This is the final part of the my review of Donna Laframboise’s book, the delinquent teenager who was mistaken for the worlds leading climate expert. The first part can be found here and the second here, if you missed them.
We start this part of the review with chapter five, I’ll let the title of this chapter speak for itself.
5. The Right Gender or the Right Country
I don’t like where this is going….
In early 2010 the InterAcademy Council, an organization comprised of science bodies from around the world, took an historic step. It established a committee whose purpose was to investigate IPCC policies and procedures.
Well that wasn’t quite what I expected but okay a committee was established to investigate the IPCC. For the purposes of clarification the IAC is an United Nations organisation made up of the Presidents of various national academies of science. Generally the UN Secretary General approaches them to deliver advice on a particular topic. IAC then appoints a committee of people they believe to be experts to investigate and develop advice on the topic. In this case the Head of the IPCC and the UN Secretary General jointly approached the IAC to establish this committee in response to the Himalayan glacier scandal of 2010. Lets continue.
The committee posted a questionnaire on its website and invited interested parties to respond. Answers to those questionnaires were eventually made public after the names of the respondents had been removed. Those provided by IPCC insiders can be separated from the ones submitted by concerned citizens because the questionnaire begins by asking what role the respondent has played in the IPCC.
Good, although I think that in this particular case the self selecting nature of an invited survey will tend to make the responses more negative of the IPCC than reality. It is just the nature of sending an e-mail around saying that ‘hey here is a tool for you to use if you want to bitch about your job.’
People with direct experience of this organization were remarkably frank in their feedback. According to them, scientific excellence isn’t the only reason individuals are invited to participate in the IPCC.
Remember, this is a UN body. It therefore cares about the same things other UN bodies care about. Things like diversity. Gender balance. Regional representation. The degree to which developing countries are represented compared to developed countries.
We all knew this was coming, people like Lisa Alexander and Sari Kovats aren’t in the IPCC because they are bloody awesome but only because the organisation needed a women quota. If only we just let the intelligent and deserving white men get on with it without all these women and people from the developing world bothering them they would get the right answers. Lets see how deep a hole she’ll dig or herself, by the way remember she is a feminist, which means she can’t be sexist.
The collected answers to the questionnaire total 678 pages. As early as page 16, someone complains that: “some of the lead authors…are clearly not qualified to be lead authors.” Here are other direct quotes:…
If you were wondering the … in the middle of the quote covers ‘(generally although not always from from developing countries)’ the respondent then goes on to offer a solution to this problem ‘The solution is to do a more careful screening of the candidates that are put forward by their governments, and request alternate candidates when the person clearly does not have the right background‘
I’ll spare you the quotes she has lined up suffice to say that Laframboise has five quotes from the 678 page document bemoaning geographically based appointments (including one from someone from a developing country!) and she states that there are dozens of mentions of the word gender in the 678 pages although use of the term is both negative and positive. I think I have to ctrl+f this document to see how many times make dozens and the balance of positive to negative. Be back in a minute.
I counted 26 respondents using of the word gender and 1 of engender but I got a bit confused in the counting – many of the answers looked similar to each other so I may be a bit off. 6 of those 26 used it in a negative connotation and 2 of those 6 said that the problem was that the IPCC didn’t do enough to bring about a decent gender balance, while the other 4 were your stock standard different viewpoints aren’t important arguments. I have also read a lot of what the writers of the IPCC have to say about the selection process and I believe I may have uncovered a point that Laframboise is ignoring. But let her continue…
Among those with firsthand IPCC experience, therefore, it is an open secret that some people are appointed for reasons that have little to do with world-class scientific expertise. Depending on whose opinion you believe, this is true in either a small minority of cases or with regard to as many as half of the authors. In the view of at least one person, every IPCC personnel decision is influenced by concerns unrelated to science.
If the United Nations regards the IPCC as a training ground for scientists from the developing world that’s perfectly OK. If it thinks one of the main goals of the IPCC is to raise the profile of female scientists that’s OK, too. It is entitled to do whatever it wants with its own organization. But it is dishonest to tell the world you’ve assembled a group of competitive cyclists when many on your team are actually riding tricycles.
