Real Climate strikes a good tone.
[Update: Science Insider has just posted a far more comprehensive summary of recent IPCC controversies with lots of useful links for those looking for more background]
Kudos to the writers at Real Climate, who have written a good pretty good post that deals with various accusations of IPCC error, and also with some general problems they see in the dynamics of media coverage of supposed scandals. I don’t always agree with Real Climate. They often come off as haughty and elitist in their efforts to set the record straight on climate change. I don’t fully agree with this post either (e.g. I think the disaster thing is a bigger deal than they want to admit), but they make some very good points and, more importantly, overall they strike a very good tone.
- the arrogant reaction of scientists to perfectly valid questions and criticisms about IPCC science; and
- the various failings of the institution itself with respect to neutrality, transparency, and accountability.
These criticisms still stand, but it is important to remember the context for these debates, and I think the Real Climate post does a good job at this. I want to highlight two of the points made by Real Climate. The first relates to a lot of the journalism covering the IPCC lately:
There also is a sizeable contingent of me-too journalism that is simply repeating the stories but not taking the time to form a well-founded view on the topics. Typically they report on various “allegations”, such as these against the IPCC…. Technically it isn’t even wrong that there were such allegations. But isn’t it the responsibility of the media to actually investigate whether allegations have any merit before they decide to repeat them?
Of course, I’m no journalist, but I’ve done the same thing on this blog. For example, I linked to a story claiming the IPCC had used questionable sources in its statements about the impacts of climate change on the Amazon. As the Real Climate post points out, these accusations were pretty flimsy. This fact does not really detract from my central point in that post, but my use of the article (and anyone else’s use of it) doesn’t help much either.
Secondly, Real Climate deals directly with the question of whether the IPCC needs to change. I was surprised to see them address this, and even more surprised to find that their answer is unequivocally yes. They make good suggestions regarding communication between IPCC authors on different working groups, and the publication of errata.
This certainly does not cover all the issues facing the IPCC from my perspective. For example, the organization still lacks an adequate policy regarding conflict of interest, and the IPCC chair is still behaving as a climate advocate while leading a supposedly policy-neutral organization. Nevertheless, the admission of fallibility by a prominent voice such as Real Climate strikes exactly the kind of constructive tone that the climate debate needs.