The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s weekend announcement that it would establish “an independent committee of distinguished experts” to evaluate its own procedures was intended to stem the tide of criticism washing over the U.N.’s arbiter of global-warming science. In practice, what this means is that another U.N.-appointed panel of “experts” will convene to review the failures of the original experts. This is less than reassuring.
So far, the climate-change establishment’s efforts at damage control in the wake of the climategate email leak have left much to be desired. Take the “independent Climate Change Email Review” that the University of East Anglia is funding to look into its own Climatic Research Unit, which was at the center of the climategate controversy in November. The CRU panel’s original team of six has already lost one member, Nature Editor-in-Chief Philip Campbell, who withdrew last month over challenges to his impartiality based on a December 2009 interview in which he said “The scientists [involved in the CRU emails] have not hidden the data. . . . they have behaved as researchers should.”
Critics have also questioned Geoffrey Boulton’s place on that CRU review panel. Mr. Boulton, today a professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, has in the past worked at the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Science, which established CRU in 1972. More recently, Mr. Boulton signed a December 2009 petition, orchestrated by the U.K. Meteorological Office that has collaborated with CRU, declaring “the utmost confidence in the observational evidence for global warming and the scientific basis for concluding that it is due primarily to human activities.” The petition adds that “we uphold the findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report,” which many of the climategate scientists helped author. Mr. Boulton told us in an email that his ties to East Anglia were old enough for “any contacts or residual allegiance to have been long since severed,” and stressed that his position on global warming was “irrelevant,” given that the inquiry in which he’s participating is meant to evaluate CRU’s work, not the overarching hypothesis of man-made warming.
Prof. Boulton’s defense, however, serves only to reveal his bias, which is that the scandal has nothing to say about the underlying science. Any thorough-going investigation, whether of the CRU and its fellow-travelers or of the IPCC process itself, would of necessity start with the question: How has what we’ve learned about how the science was done affected what we know about how the climate system works?
Some scientists have started to ask that question. The U.K.-based Institute of Physics recently told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that “unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.” It added that its concerns go “well beyond the CRU itself—most of the e-mails were exchanged with researchers in a number of other international institutions who are also involved in the formulation of the IPCC’s conclusions on climate change.”
There’s little evidence, alas, that these “worrying implications” are being followed up within the climate-change establishment, and no sign that Mr. Pachauri’s inquiry will come within a country mile of them. In announcing the probe, Mr. Pachauri explained its necessity thus: “We recognize the criticism that has been leveled at us and the need to respond.” In other words, Mr. Pachauri appreciates the need to appear to be doing something about the PR beating the global warming consensus has taken.
Two paragraphs down, Mr. Pachauri adds: “Meanwhile, we stand firmly behind the rigor and robustness of the 4th Assessment Report’s conclusions. . . . based on an overwhelming body of evidence from thousands of peer-reviewed and independent scientific studies.” That is to say, the outcome of Mr. Pachauri’s inquiry has already been determined—the science will be found to be sound. Too bad for him that the IPCC is likely past the point where it can salvage its tattered reputation.