All right lets get this done, I don’t think it is a secret at all that the IPCC tries to have a level of gender and regional balance however it is also clear that the people entering into these working groups still have excellent qualifications. The vast majority of the respondents that I saw valued working with people from diverse backgrounds, many valued the local knowledge of conditions and experiences of groups around the world that were brought to the debate. They also thought the differences of backgrounds tended to help the groups run smoothly and made them more effective, mainly in that it helped prevent the ideas of the working groups from becoming homogeneous.
Which makes me wonder if maybe having some sort of balance of gender and geography will actually produce the best quality reports. Particularly if you follow Laframboise implied proposal of only selecting those with world-class scientific expertise. In the last two chapters we saw that she valued age, length of service and number and quality of qualifications as the markers of scientific expertise. Which is fairly certain to ensure that you will get a vast majority of the people who meet these criteria coming from the Northern Hemisphere, being male and most likely dominated by a few universities. Assuming that this is the best measure of scientific expertise, which is an assumption I will never agree with, it is clear to see that this will lead to a very homogeneous IPCC with similar shared intellectual and lived backgrounds. Heterogeneity would suffer as would the quality of the science reported.
One more point that she should mention, I mentioned it earlier in this chapter and she implied it way back in chapter 1. The scientists names are largely put forward by their home governments, remember the 100 godparents metaphor. The IPCC is responsible to the whole world and the whole world needs to feel that they had their problems discussed and analysed so that at least everyone can know the truth of them. Geographical balance is not optional for the IPCC, there would be no quicker way to lose legitimacy amongst the majority of the world than if they were to find their own scientists being consistently rejected from contributing to solving global problems.
And again while being from the developing world may imply that a persons university etc. may not have existed for centuries or be as well funded as those in Europe or North America nor have the same job security that is found in those institutions does not imply that the people that work there are stupid or do not have anything to contribute. Well lets get this chapter over with.
Journalists say we should trust the IPCC’s conclusions because its reports have been written by the world’s finest scientific minds. But in order for that to be the case the IPCC would need to apply very different criteria when selecting its authors.
It would need an explicit policy that says something along the lines of: Even though we are a UN body, we are not influenced by UN diversity concerns. We select the world’s best experts and only the best experts – regardless of where they come from or what gender they happen to be.
That is the kind of IPCC I could believe in. But that is not the IPCC we have
I have no doubt that is the kind of IPCC you could believe in, as would the globally privileged but not many others. Plus the quality of the reports would drop rapidly, debate would be stifled and the IPCC would become an even more conservative body.
I promised you I would get back to you about Richard Klein and why we shouldn’t care about why he worked for Greenpeace. Here is the opportunity. The chapter begins with an statement that activists and science do not mix.
Since activists bring their own agenda to the table, and since agendas and science don’t mix, environmentalists need to keep their distance from scientific endeavors. Data cannot be considered scientifically reputable if it has been collected and analyzed by activists. Scientific conclusions – especially those involving judgment calls – cannot be trusted if activists have played a role.
But activists have not kept their distance from the IPCC. Nor has that organization taken steps to safeguard its reputation by maintaining a strict boundary between itself and green groups
Okay I’m not going to take this opportunity to point out the slight flaw in her line of thought because I read ahead a bit and noticed a great quote to build my argument on. I’ll limit myself to wondering aloud why she assumes being an activist is illogical and inherently corrupting, I mean she was all for the 1995 deceiver of the year despite his dowsing proclivities how is it he might keep is pseudo-scientific beliefs separate from his science but an activist inherently can not keep any of there beliefs separate from their science?
Laframboise now continues the attack on the relationship between Greenpeace and the IPCC this time with a kiwi connection.
The improper relationship between activists and the IPCC is illustrated by a 2007 Greenpeace publication. The foreword to that document was written by none other than Rajendra Pachauri. At the end of his remarks, beside his photograph, he is identified not as a private individual expressing private opinions but as the chairman of the IPCC.
