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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Science vs Policy and the ignorance of conspiracists at science-denying blogs

Sou | 4:05 PM Feel free to comment!

I admit to being surprised sometimes by the antics of science deniers and disinformers.  Anthony Watts and Judith Curry are incredibly ignorant of intergovernmental workings and don't know the difference between science and policy.

Anthony Watts today (archived here) has posted some excerpts from a document that purports to be:
SUMMARY OF THE 12TH SESSION OF WORKING GROUP I OF THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE (IPCC) AND THIRTY-SIXTH SESSION OF THE IPCC
23-26 SEPTEMBER 2013
The document is from IISD Reporting Services.  I don't know the provenance of the summary itself (click here for pdf and html versions in English, French and Japanese), for example whether it was a formal report of the IPCC meeting or whether the summary was prepared by the IISD reporting service.  I've no reason to doubt it is a reasonable report of the IPCC meetings.  However I couldn't find anything similar on the IPCC website.

This blog post is a bit long - if you're on the home page, click here to read the rest.


The summary is of points discussed as well as decisions made at the recent IPCC meetings.  There is nothing to surprise. There are no scandalous comments, no gross misunderstandings of the science, no suggestion of any protocols upset or anything of the kind.  The summary reads as a perfectly ordinary session of an important meeting, with different points of view expressed.  In a couple of instances one or more delegates wanted to push a particular message but at the end of the day, the unadulterated science won out.

(The main criticism that could legitimately be leveled is that the reports tend to be conservative when it comes to science.  That's pretty well built into the process.)

While there's no reason to expect Anthony Watts would be anything but ignorant of intergovernmental processes, Judith Curry is a Professor (albeit at a minor university) and has testified before US government committees so should know better.  But she's at least as ignorant as blogger Anthony Watts.

From the coverage on Anthony Watts' blog (archived here) and Judith Curry's blog (archived here) one can conclude:

  • Many science deniers, including Judith Curry herself, don't know the difference between science and policy;
  • Science deniers who tend towards conspiracy ideation see monsters behind every word that's written in black and white just as a child will see faces in clouds;
  • Many science deniers, including Judith Curry, show a remarkable naivety on the subject of intergovernmental meetings. 

The whole purpose of the IPCC is to report on the science so that policy makers and other decision-makers can make informed decisions when it comes to climate-related policies and any matters that may be affected by climate change.  From the IPCC website (my bold italics):
Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.

Judith Curry can't tell science from policy


As an example, Judith Curry posts slabs (archived here) of the report of the meeting discussions, mostly aimed at clarifying the wording in different parts of the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers and/or making the different sections more consistent with each other (eg consistent start and end dates etc).  Judith then makes this comment (archived here):
JC comment:  not sure what to say here, other than that this is very high-level motivated sausage making indeed.  But how do they claim they are policy neutral?
By "they" I presume she is referring to the IPCC and its member organisations - the WMO and the UN.  But the IPCC itself is policy neutral.  It's not the same as the UN, which does have a role in policy.  The IPCC is an information body.  It provides information about science.  It doesn't set UN policy or the policy of any of the UN's member organisations or the WMO.

Judith doesn't put forward anything to support her implied claim that the IPCC itself is not policy neutral. She can't because it is.  She does not (cannot) point to any part of the report in which there is an expression that could hint in the slightest fashion that the IPCC is advocating a policy position.

Is Judith Curry so naive that she thinks the governments themselves should also be policy neutral?  Is she not able to tell the difference between policy makers and scientists?  Can't she tell that the reason the Summary for Policy Makers was approved in such a short space of time (the entire approval meeting took place over four days - 23-24-25-26 September) was because it is policy neutral and the meeting was to refine the wording and approve the scientific report.  

The meeting was part of the normal IPCC decision-making process to approve the final WG1 document before it was released publicly.  I can assure naive Judith Curry and other science deniers, that if the meeting between the 110 attending nations was to come to an agreement on climate policy, rather than science, it would still be going on.  (Think what little progress has been made on climate policy over all the climate policy meetings since 1988.  Science is about the only thing all the nations can agree on.)

Many of the commenters at Curry's place are not as naive as Judith is or pretends to be.  A few of them know there is a difference between science and policy.  But there are a lot who really don't.  For example:


RC Saumarez doesn't understand the report, or the science, or the discussion overall but is compelled to express an opinion just the same | October 1, 2013 at 10:45 am | Reply
It is quite clear that the IPCC has very little to do with science but a large amount of diplomatic horsetrading over language (to be expected from dips and pols). Facts have little to do with this report.

Wijnand doesn't have a clue what Judith's article was all about, so blurts out a standard denialist buzz phrase | October 1, 2013 at 10:49 am | Reply
And they dare call this science?
Wow.

Some comments are off the scale in weird, such as cwon14 who is a clone of Anthony Watts' pet denier - the dbstealey/smokey/d boehm character | October 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
AGW is a hate driven movement with the slightest scratch below the surface. Just listen to Michael Mann or Al gore for evidence.

