Posted by Nick.Barnes | Filed under Uncategorized
Updated: I have now 2010-06-29 submitted this comment to the IAC. Thank you, all signatories.
We have a rare opportunity to affect the conduct and perception of climate science. If you believe this is important, please read on, and comment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces reports which review and summarize the science of climate change. These reports are then used by inter-governmental treaties, bodies, conferences, and national governments, as the basis for international and national policies on climate change. In other words, it is vitally important. The Clear Climate Code project has the goal of “increasing public confidence in climate science results”, and the perception of IPCC reports directly affects this goal.
There has been a lot of controversy about the accuracy and balance of IPCC reports. In response, in March the UN asked the InterAcademy Council (representing the national science academies of many different countries) to conduct a review of the IPCC processes and procedures. A committee has been established and the review is underway. The committee is now soliciting public comment. This is a rare opportunity to influence the way in which the science of climate change is conducted, reviewed, synthesized, and communicated.
I have written the following comment, and am hereby soliciting signatures. If you agree with this comment and would like to be added as a signatory, please either contact me directly, or post a comment to this blog post, giving your name and affiliation, as you wish it to appear in the list of signatories. Please also spread the word about this blog post, and encourage your friends, colleagues, and contacts to sign it.
[edited to add: as people send me their endorsements, I will update the list of signatories here in the post. I cannot make other changes, since this is now receiving signatures.]
Comment to the InterAcademy Council Review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC procedures should be amended to increase the transparency of
the science and of the IPCC process itself. The proposed amendments
are small, but would have a large effect on confidence in IPCC
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” – Louis D. Brandeis, 1913.
2. The Problem
IPCC reports contribute to global public policy debates and processes,
which may have major effects on the daily lives of every person in the
world. Every government and large enterprise has already been
affected. As the century continues, the effects of policies based on
IPCC work will increase in their scope and impact: they will create
whole new industrial sectors, thousands of businesses, and many ways
For this reason, the IPCC reports and the processes which create them
have been under increasing scrutiny. Questions are asked and doubts
are raised, both about the IPCC process and about the underlying
scientific research. Both the research, and the processes of review
and synthesis, have been criticised for opacity. Very serious
accusations have been made: of a lack of rigor, of group-think, of
conflicts of interest, of deception, and even of conspiracy and fraud.
This has led to doubts about the validity of IPCC conclusions, and to
serious difficulty in making national and international policy
regarding climate change.
All this is well-known and need not be rehearsed further here.
Indeed, the recognition of these problems has led directly to the
United Nations request for a review, and the establishment of this IAC
3. The Solution
A key part of any solution to these problems is to increase the
transparency of the research underlying IPCC reports, and of the IPCC
process itself. While the research and the process remain closed and
opaque to commentators and to the public, doubts will flourish and
will impede progress.
The IPCC AR4 WG1 report included references to around 5000 items of
peer-reviewed research. Thousands more were referred by the WG2 and
WG3 reports. To assess or fully understand any part of an IPCC
report, an interested reader will want to follow the bibliographic
references and read the underlying research. For this reason the
bibliographic function of an IPCC report is very important. However,
the IPCC AR4 bibliography does not perform it well.
Each chapter of each report of AR4 has its own separate bibliography.
These bibliographies are not linked together, within a report or
between reports. The formats of these bibliographies varies. There
is no way to see whether any given paper is referred in more than one
working-group report, in more than one chapter, or at all. In the
online published text of each chapter of AR4 each citation does not
link to the matching reference in that chapter’s bibliography. In
turn, in each chapter’s bibliography, each reference does not link to
any online materials relating to that piece of research.
AR5 should have a single unified bibliography, containing all
references in all working group reports. Each citation in the body of
a report should link to the matching entry in the bibliography. If a
reference is to material which is published online, the bibliography
should link to that publication. The bibliography should also
reproduce whatever part of the publication and supporting materials is
available for reproduction (possibly just the abstract, but see
below). To protect these references against future change or loss,
wherever possible the IPCC should also archive copies of any online
publication on its own server (for instance, at the IPCC Data
Distribution Centre http://www.ipcc-data.org/).
There are many free tools available for managing online bibliographic
databases and repositories such as this. Such tools allow
collaborative enterprises such as the IPCC to readily create,
populate, update, search, and publish bibliographic data. The IPCC
should adopt such a tool, and mandate its use by lead authors and
contributing lead authors.
3.2. Underlying Research
Each piece of research lies somewhere on a spectrum of transparency
and open-ness. Some publications are open-access: freely available
for anyone to read and assess. For instance, some are published in
open-access journals. Many are not open-access, but describe results
such as datasets which are publicly available. Still more may have
some additional materials, such as computer source code used to
produce or analyse the datssets, freely available for download.
Finally, a great deal of research is entirely closed: only the
abstract is available, and neither the scientific paper, nor the data
described in the paper, nor the computer source code (or other
processing details), is generally open.
In recent years, and especially since AR4, it has become clear that
public confidence in research is directly connected to this spectrum
of transparency. The more open the research, the less vulnerable it
is to criticism, and especially to the more serious accusations of
fabrication and fraud. As argued above, this criticism seriously
damages the reputation of the IPCC and impedes progress in the use of
the IPCC reports.
