Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC

Recently an Open Letter was sent by US scientists to federal agencies expressing concern about the current “climategate” hysteria and attitudes towards the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The over 250 signatories included both IPCC and non-IPCC authors and professionals from related disciplines including physical, biological and social scientists (see Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC).

The letter is certainly informative. It conveys the signatories’ concerns about the current attacks on climate scientists. But it also gives a useful history and description of the IPCC review process and puts the whole question of recently disclosed report errors into its correct context. It endorses the public right to know the risks involved in climate change and the need for restoring confidence in the review process. The letter proposes specific ideas for improving the review process, providing for more rapid acknowledgment and correction of inevitable errors and correcting misconceptions about IPCC conclusions.

The letter declares:

“It is our intention in offering this open letter to bring the focus back to credible science, rather than invented hyperbole.”

It provides a brief history and outline of the IPCC review process:

“The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988 to provide policy makers regularly with balanced assessments of the state of knowledge on climate change.  In so doing, they created an open intergovernmental organization in which scientists, policy analysts, engineers, and resource managers from all over the world were asked to collaborate.  At present, more than 150 countries including the United States participate in the IPCC.  IPCC publishes an assessment report approximately every six years.  The most recent Fourth Assessment, approved by member countries and released in 2007, contained three volumes: The Physical Science Basis (Working Group I); Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Working Group II) and Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group III) and a Synthesis Report.  More than 44 writing teams and 450 lead authors contributed to the Fourth Assessment – authors who have been selected on the basis of their expertise in consultation with all member countries and who were assisted by another 800 scientists and analysts who served as contributing authors on specific topics.  Authors donated their time gratis, and the entire process was supported by four Technical Support Units (TSUs) that employ 5 to 10 people each.”

And it acknowledges:

It was hard not to notice the extraordinary commotion that erupted around errors that were eventually found in the AR4. ” . . .  “In any case, it is essential to emphasize that none of these interventions alter the key finding from the AR4 that human beings are very likely changing the climate, with far-reaching impacts in the long run.”

“The heated debates that have emerged around these instances have even led some to question the quality and integrity of the IPCC.  Recent events have made it clear that the quality control procedures of the IPCC are not watertight, but claims of widespread and deliberate manipulation of scientific data and fundamental conclusions in the AR4 are not supported by the facts.  We also strongly contest the impression that the main conclusions of the report are based on dubious sources”

It concludes:

“the IPCC procedures are transparent and thorough, even though they are not infallible.  Nonetheless, we are confident that no single scholar or small group of scholars can manipulate the process to include or to exclude a specific line of research; authors of that research can (and are fully encouraged to) participate in the review process.  Moreover, the work of every scientist, regardless of whether it supports or rejects the premise of human-induced climate change, is subject to inclusion in the reports.  The work is included or rejected for consideration based on its scientific merit.”

After proposing procedures to improve the future work of the IPCC the letter concludes:

“The significance of IPCC errors has been greatly exaggerated by many sensationalist accounts, but that is no reason to avoid implementing procedures to make the assessment process even better. The public has a right to know the risks of climate change as scientists currently understand them. We are dedicated to working with our colleagues and government in furthering that task.”

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12 responses to “Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC

  1. miklos treiber

    incredible –where have all these people been? on mars hiding out with al gore? either there are errors and exaggerations or not. wrong is wrong – the last time i checked.

  2. Ricardo Newbery

    @miklos

    I notice that your comment has several punctuation errors. By your logic then, I suppose it’s safe to discount your entire comment. After all, either there are errors or not. The triviality of the errors is irrelevant ;-)

  3. Someone… please… convince me there ISN’T a giant gulf of logic between verifiable facts like “climate is changing”/”CO2 is rising”/”human beings have been increasing their CO2 emission” and the hippy anthro-apologist idea that “human beings are causing climate change outside the boundaries of natural temperature fluctuation”.

    I’m not convinced the variables have all been accounted for, because I’ll be damned if I let the green mob or politically connected and paid scientists claim they saved the world when the planets starts naturally cooling again. And neither am I convinced that a warmer planet wouldn’t do the entire planet some good, save for a handful of polar bears and penguins at the poles.

  4. I’m not convinced the variables have all been accounted for, because I’ll be damned if I let the green mob…

    Yes, it’s all a conspiracy.
    NASA really is run by hippies.
    And commies. :)

    They lied about the moon-landings too.
    Oh and Al Bore is fat.

    Don’t let them trick you.
    Stay on edge.

  5. @edge

    If you check out this page at the IPCC you will see six diagrams at the bottom of the page.
    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch1s1-2.html

    Each diagram shows a different set of variables used to model the climate.

    Your question, then, as to whether we have accounted for all the variables, at the AR4 stage, is almost certainly no, and is a very valid question too

  6. Jack – I would have thought the Fig 2.20 (http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch2s2-9-2.html) depicted the situation better. After all – it’s our understanding, rather than models, which is important.

    That figure gives an idea of the contribution from natural and human factors and an idea of the degree of uncertainty in our understanding of the contributions.

    Our understanding seems to be good enough for the IPCC to have drawn the simple conclusions they have about global temperature increases and the likelihood of a human contribution. That is why governments are concerned and are negotiating adaption and mitigation procedures.

    This open letter more or less states the situation.

  7. Ken,
    I was merely trying to show the evolution of knowledge rather than make any claims about whether AGW was real or not.

    We do not know what we do not know, and we have to bear in mind that we might be wrong too.

    This indeed is highlighted in the above reference.

  8. I agree, Jack. That is always the situation with science. our knowledge is provisional.

    But, of course, governments have to take the best advice they can get and develop their policies accordingly.

    I find the IPCC reviews very tentative and conservative – partly because they do stress the provisional and inadequate state of our knowledge.

    I think most government appreciate that.

  9. miklos treiber – An interesting post. Yes many like black and white answers and find dealing with less definite matters very confusing.
    It is a part of humankind variety but there is a balance.
    Others can and do well at handling less definite and more complex matters where complete answers are yet to be formed.

    Making quick judgments with blinding can be just that.

  10. Ken,

    I know you love context so I think some context is appropriate for this letter that you have quoted. What’s important is what the letter doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that there’s been no statistically significant global warming since 1995. And it doesn’t say that there have been similar warming periods (compared with more recent warming periods) going back to the 1860s. I am not sure why the letter writers decided to omit this relavant information.

    The letter did say, however, that 14 of the last 15 years have been the warmest on record. I am not sure of the relevance of this unsubstantiated assertion when any such warming is not stastically significant and of course covers a period equivalent to a drop in the bucket.

    I imagine that this letter will do nothing but add to the concern felt by some in regards to the behaviour of some scientists.

  11. The context of this letter is obvious. it is the recent and current anti-science attacks by conservative and anti-science forces on honest scientists and the well established findings of climate science. We have seen an alliance of tea party, republican, denier and other anti science forces promoting and encouraging a dishonest, vicious and hysterical campaign.

    Misrepresentation, distortion and outright lies are part of this campaign. And I notice you repeating a bit of that. For example repeating the lies told about the information provided by Phil Jones in his recent interview. And the silly confusion of global temperature trends with separate temperatures for individual years.

  12. Pingback: littlegreenspot.com» Blog Archive » IPCC review calls for paid positions to increase quality of work

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