2011-06-30 07:04:09Nature: on the IPCC's Greenpeace problem
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.35.42
Nature
474,
541
(30 June 2011)
doi:10.1038/474541a
29 June 2011

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must implement changes now to regain lost credibility or it will remain an easy target for critics seeking to score cheap points.

 

For more than 20 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has performed the essential and time-consuming task of pooling and making publicly accessible the evolving knowledge base gleaned from climate-change research. Its efforts were rewarded in 2007 with the Nobel Peace Prize — not bad for what is basically a voluntary organization staffed by thousands of working scientists. But in the past two years, the IPCC has displayed a talent for manoeuvring itself into embarrassing situations, making itself an easy target for critics and climate sceptics.

The problems began in late 2009, when it was reported that the IPCC's fourth assessment report, published two years earlier, mistakenly claimed that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. The subsequent fallout seriously damaged the IPCC's credibility, and was exacerbated by the inept attempts of the group's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, to contain the crisis. A subsequent review of the organization's governance and policies saw it commit to a number of wide-ranging reforms.

This month, the IPCC is in the crosshairs again. The revelation that a Greenpeace energy analyst helped to write a key chapter in the IPCC's Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, released last month, sparked widespread criticism across the blogosphere. Compared with the glacier faux pas, the latest incident is trivial. But it should remind the IPCC that its recently reworked policies and procedures need to be implemented, visibly and quickly.

In response to the glacier blunder, the IPCC pledged greater caution in the processes it uses to select scientific experts and to evaluate grey literature, and to make sure that (unpaid) work for the panel does not clash with interests arising from the professional affiliations of its staff and contributing authors (see Nature 473, 261; 2011). But it has failed to make clear when this new conflict-of-interest policy will come into effect and whom it will cover. It needs to do so — and fast.

This is the only way that the organization can counter recurring claims that it is less policy-neutral than its mandate from the United Nations obliges it to be. In particular, it needs to make clear the position for the working groups on climate-change impacts and adaptation (the science group adopted a rigid conflict-of-interest policy last year). Pachauri is on record as saying that the new conflict-of-interest policy will not apply retrospectively to the hundreds of authors already selected for the IPCC's fifth assessment report, due in 2014. This is unacceptable. He should make it a priority to ensure that the rules cover everyone involved — including himself.

“The IPCC should reconsider how it frames its findings.”

Claims in the blogosphere that Greenpeace 'dictated' the IPCC's renewable-energy report are vastly exaggerated. In fact, the Greenpeace writer was one of six authors of a peer-reviewed paper that examined an extreme scenario of favourable economic conditions that allowed the maximum possible take-up of renewable energy sources by 2050. Although the scenario is optimistic — and no doubt in line with the agenda at Greenpeace HQ — its inclusion is entirely justified. How else could the report answer the question of how much renewable energy would be possible under different economic assumptions?

Greenpeace probably fights just as hard to promote its values as the fossil-fuel lobby does for its own interests. But in principle there is nothing wrong with asking experts from either side to contribute to the IPCC's reports — even though the reports represent a supposedly value-free extension of academic science. But by neglecting to ask the Greenpeace-linked author of the extreme scenario in question to disclose his affiliation and possible conflicts of interest openly and formally, the IPCC recklessly exposed itself to its critics.

The IPCC's vulnerability to such attacks should also prompt it to reconsider how it frames its findings. Journalists and critics alike gravitate towards extreme claims. So when the IPCC's press material for the May report prominently pushed the idea that renewables could provide “close to 80%” of the world's energy needs by 2050, it was no surprise that it was this figure that made headlines — and made waves. The IPCC would have saved itself a lot of trouble and some unwarranted criticism had it made the origins of this scenario explicit.

There is no escaping the fact that the IPCC operates in a latently hostile environment. Its critics are vocal, frequently melodramatic and unlikely to surrender the limelight any time soon. The IPCC has to stop handing them ammunition on a plate.

2011-06-30 08:08:29In my opinion...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

the Nature editorial is overly judgemental and sanctamonious. It provides the Climate Denial Spin Machine with bullets galore.