For this reason, all contributors to AR5 should be encouraged to open
their work as much as possible: to make their contributed papers
available online, to publish their datasets and supporting materials
such as computer source code, design documents, and additional text,
images, and charts. This can be very simply done by the IPCC
routinely gathering and publishing information about the transparency
of each piece of underlying research. This information can easily be
stored in the IPCC bibliographic database.
As noted above, whenever possible a publication, and/or supporting
material, should be copied to an IPCC repository, to protect against
change or loss. As publications in climate science become more open,
such reproduction should be increasingly possible.
3.3. The IPCC Process
Much of the IPCC process itself is already open. Draft reports,
review comments, and responses are all published. However, the IPCC
reports themselves are not open. It is not possible to freely
reproduce and disseminate them. The IPCC should immediately change
this, and adopt an open licensing policy. All IPCC reports, past and
future, should be freely available under a license which conforms to
the Open Knowledge Definition http://www.opendefinition.org/, for
example the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license CC-BY-SA http://www.opendefinition.org/licenses/cc-by-sa/.
The existing transparency should also be increased. There have been
prominent recent calls for the review and synthesis process to take
place in public, for instance by adopting a wiki-style drafting
mechanism. Such a move would protect the IPCC against certain
accusations of group-think (or even conspiracy). However, such a move
is somewhat outside the scope of the detailed recommendations below.
This is a series of concrete recommendations for amendments to the
document “Principles Governing IPCC Work, Appendix A – Procedures for
the preparation, review, acceptance, adoption, approval and
publication of IPCC Reports”, with the effect of implementing the
solutions described above.
In section 4.1, “Introduction to Review Process”, this paragraph should
The IPCC Secretariat should identify, implement, and provide a
bibliographic system and repository for the use of Coordinating
Lead Authors, Lead Authors, and Review Editors.
The content of this bibliographic system and repository shall be
shared between all the Working Groups and the Task Force on
National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, and shall be publicly
available on or before completion of the Report for a period of at
least five years.
In section 4.2.3, “Preparation of Draft Report”, this sentence should
be added to the first paragraph:
Contributions should include, wherever possible, access
instructions for any original data, supplementary materials,
computer source code used for analysis or processing, and an
indication of the public availability and licensing of such
In Annex 1, under “Lead Authors”, this paragraph should be added:
Lead Authors shall record all contributed material in the IPCC
bibliographic system. Where any access to original data,
supplementary materials, or computer source code is provided, Lead
Authors shall record such access in the IPCC bibliographic system
and, wherever possible, copy such material to the IPCC repository.
In section 4.2, “Reports Accepted by Working Groups and Reports
prepared by the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories”,
this paragraph should be added:
Reports accepted by Working Groups, or prepared by the Task Force
on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, shall be made publicly
available under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike
In section 4.4, “Reports Approved and/or Adopted by the Panel”, this
paragraph should be added:
The Synthesis Report shall be made publicly available under the
Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license CC-BY-SA.
Furthermore, the IPCC should make its existing reports publicly available
under the same CC-BY-SA license.
The IPCC reports have been questioned and attacked on many fronts, and
this has been a source of great difficulty in making national and
international policy regarding climate change. A principal ground for
complaint has been the transparency of the underlying science and of
the IPCC process of review and synthesis. Progress can be enabled by
addressing these complaints: by making the science and the process far
The IPCC doesn’t have a direct influence on the working practices of
the thousands of researchers who contribute work to its reports.
However, it can shine a bright light on those practices by the simple
and cheap step of requesting and recording certain information in its
bibliography, and by making that bibliography readily available to the
Finally, by making its own processes more open, and by making its own
reports more freely available, the IPCC can both avoid any further
criticism on these grounds and set a leading example for the research
community from which it is drawn.
- Nicholas Barnes, Founder, Clear Climate Code project
- David Jones, Founder, Open Climate Code project
- Richard Drake, Founder, Open Climate Initiative
- Rufus Pollock, Founder, Open Knowledge Foundation
- Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator, Open Knowledge Foundation
- Joshua Halpern, Professor of Chemistry, Howard University
- Tim Lambert, School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales
- Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge and Open Knowledge Foundation
- Andrew Montford. Author: The Hockey Stick Illusion
- Subbiah Arunachalam, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, India
- Dave Berry, ex Deputy Director of the UK National e-Science Centre
- Peter Suber, Berkman Fellow, Harvard University
- Lucia Liljegren of the Blackboard
- Carrick Talmadge, Senior Scientist, University of Mississippi
- Ivo Grigorov (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/DTU-Aqua)
- William Eichinger, William Ashton Professor of Engineering, University of Iowa
- Nick Levine
- Philippa Davey
- Leif Burrough
- David L. Hagen
- Scott McKay
- Ronald Broberg
- Ted Lemon
- Martin Brumby
- Gerry Morrow
- David Bishop
- Conrad Taylor
- John Shade
- Allen McMahon
- Robert Thomson
- Eamon Watters
- Bruce Cunningham
- Greg Freemyer
- Chad Herman
- Barry Woods
- Jack Mosevich
- Stephen L. Jones
- Zeke Hausfather
- Daniel Godet
- Laurence Childs
- Peter O’Neil
- Phillip Bratby
- Colin Brooks
- Andrew Smith
- Peter Walsh
- Louis Hooffstetter
- Steve Fitzpatrick
- Stephen Gaalema
- Charles Minning
- Brian Crounse