Friday, May 25, 2007

No Comment(s)

The IPCC promises that

All written expert, and government review comments will be made available to reviewers on request during the review process and will be retained in an open archive in a location determined by the IPCC Secretariat on completion of the Report for a period of at least five years.

And sure enough, when I asked (many months ago) for the comments on the first drafts of the chapters I was interested in, they arrived not too long after. Rather oddly, they were sent via snail mail as a heap of dead tree which as well as being costly and environmentally-unfriendly, also made searching through them rather awkward. Of course, the comments had all been submitted electronically (this was the IPCC's requirement, in fact), and presumably collated and forwarded to the relevant IPCC authors themselves in that format, so it is hard to see any useful purpose for this printing out of the electronic document. A recent US climate science report made the comments freely available to all as a pdf (I can't remember exactly what it was, and I didn't wade through much of it). In the 21st century it seems reasonable to hope that other major scientific institutions would adopt similarly efficient procedures. But I suppose there was no real harm done except perhaps to my impression of the IPCC. And to a few trees.

Fast forward on to the present, and I wanted to look at the comments on the 2nd draft. As I mentioned here, there were some significant changes from 2nd draft to final version, and I wanted to see (inter alia) who other than myself had objected to the previous version. I also think that the authors provide answers to the comments (although I asked about this and received no reply), and I wanted to see how they answered (and in some cases, justified ignoring) mine.

The reply to my email from Melinda Tignor at the IPCC secretariat was:
These expert and government review comments and responses are archived at and available from the Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives at Harvard University.
and there followed a address (including email, I should be thankful for small mercies) for the Curator, George Clark

So I emailed him to ask for the comments.

This is his reply in full:

Dear Mr. Annan,

Thanks for contacting Harvard's Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives. I am the Archives' curator. I've shifted your email message over to my question tracking queue so that I may keep better track of your request. We are undergoing a move in stages over the summer, so please bear with us as we work out new procedures for materials access. Currently, these materials are available in person by appointment within the hours of 10am - 4:45pm weekdays at Littauer Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

At some point, service will switch to the nearby Phillips Reading Room at Widener Library, but in either case, please let me know your desired time to visit (no later than one week prior) so that I can make sure the materials will be ready for you.

I will be away from the office June 21-July 5, so the materials will not be available during that date range.

Please note that I have the material only in print form. If it is impossible for you to visit the archives, I can provide a photocopy of up to 100 pages for research purposes only (not republication) for a fee of $34 plus 40 cents per page. Copyright of the material resides with its authors.

It may be possible for you to hire a research assistant locally to look over the materials if that would be helpful in selecting materials of most interest. I can recommend someone if you like.

Please let me know of any questions you may have.
So I can either make an appointment and turn up in person - on the other side of the world, remember - or can try to pay someone to search through the paper archive to find the particular pages I might be interested in (up to a maximum of 100) and pay again for them to copy them and post them over.

You really couldn't make it up.

Full dislosure - I've seen this, which is what prompted me to get round to it right now.

One comment in particular is worth stealing from, for those who dare not follow the link:

From the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
PROSSER: But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months!

ARTHUR: Yes, well, as soon as I heard, I went straight round to see them. You hadn’t gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody.

PROSSER: The plans were on display—

ARTHUR: On display? I had to go down to the cellar to find them!

PROSSER: That’s the display department!

ARTHUR: With a flashlight.

PROSSER: The lights had probably gone out.

ARTHUR: So had the stairs.

PROSSER: But you found the notice, didn’t you?

ARTHUR: Yes, I did. It was "on display" in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying, "Beware of the Leopard."
I should perhaps point out, before others start to argue that at least the IPCC aren't quite that bad, that H2G2 was intended as a comedy. The IPCC isn't.

I hope that other responsible climate scientists will also object to this obstructive bureaucratic pettifogging, which in my opinion shows the IPCC in a very poor light.


John A said...

Alas James, nobody cares about such things. The most important thing is that the IPCC have got their report out and all of these details are just tittle-tattle and trivia.

Feeling snowballed by the IPCC after being invited to be a reviewer and then treated like this?

Welcome to UN bureaucracy, where the rules are set by bureaucrats whose only purpose is to maintain and defend their own jobs. The IPCC is an enormous gravy train that is not going to be derailed by such outmoded things like transparency or proper procedure, no matter what those rules say.

Who are you going to complain to, anyway?

Dr. Lemming said...

Maybe they mean to use their archives as a carbon sequestration project...

James Annan said...


I complained back to the IPCC address and got an email from Martin Manning saying that some of Harvard's constraints were not anticipated and he would look into it. So it might be more cock-up than conspiracy (although I rather like the lemming's idea). Watch this space.

William M. Connolley said...

I can only assume that making them paper based is to make it hard for people to review them, which is deeply uninspiring.

Michael Strong said...

Thank you for taking this up, James. Between your willingness to make public climate prediction bets and your willingness to take on this entirely legitimate and important cause, you are single-handedly doing more for the credibility and integrity of the mainstream consensus than any other climate scientist I've run across; and I've read broadly on this issue. I wish far more representatives of the mainstream consensus would follow your leads.