McIntyre on Climate Science PolicyFebruary 14th, 2005
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.
Here at Prometheus we don’t do hockey sticks. (Astute readers will find one oblique reference to it in this paper – PDF.) However, the debate over the hockey stick is worth our attention not only for what it says about the state of climate science and politics, but also because it is significant for how we think about climate science policy. Climate science policy refers to those decisions that we make about climate science, including priorities for research and processes of scientific assessment and evaluation.
Steven McIntyre has posted his thoughts on climate science policy arising from his experiences with taking on the hockey stick. He writes,
“IPCC proponents place great emphasis on the merit of articles that have been “peer reviewed” by a journal. However, as a form of due diligence, journal peer review in the multiproxy climate field is remarkably cursory, as compared with the due diligence of business processes. Peer review for climate publications, even by eminent journals like Nature or Science, is typically a quick unpaid read by two (or sometimes three) knowledgeable persons, usually close colleagues of the author. It is unheard of for a peer reviewer to actually check the data and calculations.”
This observation has also been made in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in a 2000 commentary by Ron Errico, who writes,
“Too frequently, published papers contain fundamental errors… How can a piece of work be adequately evaluated or duplicated if what was really done or meant is not adequately stated?… My paramount recommendation is that our community acknowledges that a major problem in fact exists and requires ardent attention. Unless this is acknowledged, the community will likely not even consider significant changes. I suspect that too many scientists, especially those with the authority to demand changes, will prefer the status quo.”
Errico’s paper, titled “On the Lack of Accountability in Meteorological Research,” is well worth reading in full. He makes several recommendations that are completely consistent with McIntyre’s recommendations.
McIntyre also comments on the incestuous structure of the IPCC,
“The inattentiveness of IPCC to verification is exacerbated by the lack of independence between authors with strong vested interests in previously published intellectual positions and IPCC section authors… For someone used to processes where prospectuses require qualifying reports from independent geologists, the lack of independence is simply breathtaking and a recipe for problems, regardless of the reasons initially prompting this strange arrangement.”
McIntyre concludes by observing, “Businesses developed checks and balances because other peoples’ money was involved, not because businessmen are more virtuous than academics. Back when paleoclimate research had little implication outside academic seminar rooms, the lack of any adequate control procedures probably didn’t matter much. However, now that huge public policy decisions are based, at least in part, on such studies, sophisticated procedural controls need to be developed and imposed.”
Of course, some scientists will reply to this in exactly opposite fashion, by saying that academics are more virtuous than business people so such checks are unnecessary. But whatever one thinks about the debate over the hockey stick, McIntyre’s views on climate science policy make good sense and are good for the community as a whole.