2011-06-30 10:07:46
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.35.42

The fact is that the IPCC is in a PR war, and they act like they're playing chess.

2011-06-30 14:02:41
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
199.126.232.206

I don't know Badger, there are some sentences that I think were unfair (see below), but for the most part, I'm afraid (IMHO) it hits the mark.

For example,

"But by neglecting to ask the Greenpeace-linked author of the extreme scenario in question to disclose his affiliation and possible conflicts of interest openly and formally"

I would challenge the validity of this claim.  They knew from the outset what his affiliation was.  Same with Chevron people who contributed.

2011-06-30 14:04:42nealjking
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

The IPCC is above all an entity of the UN which has its own culture. By and large, the UN does not engage in propoganda wars.

2011-06-30 14:09:08
citizenschallenge
Peter Miesler
citizenschallenge7@gmail...
32.176.221.220

Nature | Editorial

Shot with its own gun

"There is no escaping the fact that the IPCC operates in a latently hostile environment.

Its critics are vocal, frequently melodramatic and unlikely to surrender the limelight any time soon.

The IPCC has to stop handing them ammunition on a plate."

 ~ ~ ~

Tough to argue with that assessment, nor with nealjking's:

 

"The fact is that the IPCC is in a PR war, and they act like they're playing chess."

 

 

2011-06-30 22:41:26
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

Badgersouth,

If I live in Afghanistan and am bombed, either by a Taliban IED or by a US drone, I am involved in a war, despite my lack of interest in either side.

2011-07-01 02:22:57I consider the Nature editorial to be unbalanced and ill informed.
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.167.230

To start with Sven Teske was identified to the IPCC as a member of Greenpeace.  Indeed, he is so identified on the IPCC's SSREN author page.  If that where not enough, the involvement of Greenpeace and Teske's involvement with them is openly noted on the paper from which the fourth scenario was drawn.  Consequently, the other lead authors and reveiwers of Chapter 10 where undoubtedly aware of his affiliation.

 

Further, the new IPCC code regarding conflicts of interest was not adopted until well after Chapter 10 of the report was finalised, and just a week before the Summary for Policymakers was accepted.  In other words, there was no possibility of its having been applied to Teske.  In addition, WG1 for AR5, at least (and possibly the other working groups) have already developed a clear and restrictive code of conduct regarding conflicts of interest.  The Nature editorial makes it sound like AR5 will be conducted in a vacuum clear from proper scrutiny for COI, which is far from the truth.

 

There has been no evidence of wrong doing by Teske, and no likelihood that he unduly influenced the report.  That should have been clearly stated.  The IPCC has operated largely without conflict of interest guidelines because the extensive reviewing procedure makes it virtually impossible for any conflict of interest to distort their reports.  That is a far better defence against conflict of interest than normal corporate or judicial procedures where a small number of people make crucial decisions, essentially without review.  An additional layer of protection against conflict of interest will not hurt, though I doubt it will add any quality to the reports, but it was not necessary.

 

Finally, the targeted nature of the attack on Teske should have been clearly noted.  That there has been no scandal about the other lead author who jointly published a paper from which a scenario was drawn is significant.  The fact that a person who has very strong commercial connections with the fossil fuel industry, but attracted no controversy over conflict of interest is significant.  The fact that one lead author has a career tied to carbon sequestration, and hence a professional commitment to the ongoing use of fossil fuels, but attracted no controversy is significant.  The simple fact is that those beating up the controversy are doing so because they do not like Teske's politics.  Bowing to their wishes would damage the IPCC's neutrality on policy by giving the radical right tacit vetting rights on IPCC lead authors.

2011-07-01 02:32:09
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.167.230

nealjking and citizenschallenge, as you can probably guess I do not think the way to win a propoganda war is to let your enemies propoganda shape your policy or actions.  Doing so gives them the opportunity to dictate terms, and under the guise of political neutrality, will introduce a political bias to the IPCC.

 

This is not to say the IPCC has not made errors in this instance.  The press release should not have highlighted just one scenario.  Had it covered all four major scenarios without favour, the set up that has given this issue such bang would have been absent.