Paranoid conspiracy theorist AK can't point to anything out of order in the report itself so surmises that the "dirt" was not reported | October 1, 2013 at 11:01 am | Reply
Too bad we don’t have access to an actual recording. These people should be required to do their “sausage-making” in the full light of day. No “smoke-filled rooms”, unless we have recordings of them as well.
That would set a fox among the hens.

Another empty-headed comment from plazaeme this time | October 1, 2013 at 11:10 am | Reply
Do they really expect to be taken seriously?

Distinguishing science and policy

John DeFayette is the first person in Judith Curry's thread to provide what he thinks is supporting evidence that the IPCC itself is not policy neutral.  He writes that any claim to policy neutrality is nonsense but he can't support his assertion (the report of the meeting disproves John's claim):
| October 1, 2013 at 11:11 am | Reply 
Any claim to policy neutrality is nonsense. The opening statements are pep talks aimed at firing up the delegations. The message is clear: we’re counting on you all to supply the ammunition we need to get us agreements in 2015! This SPM is key to “…meet the needs of the UNFCCC…!” That’s a rather strange use of words–it’s hard to tell exactly what an international bureaucracy’s needs are, beyond self-aggrandizement and never-ending expansion.
Giving Mr. Thorgeirsson the benefit of the doubt I suppose he meant this need: “At the very heart of the response to climate change, however, lies the need to reduce emissions.” [http://unfccc.int/essential_background/items/6031.php] That doesn’t leave much room for WGI to come up with anything new.
I’ve always wondered why we still go through the anachronistic IPCC WGI motions, since the foregone conclusion was present in the seed. Are we to expect that the IPCC will ever doubt the basis for its existence?
Here is the start of the "opening statement" plus the paragraph I presume John DeFayette refers to (my bold italics):
On Monday morning, WGI Co-Chair Thomas Stocker (Switzerland) opened the session. WGI Co-Chair Qin Dahe (China) said that the latest findings collected in AR5 reflect the most recent understanding of climate change and will be used as a major scientific basis for policy making by governments. He noted that whereas new evidence contains fewer uncertainties than in the past, some still remain....
...Halldór Thorgeirsson, on behalf of UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, stressed that AR5 goes further to meet the needs of the UNFCCC than previous assessments. He also highlighted the ongoing review process under the UNFCCC of the agreed 2ºC upper limit for global temperature rise.

The co-chair said the scientific report will be used as "a major scientific basis for policy making by governments".  He doesn't say the findings are policy.  That would be wrong.  The scientific findings will help inform policy.

Halldór Thorgeirsson said that AR5 meets the needs of the policy makers better, presumably meaning it is better than previous reports because in the interim there have been more scientific insights.  In neither of the two points he makes can be found anything nefarious, even by stretching one's imagination to the limits.  In his comment Halldór Thorgeirsson clearly separates the scientific reporting role of the IPCC from the policy making role of the UNFCCC.

Would John rather that climate-related policy be made in a vacuum?  Without understanding the science of climate?  That would be a very strange perspective and one to which no reputable decision-maker would adhere.

That's enough from Judith Curry's denialati.  What about wattsupwiththat?


From the WUWT comments


Some of the comments at WUWT suggest that quite a few of the WUWT-ers see the meeting more or less as it was. A meeting to review and approve the documents before they were released. (The WUWT article and comments are archived here.) There are some exceptions, for example:

Lance says:
October 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm
Politics…plain and simple

A.D. Everard sees a political movement behind every bit of science and says:
October 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm
Sorry, Robert, I don’t agree with you. The watermelons had various weather-related, global-catastrophes-caused-by-man way back long before Margaret came to power. I remember well the ozone hole and the “threat” those posed to the world way back in the early 70s, and the so-called destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. Prior to that it was a list of resources we were going to run out of – fuel, food, even room – People were always to blame and always the solution was socialism, communism and/or the destruction of humankind. We have long been held up as a blight to nature, putting the planet itself at risk. Might we please leave Thatcher out of it?

So does Tom J who says:
October 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm
Oh, is this rich! It’s almost as if the Onion wrote this. This should be required reading in all student text books followed by a test based on only a mere two multiple choice questions in which the multiple choice involves simply answering true or false.
A) Is global warming a science issue? True or False.
B) Is global warming a political issue? True or False.
The correct answers should be followed by the award of a graduation certificate. Take your pick; kindergarten, grade school, high school, trade school, school of cosmetology, community college, divinity school (for you, Al), school of journalism (ok, skip that one), medical school, university…
Answer: A) False, B) True
DirkH refuses to "believe" the science too and tries to find another "reason" for it.  He says:
October 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm
The true purpose of the Global Warming lie was for quite a while now to bolster public support in the West for biofuel (and wind and solar) subsidies; to become less dependent on Saudi goodwill. Saudi knows this, of course.
I’m still scratching my head about why our political nomenclatura found it so necessary to sell this policy by deception. When they have the choice of explaining the real reason or lying, do they instinctively choose lying because they hate us?

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