Let’s Read the IPCC (1)

If there’s one thing about Climate Change nobody could be able to disagree on, it’s that there’s a huge amount of literature on the subject.

I figure it would be impossible for any one person to have a good grounding in the totality of the Science, spanning, as it does, most of humankind’s discoveries about the physical world.

It would be hard too to have an exceptionally well-rooted understanding even of the Synthesis of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

A human mind is surely not capable of remembering all the facts and figures and how everything relates. My personal forgettery is quite active in selecting what to drop after not using it for a while, and I’m sure others experience the same thing.

For example, I’m sure Dr Judith Curry, accomplished as she is in Earth Sciences, does not remember the entire field, and does not have the tools to look everything up quickly. Which is why she gives shorthand vague, answers on web logs which annoy other people so much :-

http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2010/08/curry_jumps_the_shark.php

I reckon, though, people should give her a break for a while to let her compose herself, and get over the shock of the Anthony Watts “tribe” eating her heart out with steak knives after she published a proper piece of Science.

It distresses and appals me in equal measure that completely uneducated people make huge sweeping statements about the IPCC’s work without knowing anything much about the content of the Fourth Assessment Report.

It also troubles and irritates me that the public face of the Science can be so easily subverted by people who use emotive language, false accusations and constantly recycled errors to dismiss the work of the IPCC.

Have you, dear reader, been distracted from reading the IPCC by the Climategate revelations ? If so, you are one amongst thousands, perhaps millions of people, who have been treated to a smokescreen of nonsense and filibustering by the likes of Steve McIntyre.

If you want to research the culture of Climate Change, you do need to address the fact that so many people, who know next-to-nothing about it, are willing to adopt a contrary position to the body and work of the world’s largest, cooperatively-managed Scientific network (the IPCC).

In the annals of the philosophy of the history of Science (or the history of the philosophy of Science), one name stands out as having laid the foundations for dismissal of the whole project of Science – Thomas Kuhn.

His claim that Scientists form part of an enclave, an inwardly-focussed “paradigm” of theory and understanding, with its own internally maintained unassailable truth (whether really really true, or not), is an idea that has given a very useful stick to beat Science with.

Truth about the natural world, sceptics argue, is only valid within the “paradigm” of a particular Science community. Outside those ivory towers of academe, the real world can be a lot different, they claim. And sometimes, they assert, within the academic community, what is accepted as truth undergoes a shift, a radical Kuhnian “paradigm shift”.

Kuhn theorised that “paradigm shifts” would come about because of revolutionary new facts or theories – but his theory is only that – a theory. In the real world of Science, the society of co-labourers shifts in ways both large and small – but never really apocalpytically, catastrophically. Kuhn was wrong, and Climategate proves it – Science can withstand culture shocks without dissolution of the whole Scientific enterprise.

The promoters of the non-scandal known as Climategate hoped to create a “paradigm shift” in Science, by seeding a revolutionary idea in the mind of the general public, that anybody related to the IPCC and the University of East Anglia (UEA) Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in particular, was not to be trusted.

The Climategaters hoped that public opinion about Scientific untrustworthiness would bleed into the structures of authority, causing a “paradigm shift” in the form of a loss of support of the IPCC work, which would then have repercussions within the academic community, causing a shift from the outside to push a shift on the inside.

To a certain extent, they got what they wanted – there have been enquiries, checks, balances, reports written on Science and Scientists, promises and pledges of more “openness and transparency”. But you know what, Science has come out unscathed.

Experts in specialist fields are still experts in specialist fields, and they are still consulted on. The reason ? It is impossible to know everything about the whole of Climate Change Science, and true expertise is something that a pitchfork-armed witch-hunt cannot unsettle.

We are not living in a “post-paradigmatic”, “post normal science” state – Science still goes on, truth is still discovered. The facts are still the facts and the data is still the data and the evidence is still the evidence.

The collective work of the world’s best minds on Climate Change is still our highest achievement as a species. And Governments are still trying to settle on policy to respond to the clear risks and threats from the changing Climate.

The IPCC are gearing up for their Fifth Assessment Report, and I think you’ll find the management of this exercise will have media outreach of the highest order.

The one thing that Climategate has taught us is that press relations are important when launching important information. In the case of Climategate, the information was pseudo- and dis-information, but they handled the media well, with a full spectrum dominance.

Now that Climategate is really quite dead (I date it to Robin McKie’s righteously angry missive in The Observer on 1st August 2010 “A dark ideology is driving those who deny climate change : People who claim that climate science is a conspiracy or the work of charlatans are talking rubbish…Will Hutton is away”), I think it’s time to come right back around to the substantive nature of the work of the IPCC.

After all, quite a few media commentators know nothing about it. You would have thought it would be in their best interest to know what the IPCC work is about, but no, they haven’t read it. They have views about it, gleaned from sceptic websites, but they haven’t actually read the actual text. They may have been given the unholy, unappetising task of reading every last one of Phil Jones’ e-mails, but they haven’t read the Science.

I read most of the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) from 2001, and so far, I have read chunks of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from 2007 that I thought were the most changed from the previous report – the parts where new discoveries and research have added to our overall knowledge and strengthen our confidence in the conclusions.

However, it is time to read the whole thing, and that is what I intend to do here. I might not finish this little project because other things come in the way. I have studies to complete after all – my own primary, original research. But I do intend to read the whole thing, carefully, and make notes here.

I hope you can join me in this study and stop following the nonsense of the Climate Change sceptic-deniers. Together we can re-focus on the Science rather than the rabble outside the University gates with their grim faces and cynical accusations.

Let’s read the IPCC.

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