 

But even given that, the proper response to the people attacking the IPCC on this issue is not to concede their point, which is ill founded, but to clearly state the facts which they are ignoring - the large authorship team, the intense and open review process, and the fact that the authorship team was, if anything, biased against the Greenpeace position because of the affiliations of other authors.  If we do that, to sound reasonable they must in the end focus on the actual content of the report, which is what they should have been discussing in the first place.

2011-07-01 02:42:57
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

What Nature is pointing out, and correctly, is that IPCC is like a sitting duck that has posted a "Shoot Me!" sign on its back.

2011-07-01 02:56:23
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

I agree with Tom.  There are serious problems with the Nature editorial, and it concedes points to McIntyre et al. that should not be conceeded.  It just encourages them to keep playing this stupid PR game by effectively giving them points here.  Nature editorials are usually quite good, this one is very disappointing.  Its main point is that the IPCC tried to hide Teske's Greenpeace affiliation, which as Tom notes, is just flat-out false.

2011-07-01 03:20:38dana1981
John Hartz
John Hartz
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98.122.98.161

Well said! Ditto for Tom Curtis.

2011-07-01 04:01:07
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

I'm not trying to say the IPCC is faultless here, by the way.  As Tom noted, their main problem was in the press release, which is what put the target on Teske's back to begin with.  But the Nature editorial didn't accurately describe the IPCC's actual errors.

If we're going to talk about the PR game, I think Nature may have done a worse job than the IPCC on this matter.

2011-07-01 04:11:40dana1981
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

I agree completely.

2011-07-01 04:25:05
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
199.126.232.206

All,

Like I said before, that claim made in the editorial about Teske's affiliation is clearly bunk. Tom also made some good points-- Nature culd have done better. But they do also make a couple of valid points and we ignore those at our peril.

This is a PR war and the IPCC ned to smarten up-- ironically, that will require even more funding.  Somehow I suspect the professional spinners and disinfomrers know that.  It is not rocket science folks, you cannot win a battle if the other guys do not follow the rules of engagement.  Cheats, liars and worse will have the upper hand in this type of battle.  They will also make sure that the IPCC et all. are always on the defensive, and they will always be sure to exaggerrate the significance of the tiniest of issues and/or errors.  The only way to turn this round, IMHO, is for:

1)  A denier/skeptic needs to be found guilty of a crime and for them to do some time. We'll see what, if anything, happens to the ongoing Wegman saga, but I'm not holding my breath.

2) Instead of us always rebutting and refuting deniers, to take them to task and put them on the defensive.  Tamino is using this strategy and I think it is quite effective. Josh Halpern also uses these tactics and I know for a fact that it bugs McIntyre, for example.

The only reason that I mention (1) is because there is apparantly no reason for the "skeptics" and deniers to fear ANY consequences for lying.  None, zilch, zero.  So why change or stop? Heck, in fact the more they lie and cheat, the more support they seem to garner. I concede that my view on this may be naive and simplistic. But this situation is a joke-- I cannot believe that we live in a world where not only are cheats and liars given carte blanche, but they actually have hoards of people encouraging them.  How does one make such acts be punishable?

Is there anything we can learn from the creationism vs. evolution wars?

2011-07-01 04:40:13
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

There is no point in blaming the media (including Nature) for not protecting IPCC's PR gaffe: That's not their job.

IPCC has to stop acting like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest.

My addition to the recommendations:

3) IPCC must acknowledge that everything they put out is going to be examined with an electron microscope, and put a professional in charge of their PR: Someone who is paranoid. Because there's a whole lot of people who ARE out to get them.

2011-07-01 05:05:17
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
199.126.232.206

Agreed Neal-- they need someone who is ver, very savvy to run their pu8blic and media relations, but who at the same time gets the science. Are you volunteering? ;)  In short they need Morano's good twin.

 

2011-07-01 05:20:38
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
64.129.227.4

re #2 - that's part of the purpose behind the 'learning from past climate predictions' series.  Go on the offensive, hold 'skeptics' accountable for their bad predictions (basically 100% of the few predictions they've been willing to make).

