A penetrating analysis of how the IPCC’s AR5 was constructed

I’ve written about the IPCCs way of reporting on science before, many times, and there is no doubt that its processes are deeply flawed. To begin with, it was set up to monitor the risks of human influences on climate, not on all influences on climate, and thus its bias is to prefer those papers that show, or purport to show, human influences at work. If, as seems increasingly likely, natural variability of many kinds is at least as important as human influences, if not much more so, then the need for an IPCC of the present kind begins to fade. It is understandable, then, that the IPCC reports keep telling us that warming is inevitable and we must reduce emissions.

Second, the IPCC has what amounts to a fetish about climate models, to the point where observations are dismissed, and model-run outputs preferred. It doesn’t matter how many times critics point out that the models have not been either validated or verified, or that their output is often at great variance with observations, the IPCC goes on talking about model runs as though they amount to ‘experiments’ that produce ‘evidence’.

Now someone has gone into the inner workings of the production of the WG1 scientific paper of AR5, looking at all the comments on what is known as the ‘second order draft’ (SOD — I make no comment). The SOD is the penultimate version of WG1, and the IPCCs procedures allow reviewers to comment; all comments have to be responded to.

A good process? Well, it could be. John McLean, who is a PhD student in climate science with some publications to his credit, decided that he would look at the whole process of turning the SOD into WG1, and that must have taken an awfully long time.  I am glad that I didn’t have to do the work involved — but then, neither did he. But he was a reviewer for WG1, and he made a lot of comments — indeed, he must get whatever medal is awarded for making the greatest number of comments: 531. How many reviewers were there? The answer is 831. How many reviewer comments were there in all? 31,021. Amazing.

You can get access to his report on the whole process here, where you can download the report. The statistics are staggering, but what is most memorable, to me, is the dismissal and its tone, when any reviewer pointed out difficulties with models, or the different story observations tell. Chapter 10 of WG1, which is about ‘attribution’ (who dunnit?), is the one to check here. McLean points out that If a substantial part of any warming cannot be attributed to human influences then the rest of the IPCC report is worthless, save for some reasonable summaries (but doubtful interpretations) in the three chapters dealing with observations. I made the same point recently about ‘climate sensitivity’: if it is small, then what are we worrying about?

Chapter 10 was defended strongly, and so was the SOD of the Summary for Policmakers. McLean says The word “evidence” appears 236 times in the comments and responses, frequently in a form similar to “Reject. Reviewer fails to provide scientific evidence in support of his claims”. The phrase “fails to provide” appears 22 times in the IPCC author responses. ‘Evidence’ has to be peer-reviewed article, or the authors won’t have a bar of the criticism. I would call that a most constipated approach to review.

McLean has a neat summary of the whole process, based on his analysis of the comments and their reception.

Here’s how it works

(i)  The IPCC produces a report citing published papers and predicting significant warming;  governments approve the summary of this report and it becomes the authoritative version.

(ii)  Governments bow to pressure from peer governments, the United Nations as a whole, the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This pressure is both direct from these bodies and indirect via the alarmist media statements that these bodies produce and the mainstream media uncritically reports and which the public, who vote governments into office, blindly accept.

(iii)  The substantial government-funded research that seeks to support the IPCC’s view results in even more papers for the next IPCC report to cite and conversely a reduction in papers that suggest other causes, the reduction being seized upon as evidence that few scientists support any contrary view.

McLean’s report has all the statistics that anyone might want, but it also has some most interesting commentary, of which I’ve provided only a flavour.

And to finish, here’s an extract from one reviewer who sums up the whole IPCC process for me in what follows:

The logical fallacy of this Chapter is in making the (implicit and ever present in the Report) statement that it is the anthropogenically produced carbon dioxide that is causing the global warming, based on the knowledge that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases affect climate to some extent. In other words, they accept the AGW hypothesis as final truth, without even trying to use the Scientific Method and test the hypothesis.

You won’t be suprised to learn that his comment was not accepted.








Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Recently some friends and I listened to a talk on AGW from a luminary with significant involvement in IPCC activities in previous years. In discussion afterwards, the speaker assured us of his personal and absolute commitment to scientific truth, and that if ever he determined that the predictions about AGW effects were wrong, he would immediately and publicly declare his new convictions (and his reasoning).

