Guest essay by Wim Rost
Sometimes you know that something “stinks” somewhere. But you don’t know what and you don’t know where. You can search everywhere and don’t find it. Till you finally find out.
Until recently I thought about the IPCC as an organisation “filled up with science”. That thought was both right and wrong. Sure, you can find a lot of scientists and scientific results there, but, IPCC does not (necessarily) work as science. No, it is not science, IPCC is government.
I discovered the importance of that difference by reading a title of an IPCC report twice: “Summary for Policymakers” and “Summary for Policymakers”. That title was giving me the suggestion that scientists had been writing a scientific paper for Policymakers. But, looking further I discovered it was different. That summary was not a scientific paper. It was an opinion and it does not need to be the opinion of all scientists involved*. Let me explain.
Scientists have to respect the scientific method. The scientific method has rules. The most important of all rules is to work in a way to obtain maximum objectivity. “Science or Fiction” wrote about objective science in a post with reference to Karl Popper: https://dhf66.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/ippc-does-exactly-what-should-be-avoided-in-objective-science/ . In the words of Karl Popper:
“We may now return to a point made in the previous section: to my thesis that a subjective experience, or a feeling of conviction, can never justify a scientific statement, and that within science it can play no part (…). No matter how intense a feeling of conviction it may be, it can never justify a statement. Thus I may be utterly convinced of the truth of a statement; certain of the evidence of my perceptions; overwhelmed by the intensity of my experience: every doubt may seem to me absurd. But does this afford the slightest reason for science to accept my statement? Can any statement be justified by the fact that Karl R. Popper is utterly convinced of its truth? The answer is, ‘No’; and any other answer would be incompatible with the idea of scientific objectivity.”
Is a conviction the slightest reason for science to accept a statement? Popper: “The answer is, ‘No’; and any other answer would be incompatible with the idea of scientific objectivity.”
In the IPCC Climate Discussion at this point all went wrong: conviction. But how? As said, it has been a struggle for me to discover. But now I know how we all are tricked. We are tricked in sentences like “Summary for Policymakers”. And also by way of “organising a result” in a manner which is perhaps formally correct – within the IPCC context – but as a result gives a wrong suggestion to the big public. Namely, the suggestion of “scientific evidence”, supported by nearly all scientists.
“The Summary for Policymakers 2014” of group II has a subtitle: “WORKING GROUP II CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIFTH ASSESSMENT REPORT OF THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE”. From the scientific point of view “Working group II contribution” to the summary is not correct as far as I can see.
To be scientific, the statement that something – for example an opinion or a conclusion – is a“working group II contribution” has to be tested and verified. So there must have been an enquiry among the scientists that were working in the group involved, in any case of a statement with expressions as “likely” or “very likely” or in any other statement or conclusion which is not straight from scientific research itself. That enquiry must make clear which of the scientists involved did judge the presented statement to be “a certitude” from the scientific point of view. This enquiry and the results have to be publicly available in order to make it verifiable. It must be possible to make the enquiry again and then we must get the same results. By doing so [parts of] the enquiry can be verified by researchers and journalists.
I have never heard about such an enquiry by the IPCC in regard to summaries or conclusions.
When the hypothesis (e.g. “X = very unlikely”) is not tested in such a way, you can only refer to such a statement as to the opinion of the writers of that specific part. But, opinion is not the same as “science” and every suggestion that the summary or conclusion is representing the science or even the scientists of “working group II” has to be avoided. Unless it is proven.
The IPCC is stating elsewhere:
The assessment process
This Working Group III contribution to the AR5 represents the combined efforts of hundreds of leading experts in the field of climate change mitigation and has been prepared in accordance with the rules and procedures established by the IPCC.
(WR: italic is mine)
That was an eye opener. Does this statement mean that rules and procedures of science and of experts are used to produce summary’s and conclusions? No, not at all. It means, that what you are reading in the summaries and the conclusions is IPCC. And IPCC, although a lot of important work is done by scientists, IPCC is not equal with science. The IPCC is an intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. To be even more clear: IPCC is government and not science. And the workers of the IPCC prepare the work in accordance with the rules and procedures established by the IPCC.
In order to be scientific the scientific method has to be adhered. The use of many scientists to fill important parts of IPCC reports does not mean that everything is science. A report is just a report. In this case, a report from the IPCC. And the IPCC is (inter-) government. Scientists involved can produce their own scientific papers about their own specialised part of science, but a small group of writers writes the summaries and the conclusions – for the IPCC. And IPCC is government.
When you are reading well, formally the IPCC knows. But, the problem is that in public use the fact that a lot of scientists are working for the IPCC is mentioned so often, that it seems that everything produced by the IPCC is “scientific”. But, the summaries and conclusions are not scientific. They are just representing the intergovernmental opinion.
Of course, government may have an opinion. And government may also find support for that opinion in scientific research. But by making choices for certain lines and by drawing certain conclusions – even when made with the help of scientists – this doesn’t mean the government is representing “Science” and that her conclusions are “Science” or even “scientific”. It could very well be, that another choice for the IPCC‘s stated mission**, another choice of writers, another choice for “process organisers” and another selection of scientists would have delivered other summaries and other conclusions. As is usual when it is about an opinion.
The ‘big lie’ about the scientific nature of all of the IPCC statements and especially her conclusions has to end up by strictly avoiding the overwhelming suggestion that everything is science. Unless there are enquiries which prove the opposite. Therefore, to start with the next report the IPCC should give reports titles and subtitles like:
Summary by Policymakers
Approved by governments, not science
As a beginning. And to continue, they have to make everywhere a strict division between “science” and “opinion”. And tell with every statement who’s opinion it exactly is.
Wim Röst ***
* Of course there always remains the possibility that at a certain moment one specific researcher is more right than the other 99.9% of researchers which “are not that far”. Think about Albert Einstein’s E=mc2 or Alfred Wegener’s Continental Drift. So, majority doesn’t count in science. “Reigning by majority” is a democratic principle which is bound to government and not to science. The IPCC is government and so uses “majorities”. But, from the scientific point of view, “majority” is without any meaning and doesn’t belong to Science.
** “The IPCC’s stated mission is not to discover what accounts for climate change, but to assess “the risk of human-induced climate change.” Consequently, there is almost no discussion in its lengthy reports of other theories of climate change. Policymakers and journalists took this to mean the AGW theory was the only credible theory of climate change, and the IPCC’s sponsors and spokespersons had no incentive to correct the mistake.”
*** The article above has to be read as my personal opinion.
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