I believe that there is a hierarchy of seriousness in climate science.
At the base of the pyramid is the peer-reviewed scientific literature. I don’t see any nefarious conspiracy or systematic “paradigm failure” among climate researchers. It seems to me that there is no more than a normal amount of hackery and careerism. A couple of the big trouble-spots are:
- The insulation of the climate modelers from third-party validation. Every predictive modeling community has a tendency to over-estimate its own accuracy, and that makes third-party validation critical. The lack of this outside check for climate models is partially a result of the reality that a true validation study for a multi-decadal climate model (i.e., make a prediction on date X for some future date Y, and then when Y rolls around compare the prediction to actual) would take many years, but they are hiding behind this and avoiding serious studies that would validate the prediction skill of models for climate prediction for even a few years. We don’t really know how accurate climate models are. This is a real scandal, given how reliant the whole enterprise is on these model predictions.
- The quality of long-term temperature reconstructions. Steve McIntyre (the guy who broke the Hockey Stick) has an amazing site that has applied careful statistical analysis to many of the major long-term climate reconstructions that are the basis of claims about how exceptional current temperatures are. He has uncovered case after case of bad data and/or analysis that are not rounding error issues, but go to the heart of many claims in widely-cited studies.
All that said, generally what you see in this field are real scientists trying to do real science.
The next level up in the pyramid is the IPCC detailed report for each Working Group. These have historically appeared to be serious attempts by scientists to summarize relevant research findings.
The next level in the pyramid is the IPCC Summary for Policymakers for each Working Group. These are really treaties negotiated between government representatives. It is generally important to the governments to have the scientists, whom I assume the governments see as one constituency among many, remain willing to sign it to retain credibility. This has normally disciplined these reports to the extent that they’re not totally crazy. Spin, emphasis, and decisions about inclusion vs. exclusion, however, are often manipulated in these reports. When it comes to the backroom, late-hour negotiations about what word is included where, you can bet that the professional negotiators outwit the academic scientists pretty much every time.
At the top of the pyramid you have any statements made by senior UN or government officials. These should all be treated with the level of seriousness you would give to a typical political campaign promise that “my Administration will eliminate all poverty in America” or something.
What is disheartening, though probably inevitable as the economic stakes have risen, is that politicization seems to be seeping downward in the pyramid.
I wrote a post a few days ago that criticized an analysis in a draft Working Group technical report. This analysis implied that increasing global temperatures were responsible for increasing economic losses from weather-related disasters. The basic point that I made was that both cursory examination of the analysis presented and review of relevant technical literature produced in this area over the past 10 years indicated that the conclusion was completely unwarranted, and inclusion of this analysis in what is supposed to be a summary of relevant research was not in any way accurate. I found this pretty inexplicable.
Yesterday, Laurens Bouwer, one of the expert reviewers for this chapter posted his experience with the details of how the current IPCC report went about addressing this topic. He says:
“As reviewer for WG2 I have repeatedly (3 times) asked to put a clear statement in the SPM that is in line with the general literature, and underlying WG2 chapters. In my view, WG2 has not succeeded in adequately quoting and discussing all relevant recent papers that have come out on this topic.
Initial drafts of the SPM had relatively nuanced statements such as:
Global economic losses from weather-related disasters have risen substantially since the 1970s. During the same period, global temperatures have risen and the magnitude of some extremes, such as the intensity of tropical cyclones, has increased. However, because of increases in exposed values …, the contribution of these weather-related trends to increased losses is at present not known.
For unknown reasons, this statement was dropped from the final SPM. Now the SPM has no statement on the attribution of disaster losses, and we do not know what is the ‘consensus’ here.”
In other words, selective editing of the technical reports is being used to manipulate the conclusions presented.