    As I left the venue, I felt humbled by such integrity. And courage. To think what it must take, after twenty or more years of public support of what has been trumpeted as a noble cause, receiving public position and accolades galore, then to turn around and trash the lot. Wow!

    • dlb says:

      Peter, I take it this speaker was not a climate scientist. If I were one I think I’d be keeping a very low public profile and looking for the back door. Remember that quote from the climate-gate emails “What if climate change turns out to be a natural fluctuation? They will kill us all”

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Hi dlb

        I think he would consider himself to be one, as I think would most who peruse his background. Natural fluctuation? Wash your mouth out, my friend.

        Meanwhile, the tumbrils continue their slow advance, bearing more of those inconvenient new papers and observations that tell of such strange things:

        * NASA – no deep ocean warming below 2 km.
        * NASA – the earth’s magma is domed beneath the Thwaites and Pine Island Glaciers in the Antarctic, warming the continent and melting the underside of those glaciers – so that melt is not from a warmer atmosphere at all, if NASA is to be believed.
        * RSS global temperatures still level pegging for 18 years now.
        * Ocean levels rose just 225 mm between 1901 and 2012.
        * The Arctic sea ice is doing some recovery, looking enviously at that wastrel Antarctic, which keeps piling on more and more sea ice.

        Incidentally, the title of that talk headlined “climate change”, but the speaker stated “global warming is one thing, but climate change is another”. Upon questioning, he explained that global warming is what it is all about, and climate change is what affects one at the local level. I was reassured by that explanation, as I was starting to get confused. We used to call it “global warming” as you’ll remember, and I was worried for a minute that some funny kind of semantic reversal was in train. Or perhaps I am confused?

        “We seek it here, we seek it there.
        That missing heat has gone somewhere!”

        Somewhere else, someplace, sometime, some wit will be working on the script for a new movie, perhaps calling it “An Inconvenient Spoof”.

  • David says:

    “Here’s how it works … [see above]

    You won’t be surprised to learn that his comment was not accepted.”

    Well of course not. It’s non-scientific. 🙂

    For example; “In other words, they accept the AGW hypothesis as final truth, without even trying to use the Scientific Method and test the hypothesis.”

    Do you think that sentence is remotely balanced? Not one of the papers that the IPCC has included in their review “has even tried to use the Scientific Method to the the [AGW] the hypothesis. ??? I can see why they might flick that comment.

    Is that something that Dr Curry would write?

    • Don Aitkin says:


      You may have missed the point in your enthusiasm for Dr Curry, which I share. I think the reviewer was arguing that the IPCC authors should always be testing their AGW hypothesis against the null, which is natural variability. If that is the case, he is right. They don’t do it anywhere that I have read, in either AR5 or AR4. I haven’t looked at the earlier reports except for individual references. They start with the presumption that AGW, or the orthodox view that humans cause greenhouse gas emissions which increase temperature which is bad, is correct, and find confirming support in paper after paper.

      • David says:

        We have had these sorts of discussion before. And they are interesting. Belief is such an intangible. But I don’t think scientists who believe in AGW are systematically flawed in the way they go about their research

        Curry accepts AGW. Are her methods flawed? She took some data, ran a model and reported statistically significant coefficient that is about 50% of the IPCC’s mean estimate.

        Did you see Catalyst the other night. Curry and others we talking about “the pause”. I would imagine the differences between her research and the others are likely to be quite subtle. Scientifically the “gap” between her analysis and the “believers” at the IPCC is not really that large. But the political ramifications of the results magnify the differences .

        • Don Aitkin says:

          I too accept that increasing burning of fossil fuels will, indeed, must lead to some kind of warming. Both Dr Curry and I, and many other agnostics/sceptics do not, however, see any indiction that the warming must lead to dangerous outcomes within the next hundred years. Most sceptics think that the evidence suggests that warming is good for the biosphere, and that more carbon dioxide leads to more plant life, more greening.

          No one is suggesting that climate scientists are systematically flawed in the way they go about their work, and neither Dr Curry nor I imagine that they are involved in some kind of conspiracy. McLean and others are pointing the finger at the IPCC’s Contributing Lead Authors and their colleagues in the writing teams, who do seem to start with the assumption that AGW is correct.