The following year Pachauri wrote another foreword for another Greenpeace publication. Think about this for a moment. The IPCC’s role is similar to that of a trial judge. It examines the scientific evidence and decides whether or not human-produced carbon dioxide is guilty of triggering climate change.
The Kiwi connection is that the first ‘Greenpeace’ document was written about the New Zealand energy situation. I actually recall remember reading it a few years ago, 2008 maybe. I had to put Greenpeace in quote marks because it is a bit simplistic to call it a Greenpeace publication. I mean it is published by Greenpeace Aotearoa/NZ but the European Renewable Energy Council and a department with a long name that I’m too lazy to type from the German Aerospace Centre contributed. It is about a strategy those groups came up with that would move New Zealand away from fossil fuels and towards a greater use of renewables. Pachuri’s forward pretty much says Renewable Energy is really great and climate change is really important and this publication is kind of interesting.
The whole judge/trial metaphor goes on for a bit after the second paragraph. But I’ll just limit myself to Laframboise’s initial premise that the IPCC is a trial judge, even though it does get funny a few paragraphs on when the IPCC(the judge) and Greenpeace(the prosecutors) are having a pissup. But it seems to me that the IPCC is better compared to a commission of inquiry rather than a trial judge. A judge is trying to find whether someone is guilty or innocent, a commission of inquiry is after the truth. The IPCC isn’t putting anyone on trial they are simply trying to describe the observed phenomena in the world and occasionally offer advice on how to deal with it. There are no prosecutors or defendants, there is only true, false and everything in between.
Laframboise then goes on to list a number of IPCC contributors who are involved with activist organisations, namely Greenpeace, the WWF and the Environmental Defence Fund. But frankly it will prove a very similar exercise to that I went through in chapter 4 and I don’t feel like doing it again. So we’ll skip right to the main point I want to discuss, her quote is below.
When the public hears the term ‘scientist’ we think of someone who is above the fray – who’s disinterested and dispassionate and who goes wherever the scientific results happen to lead. This implied neutrality is what gives scientists their authority. But in the 1970s a new kind of scientist began to emerge – the activist scientist. Nowadays these people occupy impressive positions at universities. They are often employed by respectable government bodies. All of that disguises the fact that they hold activist worldviews and that those views can influence their scientific judgment.
This is essentially Laframboise’s entire argument in this chapter, she believes science should be dispassionate and neutral and that since the 70’s it has become increasingly less so. At least here she softens her earlier stance now activist world views only ‘can’ influence science. Before I begin discussing this paragraph I think a definition of an activist is necessary mainly because I suspect that Laframboise means something slightly different than me when she says activist. For the purpose of this discussion I’ll be working with the idea of an activist as an individual who uses their social power to try and create what they see as a positive change for their society. The thing that makes me think Laframboise means something different is the mention of an activist world view, I can’t really figure what that phrase means to her unless she is referring to a person identifying and living as an engaged citizen but I don’t see why you would want to disguise this.
Anyway on to her actual argument starting at the beginning there is a logical flaw between her first and second sentences. Laframboise argues that scientists should go “wherever the scientific results happen to lead” and that this implies neutrality. Which is clearly not the case, lets say you are a scientist who decides to research climate change you do so and the results of that research convinces you that climate change is a threat to humanity and that we should do something about it. Guess what you are no longer neutral and the second you try to do/say something about climate change you now have an activist world view and you can’t be trusted near science. Of course the same is true if you find that climate change isn’t happening and really we should do less about it, you are now an activist and can’t be trusted near science. Apparently the only people that can be trusted near science are those that are uncertain about what they are talking about. This is also the huge point Laframboise is missing in all her discussions of activist scientists, they are not activists who became scientists to advances their own ideologies using the legitimacy of all the good scientists in the world. They are scientists who looked at the problem and became activists to try and help solve it, it is their logic and rationality that makes them qualified to be scientists that also compels them to act to improve this world.
