Saturday, January 28, 2012

IPCC deadlines

The next assessment Report of the Working Group I of the IPCC is due in September 2013. It will only consider papers that have been published before March 2013 . In my opinion, this cut-off dates is at odds with the spirit of the IPCC.

First an insider confession. These cut-off dates usually circulate widely among the the scientific community. In theory, it should not be so. The IPCC Reports are assumed to condense the scientific knowledge that is deeded to be useful for policy makers. Individual scientist not involved in the IPCC should be totally oblivion of these dates. The IPCC Reports are not aimed at them, and if they are not contributing the IPCC process, they should have no vested interest whatsoever on what the IPCC Reports actually contain. However, scientist being humans, each of us takes some pride when our own papers are cited by the IPCC and even more so if they are placed on a prominent place in the report. This is why most climate scientist will never read the IPCC report, but nevertheless know the cut-off dates quite well, and orientate their publication strategies along those lines.

But are those cut-off dates, so close to the final publication date of the Report, really reasonable or even beneficial ? If I was a policy maker I would not be so strongly interested that the Report contains the latest study describing the influence of climate on Mexican frogs, but rather I would require robust, clear and comprehensible information about the main conclusions of climate research. A paper published in March 2013 will have barely been discussed, refuted or confirmed by September 2013.

I ignore the reasons for these tight cut-off dates, or even the reasons for their existence. One could assume that there is at some level a confusion between what constitutes established science and published science , but I am sure that the responsible scientist in the IPCC know this difference very well. I am, however, not that sure that policy makers grasp this subtle but important difference.

Would it not be much more reasonable that IPCC authors focus on established science regardless of the stamped date of publication ? To be honest, I was quite amazed to see  in the drafts of the circulating IPCC reports  references to studies 'in preparation', of course in preparation by the authors of the Report themselves.


EliRabett said...

"This is why most climate scientist will never read the IPCC report"

Bit of a strawman there. That no one reads the entire thing, for sure, but that every climate scientist reads the chapter(s) closest to their work, for sure also. If nothing else the IPCC chapters provide the best summary of previous work for papers and proposals, and showing that the IPCC report takes the work of a person or a group validates their bona fides.

We got enough strawmen that you don't have to add to the pile

Martin Heimann said...

Actually, the real deadline for AR5 is already July 31, 2012 declared as cut-off for submitted papers. Submitted papers must be made available for the review of the second order draft which starts in August.

The fundamental problem with the IPCC deadlines arises because of research activities for IPCC such as the CMIP5 simulations - even though IPCC should only assess the state of the science and not perform research. What if the analyses of the new simulations necessitates more time to scientifically digest? In addition the extremely hard deadlines for writing the different drafts are detrimental to the final product: a lot is written and pasted together in the very last moment.

My favorite model of providing a document for the policy makers would be a kind of living review, i.e. an electronic book in which chapters get independently updated periodically either as minor updates or major rewrites, depending on the development of new science, as defined by a rotating team of chapter scientists.

Hans von Storch said...

Martin, this is an interesting idea - I will see that we discuss this format in our "mini-IPCC" efforts for the Baltic Sea BACC and for the Metropolitan Region of Hamburg.

eduardo said...



you seem to agree with John Christy on how to organize the IPCC reports, although he may be rather advocating a wider base of authors

Hans von Storch said...

EliRabett wrote "but that every climate scientist reads the chapter(s) closest to their work, for sure also. If nothing else the IPCC chapters provide the best summary of previous work for papers and proposals, and showing that the IPCC report takes the work of a person or a group validates their bona fides.

I can confirm that this view is not true in general. In particular WG II does not enjoy authority among many scientists, as far as I perceive it.

"the IPCC report takes the work of a person or a group validates their bona fides." - think of the comments in ClimateGate correspondence.

An the best way for summarizing "previous work for papers and proposals" is to know ones field - I personally do not rely on the IPCC when dealing with the field I am an expert in. EliRabett, this is a good demonstration, what the IPCC is not for - namely to provide the scientific community with a Vatican-like reference of truth.

