A Brief Note on the Latest Release of Draft IPCC Documents

The latest noise coming from the climate contrarian blogosphere deals with another release of the draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft Fifth Assessment Report.  Once again, a reviewer or author who had agreed not to release the documents while they are still undergoing review and revisions has broken his or her word and sent the documents to Donna Laframboise (who has long been trying to undermine the IPCC), who has compounded this unethical behavior by making the draft documents available for download.  This is another case of deja vu - as Gavin Schmidt notes, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report drafts were "leaked" as well.

First of all, contrary to contrarian claims, there is nothing secretive about the IPCC process.  Anybody can review the documents, as we saw during the last "leak" by reviewer Alec Rawls, who is clearly a far cry from a climate expert.  If you are so concerned about the IPCC process, then simply become a reviewer, and comment on the draft report to your heart's content.  If you feel problems remain in the final document, air your grievances when it is published.  As the IPCC explained in its response to this document release:

"The recent posting of drafts of the Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) starts from the incorrect assumption that the IPCC is interested in restricting reviewer input to its drafts. In fact, the opposite is true. The quality of IPCC reports and the integrity of the IPCC process depend on thoughtful comments from the widest possible range of experts, representing the full spectrum of scientific views. The Working Group II review process is open to anyone interested in submitting comments. All scientific comments submitted through the review process will be considered and addressed by authors, and all comments are made public when the report is completed. Comments in blogs or other communications will not contribute to the review process."

The IPCC asks its reviewers to keep the draft documents confidential because they are incomplete and subject to further revisions.  Making draft documents public is counter-productive (unless your goal is to sow confusion, of course), because they can contain mistakes and unclear language.  They are incomplete.

In her release of the draft IPCC documents, Laframboise's sole complaint was that the IPCC is still referencing "gray literature" (non peer-reviewed documents like technical reports and working papers) written by scientists from groups  like the World Wildlife Fund.  While citing gray literature without first checking it thoroughly did lead to one or two relatively minor mistakes in the last IPCC report, a review of IPCC procedures determined that gray literature contains very useful and important information, and that the IPCC has guidelines in place to ensure that the information is accurate before its inclusion in the IPCC report.

"Although some respondents to the Committee’s questionnaire have recommended that only peer-reviewed literature be used in IPCC assessments, this would require the IPCC to ignore some valuable information...."

"The current IPCC procedure requires authors to critically assess unpublished or non-peer-reviewed sources, reviewing their quality and validity before incorporating them...Although the Committee finds that IPCC’s procedures in this respect are adequate, it is clear that these procedures are not always followed...."

? The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature, including providing more specific guidance on how to evaluate such information, adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable, and ensuring that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged in the report."

So as long as the IPCC lead authors have verified the accuracy of the gray literature they reference, there is no problem with its inclusion, which the IPCC has determined will strengthen the report.

Ultimately these unethical "leaks" are simply desperate efforts to distract, confuse, and undermine public confidence in the IPCC - trolling, as Michael Tobis calls it.  In reality, they contain zero actual valid criticism of the IPCC report, and should simply be ignored.  If there are to be criticisms of the IPCC report, they should be aired once the document has been completed and published, or by reviewers during the review process.  Rather than continually engage in this sort of distracting unethical behavior, we suggest that climate contrarians should try to engage in the discussion of the (published) scientific literature.

Posted by dana1981 on Wednesday, 9 January, 2013

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