Not Really the “Best and Brightest” at the IPCC

SPPI NOTE: What follows is a series of postings about the lack of qualifications of some key authors of past IPCC reports on climate — which reports are used by governments the world over to justify policy on anything from energy to “social justice” schemes for transferring wealth within and between nations.

Source:  No Frakking Consensus

Lead Author Lacked a Master’s Degree

October 19, 2010

A PhD is an indicator that someone is proficient in their field. If an organization like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims to be comprised of the world’s “best experts” and “top scientists” it’s reasonable to assume that almost all will have earned their PhDs.

As I’ve mentioned, however, Lisa Alexander helped write the 2001 and 2007 IPCC assessment reports, yet only received her PhD last year. Prior to that, she was a research assistant in an arts faculty. It’s puzzling how someone who joined the IPCC a decade prior to receiving her PhD could possibly have been considered one of the world’s top scientists.

It turns out she isn’t alone. Laurens Bouwer is employed by VU University Amsterdam. According to that institution’s website, he too remains PhD-free. Yet a bio dated last month tells us he was a lead author for the the 2001 assessment report, as well as a contributor to the IPCC’s “Special Report on Extremes.”

Like Alexander, the only way Bouwer could have served as a lead author for the 2001 report is if he had been nominated for that position some time in the late 1990s. But he didn’t even have a Master’s degree then.

Let us repeat this: at the time Bouwer joined the ranks of the IPCC’s best and brightest he had yet to complete his Masters. According to his university bio, his credentials are as follows:

Academic training
1995-2001: Master’s degree Physical Geography, Vrije Universiteit

The same year the IPCC report for which he’d served as a lead author was published, Bouwer finally earned this designation.

The IPCC’s task is to evaluate all the relevant scientific findings pertaining to climate change and to write a report summarizing what we know and don’t know – so that governments around the world can make sound decisions.

Are there people capable of performing this task who don’t possess a PhD? Yes.  Eminent theoretical physicist and longtime Princeton University professor Freeman Dyson, for example, never got around to completing a doctorate. But one of the reasons we know Dyson is an exceptional intellect is because he has been winning international science awards since the 1960s. Bouwer’s academic bio provides little indication that he is the next Dyson.

The IPCC surely needs to explain how research assistants and those-working-on-their-masters qualify as the worlds best experts and top scientists.

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More Grad Student Expertise

October 20, 2010

Until 2009 Sari Kovats was a graduate student at London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A research paper published last November indicates she held a Master of Science degree.

But never fear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a flexible organization. We’ve already seen it refer to individuals with thin academic credentials as the world’s “best experts” and “top scientists” (here, here, and here). Kovats is just the latest example.

Remember the first health chapter in the 1995 edition of the climate bible? The one in which Jonathan Patz, a recently graduated medical doctor with no relevant publications, nevertheless served as a lead author? Kovats’ tenure with the IPCC also stretches back to that dismal moment in history.

How Kovats, who served as a contributing author in 1994, could possibly have been among only 21 people in the entire world selected to work on an IPCC chapter this important is uncertain. After all, the PubMed database tells us her first academic paper didn’t appear until 1997.

For her second paper, her two co-authors were the aforementioned Patz and the convening lead author of that notorious chapter – Anthony McMichael. He’s the gent who, after being asked by the IPCC to conduct a good-faith review of all the available literature, managed to have entire passages from his own polemical book reproduced as the IPCC’s considered opinion. McMichael also supervised Kovats’ many- years-in-the-making doctoral thesis. (She appears to have finally received her PhD sometime in 2009.)

According to PubMed, the first eight papers Kovats co-authored were written with at least one other person who also worked on the 1995 health chapter. Over the years, that group has remained remarkably close-knit.

Nor did Kovats make just one contribution to the IPCC’s celebrated assessments. If she was sufficiently qualified to be a contributing author 15 years prior to earning her PhD, it apparently follows that she was qualified to be a lead author a few years later when the 2001 version of the health chapter got written (PDF here). And are we surprised to learn that she reprised her lead author role when the IPCC produced its 2007 assessment – thereby securing for herself a share of the Nobel Peace Prize?

So, in the 15 years prior to earning her PhD, Kovats served once as a contributing author and twice as a lead author for the IPCC.