Anonymous said...

One would think Hans von Storch never reads reviews?


Freddy Schenk said...

but that every climate scientist reads the chapter(s) closest to their work, for sure also. If nothing else the IPCC chapters provide the best summary of previous work for papers and proposals, and showing that the IPCC report takes the work of a person or a group validates their bona fides.

I don't think that's true. I have not read the IPPC, but e.g. I read the BACC book which provides more regional focus.

I'm not sure what is written in the IPCC about most things - and I don't really care. For atmospheric chemistry, I had to learn this chapter for the exam at the university. That was it so far.

Instead, it is rather the good old snowball principle being used: Read a study, then read the studies referred to and so on... After some iterations through - lets say 10-15 papers - you can be more or less sure to have the important things together.

I think it would be dangerous to take summaries from the IPCC (or others) as your own unproven summary.

Günter Heß said...

Dear Hans von Storch,
"EliRabett, this is a good demonstration, what the IPCC is not for - namely to provide the scientific community with a Vatican-like reference of truth."

I am glad you feel that way.
For me as a layman the IPCC Booklet is a great material summary, if you look for something.
However, I would not identify it with a scientific paper.
For me is some summary from some scientists.

The summary for policy makers seems to me to be a political pamphlet.

Best regards
Günter Heß

Martin Heimann said...



John Christy favors a wikipedia-type process. Living Reviews are a bit different: minor and major updates to individual chapters are properly attributed to the respective author teams and are also properly reviewed. Furthermore, even though "living", the texts can be referenced with publication dates; something impossible with wikipedia content.


Harry Dale Huffman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hans von Storch said...

I have deleted #10 as it consists of useless assertions, which have been made often by the same person.

ghost said...

nice ideas.

the wikepedia type report is not enough, I agree. Such a report should always have a consolidated part and living part. I could imagine a hierarchical approach: executive summaries should be written based on consolidated, reviewed texts. IMHO, exec summaries can be very stable, because the should show the certain knowledge and the uncertainties. I do not think that these change so fast.

Technical summary texts should be written by assigned authors based on comments and previous consolidated states. Comments should be based on research results. The papers incl. data/source codes/models are the leaves of the structures and can be annotated with comments and references to technical texts and vice versa. The different topics should be linked and should re-use a lot (see the Himalaya-Error: the state of the art of the knowledge about the glaciers was perfectly well described in WG I, but not in WG II). The organization of data and papers could be the reward of the costs of the process. It can act a free, documented, and consolidated source for every on in addition to the actual technical and executive summaries.

I do not think the structure must be chapters and a book, it should be based on topics and maybe sub-topics that are linked in different ways.

If a technical summary text to a certain topic has reached a new stable state, its status can be changed to consolidated again. (after reviews and a specified process).

After a lot of new consolidated texts, executive summaries can be changed. And finally, one can create a new stable point for the complete report.

For this, one needs an infrastructure as well as well-defined processes. It seems to be very complex. However, it could have a value, also for the science community.

I have two opinions: some said: this program leads to "IPCC oriented science" in climate modelling and limits the scope. On the other hand, AFAIK many resarchers used the central data repository for their research. It is also a benefit for the research community.

I never read the executive summaries... as a layman, the IPCC report provides me a starting point, links to papers, brought some foundations, helped to find topics in this area, and it absolutely debunks "skeptical" strawmen. For me: the IPCC report is a good source for what climate science actually says (most of it). Very often, "skeptics" does not very carefully represent these claims.

Anonymous said...

Besides deadlines there seem to be some major problems with the IPCC processes ...

"Living review" or "wikipedia-type processes?!
You must be joking.

V. Lenzer

Günter Heß said...

@Ghost #12

As if any politician would read the IPCC full report.
Therefore, the goal and the purpose of the IPCC report is clearly the “Summary for Policy Makers”. If you and I like and use the full report is of no political impact.

