim that the IPCC is an institution made up entirely of climate scientists. WGIII explains their function as follows:

In the first two volumes of the “Climate Change 2007” Assessment Report, the IPCC analyses the physical science basis of climate change and the expected consequences for natural and human systems. The third volume of the report presents an analysis of costs, policies and technologies that could be used to limit and/or prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, along with a range of activities to remove these gases from the atmosphere. It recognizes that a portfolio of adaptation and mitigation actions is required to reduce the risks of climate change. It also has broadened the assessment to include the relationship between sustainable development and climate change mitigation. 

Winston Churchill once quipped:

If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of then is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three. 

Somehow, the IPCC has managed to stuff more than 20 economists in a room, and achieved a “consensus”. Remarkable.

Once upon a time, economics was a matter of politics. Now, it seems, economics is as much a matter of rock-solid objective fact as physics. The problem is, though, that environmental economic orthodoxy cannot be challenged politically – especially in the UK – because all politicians hide behind the “scientific consensus”, even though it is formed by a large number of economists and social scientists.

And in case anyone is in doubt that the whole ‘2500 scientists of the IPCC’ thing isn’t common currency in political debate about the state of the planet…

Drawn up by more than 2,500 of the world’s top scientists and their governments, and agreed last week by representatives of all its national governments, the report also predicts that nearly a third of the world’s species could be driven to extinction as the world warms up, and that harvests will be cut dramatically across the world. 

writes The Independent this very month. Or

For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world’s top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra’s warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date. 

writes Salon. And then there’s Kofi Annan, no less:

We must also be ready to take decisive measures to address climate change. It is no longer so hard to imagine what might happen from the rising sea levels that the world’s top scientists are telling us will accompany global warming. Who can claim that we are doing enough? 

For any (ahem) sceptics out there, note that this is firmly within the territory of WGII and WGIII, in that it is about predictions, and not scientific evidence for climate change and its causes to date.

In November, we ran a post about Green MEP Caroline Lucas’ comments about there being just 8 years left to create policies to save the planet.

Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness… 

When we rang them, Lucas’s press office cited WGIII AR4 as the basis for her comments. As a result of her campaining – in part – the EU passed legislation to cap emmissions from aircraft on that same day. The same arguments, based on the same ‘consensus’ created by WGII and WGIII are being made by the major UK political parties, who, as we have also reported, are promising 60, 80 and 100% carbon reductions by 2050.

Science or politics – wodjafink?

Physician, Heal Thyself.

NOTE FROM THE EDITORS. 13 December 2008.

This post is linked to from other sites more than any other. This has lead to criticism that we have been dishonest in ignoring the scientists in IPCC WGI, which is where the bulk of the scientific analysis is done. It is true that this post does focus on the work of WGII, but it is not true that we do not look at WGI. We do it here. We also look at WGIII, here.

………………………………………………

Back at Gristmill, Andrew Dessler stands by his cancer/doctor analogy in the in-whom-do-we-trust war, after some comments on his blog:

The complexity of climate change does not suddenly make a sociologist, economist, computer programmer, etc. a credible skeptic. In fact, the weakness of Inhofe’s list is readily apparent by the very fact that he had to include such people on his list.

The crown jewels of skeptics are Lindzen, Christy, Singer, etc., but as I’ve said before, there are only a small number of them. In order to bulk up the list, Inhofe lowered his criteria to basically include anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change — regardless of their technical background in the subject.

As far as my analogy being unsuitable, I stand by it. If your child is sick, you take him/her to the experts. Ditto if your planet is sick. You don’t take either your child or a planet to a sociologist or economist.

For the uninitiated, here is the lowdown: Andrew Dessler is a professor at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University. He is complaining about a US senate report which listed hundreds of individuals who have been reported in the media during 2007 as speaking against the “scientific consensus” on climate change, claiming that they are scientists. The report naturally challenges the very principle of the consensus, which has given climate policies the authority they have needed to be carried forward. The global warming camp have sought to undermine the value of this new list, by claiming that the scientists lack scientific qualifications, expertise, or moral integrity.

