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Conflict Resolution in Climate Science: Should the IPCC Be Disbanded? (Some thoughts from an outsider)

By Ross McKitrick -- February 23, 2011

Editor Note: This paper was prepared for the “Reconciliation in the Climate Change Debate” workshop held by the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, European Commission in Lisbon, Portugal (January 26—28, 2011).

I am an “outsider” to the field of climatology in two respects: by professional training I am an economist, and as regards my research I am in dispute with proponents of some elements of what is commonly called the “consensus” scientific position.1

With regards to my economics background, I note that economists routinely undertake scientific research on matters of acute political controversy, yet the field remains generally congenial and productive; whereas the policy controversies connected to climate research have resulted in seriously disrupted and damaged collegiality in climatology. Why the difference between the two fields? I suggest attention be paid to two reasons: the habit on the part of climate and meteorological societies to issue “expert statements” on behalf of members, and the role of the IPCC.

The Key to Intellectual Freedom in Economics: No Society Statements

I am a member of the American Economic Association (AEA) and the Canadian Economic Association (CEA). The AEA Constitution commits it to (emphasis added):

The encouragement of perfect freedom of economic discussion. The Association as such will take no partisan attitude, nor will it commit its members to any position on practical economic questions.

Likewise the CEA constitution forbids issuing statements:

The Association has for its object the advancement of economic knowledge through the encouragement of study and research… and the furtherance of free and informed discussion of economic questions. The Association as such will not assume a  partisan position upon any question of practical politics nor commit its members to any position thereupon.

Economists believe that freedom of discussion requires a prohibition on our major societies issuing position statements. There is wisdom in this! Individual experts can speak for themselves if they desire. Official “society” statements put words in peoples’ mouths, imposing groupthink and conformity and fostering bitterness on the part of those who find themselves with no voice. They silence and marginalize members who disagree with some or all of the statement, demoting them to second-class citizens in their own profession, regardless of their numbers or credibility as scientists.

Official statements replace the slow process of winnowing scientific truth by promoting a political “appeal to authority.” It encourages journalists, policymakers, educators and others to rest their case on
the “Expert Statement” rather than on the evidence. Consequently, public debate becomes less informative, and more authoritarian.

Climatology will not regain collegiality and freedom of discussion, and will continue to suffer factionalism and alienation, until its scientific societies do as economics societies do and forbid issuing
position statements on members’ behalf.

Unintended Consequences of the IPCC

The IPCC is not a neutral observer of climate science. It is a massive star that has pulled the entire field into its orbit. Papers are written or not written based on whether they suit the IPCC process. Projects get funded or not, and accepted at journals or not, based on their IPCC prospects.

The IPCC recruits Lead Authors who are prominent advocates of its preferred views, and their status as Lead Authors subsequently elevates their credentials so that their views acquire canonical status, reinforcing the impression of universal consensus.

Suppose the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created an economics version of the IPCC, which proceeded to issue an Assessment Report and Summary for Policymakers every five years that was promoted as the consensus view of what “every mainstream economist believes.”

Suppose further that the IMF was committed to one particular school of economic thought, such as New Keynesianism, that they ensured that all the lead authors of the IMF report were dedicated New Keynesians, and that the report inevitably concluded the New Keynesians are right and their critics are wrong (or do not even exist).

And finally, suppose that the IMF report was sponsored and endorsed by government departments who benefited by promotion of New Keynesian ideas, and that major funding agencies and university oversight agencies also began to endorse, support and promulgate the views in the IMF report.

It should be obvious that all of this would, over time, degrade the intellectual climate in the economics profession. It would do so even if New Keynesianism is true—and more so otherwise. Members of the research community would be forced to respond to the warped incentives created by such a dominant institution by embracing, or at least paying lip service to, New Keynesianism.

Over time it would be costlier and costlier to be publicly identified as a critic of New Keynesianism, and as critics became marginalized by political forces the IMF’s declaration of a “consensus” would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those who were disposed to support the IMF view would find it easier to get funding and academic posts, and journals would be more receptive to their papers since they would gain prominence by being cited in the IMF Report. Likewise journals would be increasingly reluctant to publish critics since their papers would be marginalized and subject to official denigration. Over time, people who had serious doubts about New Keynesianism would learn to suppress them and leave the field, or accept marginalization and negative career consequences.

All these things are playing out in climatology as the IPCC exerts its force over the profession. For those who find the IPCC unreceptive or hostile to their research the result is bitterness and alienation.

When the Inter-Academy Council was asked to review IPCC procedures they found a “near-universal” demand by those they interviewed was for Reviewers to have more authority, especially in ensuring that alternative or dissenting views receive proper consideration (pp. 22–23).

The IPCC appears to have ignored this suggestion and others like it. In light of the distortions the IPCC is creating, and its apparent unwillingness to undertake reform, I do not know how this situation can be resolved without shutting down the IPCC altogether.


1 My publications have argued that land climate data are likely contaminated with non-climatic warm biases, that the
hockey stick paleoclimatic reconstruction used unreliable methods and overstated its reconstruction significance, and
that climate models are significantly over-predicting warming rates in the tropical troposphere.


