Hundreds of souls have volunteered to serve as IPCC expert reviewers. But the review process lacks integrity – and the system is being gamed.

Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an official statement regarding the leak of draft versions of 14 chapters of its still-in-progress climate report.

The chapters have twice been examined by a small army of external expert reviewers. These fresh pairs of eyes are supposed to be one of the IPCC’s virtues – one of the reasons we can all feel confident about the quality of its reports.

Nevertheless, the statement contained this startling sentence:

It should also be noted that the cut-off date for peer-reviewed published literature to be included and assessed in the final draft lies in the future (15 March 2013).

Excuse me? What is the point of enlisting hundreds of people to help you catch errors if you intend to keep inserting new material months after they’ve exited the stage?

Here’s the timeline:

  • IPCC personnel wrote the first draft of these leaked 14 chapters (all of which belong to its Working Group 1 section) back in 2011.
  • The draft was circulated. External expert reviewers had eight weeks to submit comments about the draft, the cutoff date being February 10, 2012 (see the schedule on this PDF).
  • IPCC personnel presumably read all of the comments that were submitted and then wrote the second draft.
  • Once again it was distributed to the expert reviewers, and once again there was a deadline. That date, November 30, 2012 has now come and gone.

According to yesterday’s statement, the IPCC received 31,000 comments from 800 people who volunteered to serve as external reviewers during round two. It’s now clear that those people should have spent their time reading a novel.

Because the IPCC process lacks integrity. Because the system is being gamed. Because the IPCC has publicly declared that this is in fact, what’s going on.

It doesn’t matter how carefully those 800 people examined the IPCC’s text. It doesn’t matter how long they laboured over their comments. The IPCC reserves the right to keep changing the substance of the report.

The external reviewers will see none of this new material. They will be given no opportunity to critique it. Let no one dare say that the final report can be relied on because 800 external expert reviewers gave it their blessing.

Those reviewers can only claim to have seen some early versions. Whatever the final version says will be determined behind closed doors by the IPCC’s small, carefully selected sub-group of individuals.

In 2009 Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, delivered a speech at the University of Copenhagen. Among other things, he encouraged his audience to believe that IPCC reports are thoroughly vetted by thousands of independent souls.

According to a news article, during the Q&A session a member of the audience accused him of using a graph that was statistically unsound. The news article says that Pachauri:

refutes the accusation by arguing that everything he says is based on IPCC’s scientific experts reviews. “How can all the 2500 scientific reviewers lie?.” he thunders, glowering.[backup link here]

How can all of those 2,500 reviewers lie? The answer is obvious. They didn’t lie. Instead, it’s quite possible that none of them even saw his graph – that it was slipped in after-the-fact.

Yesterday’s statement abolishes all doubt. The IPCC’s expert reviewers are window dressing.

Yesterday’s IPCC statement is backed up here.

The IPCC’s review schedule is backed up here.


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