I also agree it would be nice if the IPCC had a good PR department.

As for Nature, I don't expect them to protect the IPCC.  What I expect them to do is not level false accusations at the IPCC, and give deniers even more ammo in the process.

2011-07-01 07:17:50
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
199.126.232.206

Dana,

Yes, the Lindzen Illusions, Christy Crocks etc. have been excellent for going on the offensive (as is the new Easterbrook piece), and I think they have been very effective and cutting though all the rhetoric etc. and really taking them (deniers) to task on their bad science.  That was a glaring omission on my part, sorry! 

2011-07-01 07:43:15
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

Albatross,

Being a PR person is a full-time job, with control over their press releases (and much more). If they want to hire me and give me the responsibility, I'll do it.

2011-07-01 07:49:26
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.167.230

nealjking and Albatross, I disagree very strongly that the IPCC is in a PR war.

 

The IPCC's mandate is to report on the science.  That's it.  It has been very effective at reporting on the science which is why the deniers want to tear it down, and one lie that they use to tear it down is that it is not impartial, indeed that it is political.  The problem is, if the IPCC responds to that lie by becoming a combatant in the PR war (which is certainly going on), it ceases to be impartial.  It will in fact become what the deniers accuse it of.  And there is nothing more likely to cultivate the opinion that it is political than the IPCC acting politically.

 

This does not mean the IPCC should not clean up its act with regard to media releases.  But the angle they should take in doing so is not to engage in a PR war, but to ensure that the press releases accurately reflect the contents of the reports, and that they do not favour any particular policy, while clearly reflecting the consequences of particular policies as detailed in the reports.

 

It would be adviseable for Pauchauri, as the public face of the IPCC, to get some advice on handling the press, ie, to handle the implied questions as well as the literal questions that he faces.  When asked about the applicability of the new conflict of interest rules, he should have lead with something like, "The IPCC recognises the importance of a strong coflict of interest policy.  For that reason the various working groups of the IPCC have already implimented their own conflict of interest rules for AR5, and those rules will continue in operation.  However, it is too late in the process ...".  I am of course realistic enough to recognise that he may have said something just like that, and been misquoted.  In that case it is we, who are actually engaged in the PR war who are at fault in not showing up the misquotation, not Pauchauri.

 

So, IMO, the biggest failings in the PR war here have not been at the IPCC, although the IPCC press office did shoot itself in the foot.  The biggest failing has been from Mark Lynas who thought he could use the heat of battle to take out an "ally" he disliked, and Nature for not being carefull regarding the facts.

2011-07-01 07:50:20
Tom Curtis

t.r.curtis@gmail...
112.213.167.230

nealjking, if you want control over more than their press releases, your the wrong man for the job.

2011-07-01 08:05:07
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

Tom,

- In this environment, EVERYTHING has a political aspect. If the IPCC want to forget that, they are in denial, and they're digging their own graves.

- I respect Pauchari's intention, but he has wrong-footed himself time & again. He is, at present, the wrong man for the job.

- PR is > press releases.

2011-07-01 08:32:14
Rob Painting
Rob
paintingskeri@vodafone.co...
118.92.115.14

Actually, I think Nealstradamus would be perfect for the job! 

2011-07-01 08:40:15nealjking
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

Have you communicated your concerns about this matter to anyone in the UN? If not, why not?

2011-07-01 08:47:47
Albatross
Julian Brimelow
stomatalaperture@gmail...
199.126.232.206

Badger,

I for one have wriiten an email expressing my concers to onew of the lead IPCC scientists.  FWIW, I have also written to Romm as he is connected.

2011-07-01 08:53:43
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
84.151.53.195

B.,

I have no contacts at IPCC.

I am just observing the news in the internet, watching the train wreck, and shaking my head in disbelief.

2011-07-01 12:46:11
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
71.140.0.15

Speaking of going on the offensive, I'd say this qualifies.

Funny thing is I tend to do most of the offensive posts here, but in reality I'm a shy guy who hates confrontations.  I'm not an offensive guy, but I play one on SkS!