Which means governments around the world have been relying on the expertise of grad students when they make multi-billion-dollar climate change decisions.

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Meet the IPCC’s Youngest Lead Author

October 21, 2010

please see the bottom of this post for photo credits

It’s 2008. A newspaper in a small New Hampshire community writes an article about a local resident who was a lead author for the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize some months earlier, Robert Wickham shares in that Nobel glory. He tells the paper:

Our IPCC reports are used by the regulators around the world when they set their environmental policies.

He’s quite right. IPCC reports are enormously influential. And white-haired Wickham, with an engineering career stretching back to 1966, is exactly the kind of person one would expect to find on a panel of the world’s best experts and top scientists.

But some IPCC authors are nothing like Wickham. They’re young kids. They’re still students. Their experience of the world is neither broad nor deep. Wickham had, in fact, already embarked on his career before our case in point – Richard Klein – was even born.

Joining the human family in October 1969, Klein spent his 23rd year (1992) as a Greenpeace campaigner in Amsterdam. That same year he completed a Masters in geology. So how does someone with only a Masters become an IPCC lead author a mere two years later? I mean, he was 25 years old at the time.

To quote his bio:

Since 1994 Dr Klein has contributed as lead author to five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), of which twice as coordinating lead author. He remains the youngest ever coordinating lead author in the history of the IPCC, a mark he set when first appointed coordinating lead author in 1997. [bold added]

There are three classes of IPCC author – contributing, lead, and coordinating lead. The coordinating lead authors (usually there are two of them) are a chapter’s most senior personnel. The above excerpt tells us Klein was promoted to the most senior IPCC authorial role when he just 28.

What the excerpt doesn’t mention is that he didn’t earn his PhD until six years after that – in 2003. So Klein served as an IPPC author four three times while he was still a graduate student.

The fact that he was comically young didn’t disqualify him. The fact that he’d recently worked for Greenpeace didn’t disqualify him. While still in his twenties, while still years away from completing his doctorate, those in charge of the IPCC decided Klein was one of the worlds top experts.

This tells us two things. First, the judgment of the IPCC leadership is impaired. Second, it has suffered from such impairment since the mid-1990s – or approximately three-quarters of the IPCC’s 22-year existence.

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An Even Younger Senior Author

October 22, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about Richard Klein, a Dutch geography professor currently working in Sweden, who began writing reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the tender age of 25.

That was nine full years prior to earning his PhD, and part of a larger pattern. Sari Kovats also became an IPCC author 15 years prior to completing her doctorate, Lisa Alexander became an IPCC author a decade prior to getting hers, and Laurens Bouwer hadn’t even finished his Masters when he first served as a lead author. The IPCC has a history, therefore, of pretending that grad students are the equivalent of the world’s top scientists.

Klein’s personal website claims that he:

…remains the youngest ever coordinating lead author in the history of the IPCC, a mark he set when first appointed coordinating lead author in 1997. [bold added]

This claim is repeated on page five of his CV. However, Klein appears to be mistaken. Another Dutchman – economist Richard Tol – got there first.

Richard Tol

Nothing about the IPCC is straightforward, and this matter is no exception. In addition to the large assessment reports published in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007, several smaller IPCC reports on specialized topics have also been produced.

Klein’s claim to being the youngest coordinating lead author (the most senior of the IPCC’s three classes of author) relates to one of these special reports. It was titled Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer and was published in 2000. Klein served as the sole coordinating lead author for Chapter 15 – a task he began at age 28.

Tol, however, was one of two senior people responsible for Chapter 5 in an IPCC special report titled The Regional Impacts of Climate Change. An online version of that report is dated 1997 – three years prior to the report in which Klein participated. It was published on paper in 1998.

Given that Tol and Klein were born a few months apart in 1969, and the report in which Tol was involved came first, it would seem that it is Tol who holds the dubious distinction of being the youngest ever person to oversee an IPCC chapter.

Tol earned his PhD in 1997 – around the time his report was released. In that respect, his case is less egregious than the others cited above. But this still means the IPCC assigned him the most senior of author roles when he was a 20-something grad student.

If climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity, why have kids filled key IPCC positions for the past 15 years?

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