          • David says:

            “No one is suggesting that climate scientists are systematically flawed in the way they go about their work,…”
            Really ? From your web site. 🙂

            “Every time a political ideology invokes “science,” you can be certain that what they really want is to impose a fascist dictatorship on your country, and, ultimately, the world. The Nazi regime, of course, was very “scientific,” its abhorrence of international and domestic Jewry proven by Nazi “science” of Jewish inferiority and evil. Communism, another fundamentally fascist ideology, also derived its legitimacy from the “science” of Marxism-Leninism. It never bothered the “science” protagonists that their drivel completely violated real scientific principles, common sense, and plain every-day observation. Communist economies were in no way superior to the capitalist ones, quite on the contrary, and a large number of Jews amongst Nobel Prize winners and other distinguished citizens, put a lie to Nazi propaganda.

            Let the time roll, from the death of the Third Reich in 1945 to 1970s, the birth of the Green Movement in Germany, wherefrom it spread to other western countries, sprouting roots in the English speaking world more than anywhere else (the French and the Italians, as usual, wouldn’t care less, bless them). The movement was invented, founded and financially supported by East German Stasi agents, Petra Kelly and her dear husband, Gert Bastian, in the first place, but others, less prominent, too. It was the East German money that paid for “Peace Marches” and for “Save the Earth Marches” at the time.

            Then, as the Berlin Wall fell, and the leftists of Europe scattered in panic, it downed on them that this Stasi organized Green movement was going to be their next home. The science of “Marxismus-und-Leninismus” was laid bare as the great fraud of the 20th century, but here was a new budding “science” which could be wielded to hit capitalism where it really hurts: not by proposing a better economic formation, because there isn’t any that would be more successful, but by making the claim that capitalism delivered prosperity hurts the Earth and all life on it, and that if it is allowed to continue and, worse, spread around the globe, to China, Eastern Europe, India, Brazil, this would produce a climatic calamity that would end life on earth as we know it. What made it even better than the old communism was its global reach. Everybody had to toe the line in this self-imposed green poverty and denial: the Chinese as much as the Americans, for this is “our shared planet,” which is “our greatest value of all.”

          • Don Aitkin says:

            This long extract does not say anywhere that climate scientists are systematically flawed in the way they go about their work. He is talking about the way in which political ideologues use ‘science’ to bolster their own views. Quite a different point.

          • David says:

            How about

            “It never bothered the “science” protagonists that their drivel completely violated real scientific principles, common sense, and plain every-day observation.”

          • David says:

            Most sceptics think that the evidence suggests that warming is good for the biosphere, and that more carbon dioxide leads to more plant life, more greening.


          • David says:

            Is that a no, I don’t have one ?

          • dlb says:

            David I’ll just butt in with this, CO2 fertilization is well known.

            “Current evidence suggests that that the concentrations of atmospheric CO2 predicted for the year 2100 will have major implications for plant physiology and growth. Under elevated CO2 most plant species show higher rates of photosynthesis, increased growth, decreased water use and lowered tissue concentrations of nitrogen and protein. Rising CO2 over the next century is likely to affect both agricultural production and food quality. The effects of elevated CO2 are not uniform; some species, particularly those that utilize the C4 variant of photosynthesis, show less of a response to elevated CO2 than do other types of plants. Rising CO2 is therefore likely to have complex effects on the growth and composition of natural plant communities.”

            From: Taub, D. (2010) Effects of Rising Atmospheric
            Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide on Plants. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):21

  • David says:

    Don you should try and channel Dr Curry. Dr Curry is measured, methodically evaluates the evidence and considers both sides of the argument, IMO.

  • Patrick Caldon says:

    “To begin with, it was set up to monitor the risks of human influences on climate”

    It wasn’t. It was set up to: “assess the scientific information that is related to the various components of the climate change issue” and to “formulate realistic response strategies”. That’s the direct quote from the WMO in the founding document. The MOU establishing the panel says it is to “make assessments of available scientific information on climate change”. The current principles document uses similar language. It’s role is to “assess scientific information”. The UN resolution which chartered the organisation charges it with producing a “comprehensive review” of the “state of knowledge of climate and climatic change” in the document that ended up being the assessment report. Its website says that its job is to describe the current state of knowledge.

Leave a Reply