But Dessler has made a significant concession here. He is visibly shifting from the idea that the power of the consensus comes from the weight of scientific opinion – numbers. An “overwhelming number” of scientist’s opinions might indicate that the “science” had been tested. Now, you have to be qualified to have an opinion on climate change. But Dessler doesn’t tell us exactly how we are to measure the qualifications, we just have to take his word for it that the 400 sceptics aren’t qualified, but the IPCC scientists are. So it’s not simply a consensus, it’s a qualified consensus, and he gets to call the qualification. So much for science. So, apparently, the IPCC scientists who represent the consensus are more qualified than their counterparts. They are akin to the experts you would trust your desperately ill child to, not the ragbag of mavericks you would avoid. Worse still, many of the sceptics are in fact mere computer programmers or – gasp – sociologists!

We decided to test Dessler’s claim. So we downloaded IPCC WGII’s latest report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. There were 380 contributors to the report [PDF of contributors]. A thorough and exhaustive analysis of the backgrounds of these experts (or were they?) was too ambitious (it’s Christmas, and we have wine to drink, and mince pies to eat, too). So, we focused on the contributors who operate in the UK. Of the 51 UK contributors to the report, there were 5 economists, 3 epidemiologists, 5 who were either zoologists, entomologists, or biologists. 5 worked in civil engineering or risk management / insurance. 7 had specialisms in physical geography (we gave the benefit of the doubt to some academics whose profiles weren’t clear about whether they are physical or human geographers). And just 10 have specialisms in geophysics, climate science or modelling, or hydrology. But there were 15 who could only be described as social scientists. If we take the view that economics is a social science, that makes 20 social scientists. This gives the lie to Dessler’s claim that IPCC contributors are analogous to medical doctors. There are economists working on saving that dying child!!! That’s got to be wrong, by Dessler’s own standards.

Nonetheless, were these contributors the “experts” that Dessler claims they are? There were a few professors, but few of them had the profile Dessler gives them. Many of them were in fact, hard to locate to establish just how much better than their counterparts they were. One professor (Abigail Bristow) wasn’t what you’d call a climate scientist, but a professor of Transport Studies at Newcastle University. How is she going to cure the sick child? Will she be driving the ambulance? Another Professor – Diana Liverman at Oxford University – specialises in “human dimensions of global environmental change” – Geography is a social science too. Another – John Morton of the University of Greenwich, specialises in “development Anthropology”. Professor of Geography, and Co-Chair of IPCC WGII, Martin Parry’s profile merely tells us that he is “a specialist on the effects of climate change”. But what does that actually mean?

Among the remainder – most of whom are not professors, but research associates at best, are an assorted bunch, many of whom are better known for their alarmist statements in the mainstream press than they are for their contributions to scientific knowledge – activists in other words, with their own political motivation. And in spite of being reported as “climate scientists”, involved in scientific research, also seem to be working within the social sciences, albeit for “climate research” institutions, such as Tyndall. Johanna Wolf, for example, is an IPCC contributor from the University of East Anglia, who works in the department for “development studies”. Does that make her a climate scientist? Anna Taylor, of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Oxford has no PhD at all, her research focuses on “stakeholder engagement in adapting to multiple stresses, including climate variability and change, water scarcity, food insecurity and health concerns” – not climate science, and has simply not been alive long enough to join the ranks of the specialists of specialisms that Dessler demands of sceptics. Similarly, Susanne Rupp-Armstrong, listed as a member of Southampton University only appears to have ever contributed to one academic paper. Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, Maureen Agnew does not focus her research on climate science, but on such things as “Public perceptions of unusually warm weather in the UK: impacts, responses and adaptations”, and “Potential impacts of climate change on international tourism.” Katherine Vincent specialising in “Social Capital and Climate change” at the UEA, only began her PhD thesis in October 2003. How can she be cited as a specialist in climate science?

Then there are the contributors whose involvement we cannot explain. Farhana Yamin is an international lawyer, based at the University of Sussex. Rachel Warren and Paul Watkiss are merely listed as “environmental consultants” at the latter’s consultancy firm, and clearly have a commercial interest in climate change policies being developed. Kate Studd is listed as a contributor, but she works for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, and doesn’t appear to be an academic at all. What are these people doing on this list of the most expert climate specialists in the world?