Next point the whole activist scientists appearing in the 1970’s story, there have always been activist scientists. There was a down blip during the political repression of the 1950’s which might have given the appearance of the rise of a new type of scientist but Laframboise is simply mistaken in this regard. A few examples, Isaac Newton became a warden of the royal mint and used that position to reform the English economy around a gold standard. Albert Einstein convinced the American government to start building atomic weapons, then spent a lot of the remainder of his life trying to get rid of them, as well as publicly opposing racism and Macarthyism as well as promoting socialism and peace. Niels Bohr helped protect Danish Treasures and was instrumental in helping 7000 Danish Jews to leave Nazi Occupied Denmark. John Snow when he wasn’t trying to prevent cholera was promoting temperance. Benjamin Franklin was an American Revolutionary. I could go on but I keep getting distracted by reading all about the cool activist things people did.
So lets just finish with the good old 11th thesis on Feuerbach ‘The Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.’
7. Climate Modellers
Well this is the last chapter in Laframboise’s sample, so I’m afraid this will have to be the end of this review. This chapter looks at the methods that are used to predict the future of our planets climate. But first Laframboise explains the scientific method to us.
The scientific method involves forming an hypothesis, testing that hypothesis in the real world, and then confirming, adjusting, or abandoning the hypothesis according to what the real-world tests reveal.
Simplistic but near enough.
But there is no duplicate planet Earth on which experiments may be safely conducted. No one knows, therefore, what will happen if the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere increases from 390 to 600 parts per million.
Well no one can know what happens in the future with absolute certainty, we still make plenty of decisions based upon predictions of the future, particularly if these predictions are based upon observable phenomena and mathematical laws which describe these phenomena. Also we could look at Earth’s pre-history when there were 600ppm of carbon dioxide to have some sort of idea what Earth would be like. But I take her point, we have to ensure that the basis of our predictions are based upon solid observations and updated when new data become available. Or at last I think that is her point because she goes of on an unusual diversion.
These really are the amounts under discussion. Scientists believe carbon dioxide used to comprise less than 0.03% of the atmosphere – 280 parts per million- prior to the industrial revolution. Currently, at 390 parts per million, it’s approaching 0.04%. Barring emissions reductions, by the year 2100 that number could reach 0.06%. All this fuss is based on a hypothesis that says our planet is so unstable a slight increase in one particular trace gas will trigger disaster
You could also call it a doubling in concentration of the fourth most common gas in the atmosphere. But I wouldn’t want to cause a fuss.
Since there’s no way to actually test this hypothesis, some people have adopted an alternative approach. They say that supercomputers programmed with complex mathematical formulas confirm that a bit more CO2(sic) in the atmosphere will be really bad news. In the view of climate modelers, these computer simulations are as good as hard evidence.
I actually doubt that any climate modeller has said anything like this. I imagine they would say something about how observation of the world and small scale experiments have demonstrated that the concentration of carbon dioxide leads to certain changes in other process. And extrapolating this information into the future makes us suspect bad news is coming, of course we would prefer hard evidence but it is impossible to get hard evidence of what the future will be like until it is too late to do anything about it.
But this requires a rather large leap of faith. If math and computing power were the only things necessary to predict the future, investors would already know the price at which gold will be trading five, ten, and twenty years hence. But the world is chaotic and unpredictable. It rarely unfolds in the manner that even the smartest people, aided by graphs, charts, and computers, think it will.
The difference between the climate and the price of gold is that the first is a natural phenomenon while the later is a social phenomena. Gases, chemicals and physical forces all tend to act predictably provided enough information is known. People do not always act predictably hence why people struggle to predict future gold prices, Climate change is a combination of the two, it is predictable natural phenomena based upon unpredictable human behaviour (to overstate the difference between the two). That is why the IPCC proposes numerous scenarios depending upon how humanities carbon emissions change in the future, essentially they account for uncertainty by putting forward a range of possibilities
Laframboise stays on this point for a while, offering a quote from Freeman Dyson which says near enough to the same thing as above. Pointing out that we can’t prove long term predictions in the short term and that we can’t predict the weather all that well. Then she moves on to a discussion of groupthink in the IPCC.