  1. Steve Koch  

    There is no way to reform the IPCC. The raison d’être for the IPCC is to find man caused global warming. Finding that global warming is natural or is not a calamity or is not very intense would provoke an existential crisis for the IPCC.

    In addition to the profound bias in the DNA of the IPCC, there are profound political and economic reasons that cause the IPCC to be a useful tool to corrupt politicians who want to use the IPCC to accomplish their political goals of increasing governmental power and taxes. The support of non affluent countries (i.e. most countries) around the world has been bought by promised transfer payments from the rich CO2 producing countries to the multitudinous poor countries.

    The global warming cause has been a perfect storm that has corrupted climate science and politics. The single biggest producer/facilitator of this corruption has been the IPCC. A good first step to clean out the corruption in climate science has been the vote by the USA House of Representatives to defund the IPCC.


  2. Ed Reid  

    I find it ironic that the “hockey stick” essentially “denies” the existence of both the MWP and the LIA, thus rendering Prof. Michael Mann a climate change “denier” (at least regarding historical climate changes). The hockey stick’s elevation to iconic status by the “team” and the IPCC is the the height of irony.

    I am not aware of any serious scientists who “deny” the existence of climate change, especially not the climate change which has occurred historically. I am aware of many who are skeptical of the assertion that climate change, which has occurred in the past absent human causation, is now occurring as the result of human causation.


  3. Harry Dale Huffman  

    I agree, the IPCC must go, if science — not just climate science — is to take back its credibility from political corrupton. But that is not enough, because the IPCC could not live and prosper without a general weakening of scientific competence, indeed without a raising of false dogma to the level of proof throughout science. Science must begin to regain its intellectual health by repudiating the incompetent scientists who enabled the IPCC, and who continue even now to ride the wave of false consensus that has ensnared all of our scientific institutions (NOAA, NASA, AAAS, APS, etc.), and the public media (including all of the peer-reviewed scientific publications).

    James Hansen, Phil Jones, Kevin Trenberth — all those who have continued to promulgate AGW in the face of overwhelming evidence against their poor science (including internet bloggers like “Eli Rabett”, “ScienceofDoom”, skepticalscience.com, realclimate.com, etc.), must be demonstrated to be wrong-headed, and ejected from science.

    I maintain the proper comparison of the temperatures in the atmospheres of Venus and Earth (as I have done, very simply, in “Venus: No Greenhouse Effect”) is the key proof, and an amazing demonstration, of the general wrong-headedness of the climate “consensus”. The last generation of students has been taught nonsense masqueraded as “settled science”, and a whole new generation is being brainwashed with this dogma (the “greenhouse effect”, based upon an incompetent “radiation balance theory” of climate) even now. Until the Venus/Earth data is dispassionately confronted, and admitted by all to be definitive against the current consensus, all scientists are incompetent. That is the unpalatable truth that must be faced.


  4. Kermit  

    Our congress has voted, last Friday, to stop all funding of the IPCC. Will other countries follow? Lord Monckton seems to think so, per his speech to the Northshore Tea Party in Mandeville, LA last Saturday.


  5. Ken Langford  

    I have read some of the works of Jacques Ellul and I’m beginning to understand why so many are unreachable regarding climate change and sustainable power.


    The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment.

    Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his great weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver…

    But remember…”when dialogue begins, propaganda ends”.


  6. sTevie  

    C’mon of course it should be. Fudging numbers is not scientific. Besides it takes the sun 240,000,000 years to revolve around the milky way, so the last time we could actually look at global tempuratures for where we are in relation to our sun and our galaxy would be data from 240,000,000 years ago… anyone have that data lying around.. no…….. either do I….


  7. Jon Boone  

    Nice quotes from Ellul, Ken. Here’s a few more:

    “All individual passion leads to the suppression of all critical judgment with regard to the object of that passion.”

    “The individual who burns with desire for action but does not know what to do is a common type in our society. He wants to act for the sake of justice, peace, progress, but does not know how. If propaganda can show him this ‘how’ then it has won the game; action will surely follow.”

    I’ve called this latter behavior “footpecking,” which is what birds often do when caught between two powerfully conflicting emotions. It knows it must “do” something…. The more formal name is displacement behavioral.


  8. robertsgt40  

    “Should the IPCC Be Disbanded?” Is this a trick question?


  9. Richard Haydn  

    Great article Ross, lays it out very tightly and convincingly. I would only comment that with all the alarm I have tried to discern what I can by reading the official IPCC documents and the various blogs for and against. Alas, when it gets down to the hard science I lack the scientific training to fully comprehend the arguments. Yet it is easy enough to look at the history of scientific progress and discern that the “generally held beliefs” are usually over-turned by later discoveries. I suppose the true believers feel they must stifle all counter views since they are trying to avert a catastrophe. I also agree with you that many well intentioned people, looking for a purpose in life – a spiritual sense if you will – jump on this bandwagon in the hope of giving meaning to their lives. Whatever the reasons, I remain quite amazed that the proponents of man-made climate change do not see the necessity for meaningful public debate. As for Mr. Gore, I can only chuckle at a man with a carbon footprint 100 times mine – even if he is willing to somehow offset it by paying some type of tax. I suppose he would have paid someone to take his place as a soldier had he lived during the civil war.


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