The scientific folks who write on the full report are absorbed and scattered across the political arena. Some of them might be big shots in their respective field. Some of them might be upstarts who bath in the halo that Eli Rabett envisions. Some of them might be pillars of virtue in science and/or society. However, most of them are, as we all are in the blogosphere, what a Roman Senator would have called head count.
I see the “Summary for Policy Makers” a little bit like Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico”. Caesar writes “De Bello Gallico” as a report . My high school teacher treated it as a objective historical source. But in reality it is a political text written for Caesar’s intended purpose.

Best regards
Günter Heß

eduardo said...

The overall structure of the IPCC is quite unique and I do not understand many of its features. Perhaps it is just the results of a somewhat chaotic process that started by a group of scientist aiming at a small targeted report and has grown now, in my opinion, out of all proportions. A history of this process would be quite interesting indeed. Why not an 'IPCC' on nuclear energy, for instance ? or an 'IPCC' on genetically modified crops ?

The IPCC reports can be, for us climate scientist, indeed a very useful overview, but from here it does not follow that they are widely read. I have read very often the Report of Working Group I, but I have never ever met any colleague that has read the reports by WG II and WG III., and I haven’t either.. I dont have a poll, and probably nobody has conducted a poll so far about who reads the IPCC reports. But again, in my experience - I know quite a few climate scientist - most of them do not read it. Maybe they check if the report cites his/her papers, and they may browse the chapter closest to his/her area of research, but it happens quite seldom that, say a paleoclimatologist, reads the chapter on sea-level projections, or vice-versa, just to name an example.

I have serious doubts that the current structure is even useful for policy makers, but maybe we should ask the policy makers.
It is however completely true that among IPCC authors you may find all sorts of folks: from the ones that see it as a springboard for their careers to the honest scientist that devotes a lot of his time and effort without expecting any compensation

Vinny Burgoo said...

Here's a sentence from the ZOD of AR5 WGII Chapter 22 (Africa):

'It is estimated that 75-250 million people in the Sahel will be at risk of droughts as the region is expected to be drier; flooding in southern Africa is expected to increase (Adesian [sic], 2010).'

Where did Akinwumi Adesina get his '75-250 million people in the Sahel' from?

'Fleshman, 2007', which is this:

'Climate changes could put the lives of an additional 75–250 million people [in Africa] at risk.'

No footnotes for that, but if it was Arnell 2004 all over again that'd be so dispiriting.

Anonymous said...

@ Eduardo

"A history of this process would be quite interesting indeed."

Here's a quite good one ...

V. Lenzer

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I have just published a short chapter which deals with the history of the IPCC.

For those who read German, there is more detail in our recent book, Die Macht der Erkenntnis, chapter 4. You may get the relevant pages on the Amazon website.

itisi69 said...

Wikipedia process hmmm...hopefully it will not included persons like Connolley who single-handed blocked sceptic views for many years...

Paul Matthews said...

It is interesting to look back at Eduardo's comments. Eduardo is a co-author of the PAGES2k climate paper, accepted 11 March 2013, published online 21 April 2013.

eduardo said...


It may be interesting, as you wrote. My opinion has not changed, and actually it is an issue that the authors discussed. I still think that we should not be carried away by the IPCC deadlines, but as you very well know, I am one author among several tenths others. Other authors saw a benefit that these results could be included in the next IPCC report. I do not see this benefit so clearly.
I guess that the authors of the corresponding chapter IPCC will have to consider that the Pages 2K article is in the category 'Progress Article'

eduardo said...

Just for clarification of my previous comment: the review process was not compromised by the IPCC deadline, and contrary to what has been suggested in other blogs it was quite tough. A previous version had been rejected by Science, for instance. This indicates that these kind of papers are not just 'waived' to meet IPCC deadlines

Paul Matthews said...

Eduardo, thank you for the clarification of your view.
In fact, at another blog, someone says that one reviewer of the PAGES paper wrote 50 pages of comments!