This is a recipe for tunnel-vision. It is groupthink waiting to happen.
The research bodies that fund climate modeling teams don’t appear to have taken any precautions against groupthink. Nor has the IPCC subjected climate models to rigorous evaluation by neutral, disinterested parties. Instead, it recruits the same people who work with these models on a daily basis to write the section of the Climate Bible that passes judgment on them. This is like asking parents to rate their own children’s attractiveness. Do we really expect them to tell us their kids are homely?
As regards to precautions against groupthink the IPCC have tried to prevent this by trying to get people from a variety of backgrounds to work on each chapter, which I note Laframboise disapproves of two chapters earlier. As to the IPCC not subjecting things to neutral, disinterested parties for review I would point out that there is a significant internal review process for all the chapters. Do you all recall the 102 pages of criticism for a 54 page chapter I have linked to for the third time now. For variety here is a 65 page review of AR4, WG 3, chapter 11. In fact the IPCC puts the chapters through three reviews, although I imagine that Laframboise would claim these aren’t neutral or disinterested reviewers. AR5, the iteration of the ‘climate bible’ that will be released shortly had at least 800 experts and 26 governments provide a total of 52,822 comments on the first working groups report so far, that is the third of the total report which deals with the physical science of climate change. It is pretty obvious that this isn’t being rubber stamped by a group of people who are all unwilling to challenge each other. I would further argue that while a few of those experts might be mostly thinking of there own interests I doubt all or even most of them are, and of course governments tend to have different interests than scientists.
But more importantly who does Laframboise want to work on or review these chapters, climate modellers get this role because they are the experts on climate modelling. Our options are largely limited to climate modellers or people without expertise in climate modelling, who would have to be brought up to speed by the experts anyway. Also Laframboise ignores that there are a variety of competing climate models with different authors. I’ll fix her metaphor for her.
This is like asking a panel of parents to rate the attractiveness of a group of children including their own. Do we really expect them to tell us their kids are homely?
Nope but I think they could manage to state a reasonable average level of attractiveness.
The rest of this chapter is Laframboise listing climate modellers who worked on the IPCC reports and making horrified noises. I’ll skip over all of this bar one paragraph to show a point that Laframboise misses and is kind of important.
George Boer is considered the architect of Canada’s climate modeling efforts. As an employee of Environment Canada (which also produces weather forecasts), he has spent much of his career attempting to convince the powers-that-be that climate models are a legitimate use of public money. There has been a direct relationship between how persuasive he has been and how many staff he’s been permitted to hire, how much computing power he’s been permitted to purchase, and the amount of professional prestige he has acquired.
Now I don’t know much about George Boer or the Canadian Government, but I do recognise the problem that Laframboise is serious, it is also prevalent throughout our society. But we usually manage to take it into consideration when making decisions and when it is critical there are steps that can be taken to try to insulate policy making from advice or information producing. But looking at this particular example, why does Boer want more staff and more computing power? Well it is to enable his team to produce better, more accurate predictions – unless he has some sort of computer fetish. The issue of professional prestige is more serious, but considering Boer is probably very bright and seemingly very persuasive he probably would have thought up a more efficient way of gaining prestige than being a climate modeller for Environment Canada. Of course all his vast hoard of computers, staff and prestige is only dependent on the accuracy of his predictions. Despite what Laframboise repeatedly asserts this is actually checked up on, in fact here are two articles doing just, both have Lisa Alexander as a co-author, who while being too young to work on the IPCC report in 2001 has now grown up and so must be a genius.
Well that is that, I am not paying to review the rest of this book, there are a few appendices left in the free sample but I’m reluctant to criticise them without reading what Laframboise has to say about the information in them.
However if anyone has a copy and would like to read more than flick it on to me and I’ll give it a go. Or you could suggest other books for me to review I actually enjoyed writing this, not so much reading the book.
Thank you all for reading this far, I hope you all enjoyed it.