We were surprised by the results. Was the prevalence of social scientists from the UK representative of the whole group? We decided to repeat the test for the contributors based in the USA.

Of the 70 US contributors, there were 7 economists, 13 social scientists, 3 epidemiologists, 10 biologists/ecologists, 5 engineers, 2 modellers/statisticians, 1 full-time activist (and 1 part time), 5 were in public health and policy, and 4 were unknowns. 17 worked in eart
h/atmospheric sciences. Again, we gave the benefit of the doubt to geographers where it wasn’t clear whether their specialism was physical, or human geography.

In a follow-up post, Dessler has set about ‘Busting the ‘consensus busters” by ridiculing the qualifications of Inhofe’s 400 experts, starting with a certain Thomas Ring. In the comments section he justifies this approach:

I agree it would be quicker to simply note the qualified skeptics on the list (there are probably a few dozen), but, from a rhetorical point of view, I think pointing out these immensely unqualified members of the list is more effective.

Well, we can all play that game… Included as contributors to WGII are Patricia Craig, Judith Cranage, Susan Mann, and Christopher Pfeiffer, all from Pennsylvania State University. It’s not that these people aren’t experts in their field – they probably are. Our problem with their inclusion on the list of Contributors to the IPCC WGII Fourth Assessment report is that their jobs are (in order) website-designer, administrative assistant (x2), and network administrator.

Also on the list is Peter Neofotis who appears to be a 2003 graduate of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology from Columbia. Are there many experts in anything who graduated in 2003? Would Dessler take his sick child to a doctor, who, according to our understanding of medical training, would have not yet qualified? Also at Columbia is Marta Vicarelli, who is a PhD candidate in ‘sustainable development’. Can she be the amongst the world’s leading experts on sustainability? It seems hard to take the claim seriously. Or what about Gianna Palmer at Wesleyan University, who, as far as we can tell, will not graduate from university until 2010?

And yet Dessler insists that

Inhofe’s list is chock full of people without any recent, relevant research on the problem. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why they’re skeptics: people with the relevant experience are immediately persuaded by the evidence. This should be compared to the IPCC, which includes exclusively people with recent, relevant expertise on the problem.

Anything which can be thrown at the sceptics can be thrown at IPCC contributors.

That is not to say that social scientists and computer programmers have nothing to offer the world, or the IPCC process. They are crucial in fact. What it is to say, however, is that, when social scientists, computer programmers and administrative assistants comprise a significant proportion of IPCC contributors, the global warmer mantra that the IPCC represents the world’s top 2500 climate scientists is just plain old-fashioned not true.

Dessler’s wish to maintain that the IPCC comprises unimpeachable experts in their field mirrors the common desire to create an unassailable scientific consensus that political changes in the world are a necessity. This is driven less from the data generated by these experts – they aren’t as expert as is claimed, and the consensus is not unassailable – and more to do with the desire to drive politics by creating scientific orthodoxy. This would be scientism, if there was any matter of science about it. The only claim to authority that the IPCC has is not tested, scientific expertise, but just the fact of being established as an authority. There is obviously no substantial attempt to select the best in the field to contribute, as there is no objective measure of such expertise. If we do not take the view that IPCC’s authority rests on its contributors’ expertise, then the consensus it generates is meaningless. It is merely a ‘ministry of truth‘ – the existence of which is only designed to reduce inconvenient challenges to political, not scientific, orthodoxy.

Dessler says :

The problem is not the several dozen credible skeptics on Inhofe’s list, some of whom you’ve named, it’s the 350 others. Overall, There are nowhere near 400 credible skeptics on his list, or on the planet.

Even if it were possible to draw together the best scientific minds (and perhaps even the best sociologists and programmers too), would it even be desirable? Science has never ‘worked’ by measuring opinion, but by testing hypotheses. It doesn’t work by generating orthodoxy, but by challenging it. The IPCC doesn’t represent the best available understanding, but the paucity of understanding of the factors governing climate. If the ‘truth’ really is ‘out there’ then it doesn’t need to be decided by committee.