A Wall Street Journal op-ed by a photographer and blogger attacked the credibility of a major report on the state of climate change by distorting the caution and breadth of research that undergirds the work of the group preparing to release it, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The op-ed, published Wednesday under Donna Laframboise's byline, suggested a 2010 review of the procedures for IPCC reports was an indication that the media should not listen to the panel when it says that "'science' has spoken." Laframboise noted that one respondent to a questionnaire included in the review said that some of the 450 lead authors, 800 contributing authors and more than 2,500 reviewers have "insufficient scientific competence." However, she did not mention that the IPCC itself asked the InterAcademy Council (IAC) to carry out the review, or that the IAC stated that it was "pleased that so many of our report's recommendations were adopted" by the organization for its upcoming report. Furthermore, the IAC said the IPCC's recommendations "are well supported by the scientific evidence."
While Laframboise went on to criticize the IPCC for occasionally relying on non-peer-reviewed sources, a standard bugbear, the same review defended that practice, stating that doing otherwise "would require the IPCC to ignore some valuable information" and that the review procedures for such literature were "adequate." The IAC review found that 84 percent of the references cited in the primary scientific assessment report of the IPCC were peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Laframboise also alleged that five authors (out of hundreds) from the last report had conflicts of interest because they had written reports or were employed by environmental groups. She offered no evidence that those authors' scientific credentials are in any way deficient, and neglected to concede the point that some lead authors have also been connected to oil companies or other fossil fuel interests. Laframboise did not mention that one of the IPCC guidelines taken on after the IAC review was a conflict of interest policy covering "all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports," including authors and review editors.
Additionally, Laframboise recycled the argument that a "highly embarrassing" error about Himalayan glaciers undermined the fourth IPCC assessment report, released in 2007. But that was a typographical error, and legitimate scientific studies still show that glaciers worldwide are melting:
A member of the IAC review panel recently told the Guardian, ""Remember that the Himalayan mistake was one paragraph in a 4,000-page assessment. That's not a bad batting average."
The suggestion that the IPCC report might ignore the "15-year pause in global temperatures," a "speed bump" that does little to change the long-term climate change prognosis, is similarly shaky. According to the BBC, one panel participant has already said that issue "will be a 'central piece' of the summary," and it has dominated media coverage in the weeks prior to the release.
Despite all Laframboise's charges, and all the reforms undertaken by the IPCC since its last assessment, confidence in the reality of climate change has only increased. It is expected to find that "the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause" of climate change. As a recent AP article noted, this represents an uncommonly robust level of scientific conviction -- similar to that surrounding the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
The Journal should have known better than to pit Laframboise against scientists in the first place. She is a self-employed photographer with no scientific background, and she has published no peer-reviewed works on climate change. Her claim to fame is an e-book that analogizes the IPCC to "a spoiled child" that has "morphed into an obnoxious adolescent," and a career as a reporter "prior to 2002." Next time the Journal is mulling whether to publish an op-ed from her or Matt Ridley, it might do well to call some climate scientists instead.