David Holland’s FOI request for the Review Comments on IPCC AR4 Chapter 6 (Paleoclimate) has been successful, leading to David obtaining the comments, such as they are, which have now been placed online at CA here (though not yet at IPCC.)
David Holland’s request was noted up here; last year, we noted the appalling response by IPCC lead authors to, among other things, the deletion of post-1960 Briffa reconstruction results – see for example here here here, where the lead author (Briffa) justified the deletion of adverse post-1960 results from his reconstruction merely by saying that it would be “inappropriate” to show it.
As a reviewer, I had strongly objected to the mischaracterization of the results of McIntyre and McKitrick [2003,2005a,2005b, 2005c, 2005d], as did Ross McKitrick and the Review Comments, in my opinion, dealt with our objections inadequately. In my comments as a reviewer, I distinguished between whether they correctly characterized what we said (which is a minimum expectation) and whether they endorsed our criticisms. I took particular exception to mischaracterization.
IPCC Procedures state categorically that “different (possibly controversial)” views should be described:
It is important that Reports describe different (possibly controversial) scientific, technical, and socio-economic views on a subject, particularly if they are relevant to the policy debate.
Where controversies such as this exist, Review Editors have an important role set out in IPCC Procedures as follows:
Function: Review Editors will assist the Working Group/Task Force Bureaux in identifying reviewers for the expert review process, ensure that all substantive expert and government review comments are afforded appropriate consideration, advise lead authors on how to handle contentious/controversial issues and ensure genuine controversies are reflected adequately in the text of the Report.
Comment: There will be one or two Review Editors per chapter (including their executive summaries) and per technical summary. In order to carry out these tasks, Review Editors will need to have a broad understanding of the wider scientific and technical issues being addressed. The workload will be particularly heavy during the final stages of the Report preparation. This includes attending those meetings where writing teams are considering the results of the two review rounds. Review Editors are not actively engaged in drafting Reports and cannot serve as reviewers of those chapters of which they are Authors. Review Editors can be members of a Working Group/Task Force Bureau or outside experts agreed by the Working Group/Task Force Bureau.
Although responsibility for the final text remains with the Lead Authors, Review Editors will need to ensure that where significant differences of opinion on scientific issues remain, such differences are described in an annex to the Report. Review Editors must submit a written report to the Working Group Sessions or the Panel and where appropriate, will be requested to attend Sessions of the Working Group and of the IPCC to communicate their findings from the review process and to assist in finalising the Summary for Policymakers, Overview Chapters of Methodology Reports and Synthesis Reports. The names of all Review Editors will be acknowledged in the Reports.
John Mitchell, Chief Scientist, UK Met Office is an experienced administrator. The entire text of his Review Editor Comments (as disclosed by FOI) are as follows:
As Review Editor of Chapter 6, …I can confirm that the authors have in my view dealt with reviewers’ comments to the extent that can reasonably be expected. There will inevitably remain some disagreement on how they have dealt with reconstructions of the last 1000 years and there is further work to be done here in the future, but in my judgment, the authors have made a reasonable assessment of the evidence they have to hand. The other possible area of contention(within the author team) is on some aspects of sea-level rise. This has gone some way towards reconciliation but I sense not everyone is entirely happy.
With these caveats I am happy to sign off the chapter …
Mitchell’s sign-off letter explicitly recognized that there was “some disagreement on how they have dealt with reconstructions of the last 1000 years”. In such circumstances, is it enough for him to simply arrive at a personal judgment that
“in his judgment, the authors have made a reasonable assessment of the evidence they have to hand”. I don’t think so. One assumes that IPCC authors will make a “reasonable” assessment; that’s not the issue for Mitchell in his capacity as a Review Editor. His obligation was to ensure that the Report described “different (possibly controversial) scientific views” on the 1000-year reconstructions and to ensure “where significant differences of opinion on scientific issues remain, such differences are described in an annex to the Report”. Did Mitchell do this? Sure doesn’t look like it to me.
In addition, I must say that I’m surprised at how perfunctory Mitchell’s letter was. This must have taken him all of 30 seconds to write.
The covering letter from the IPCC WG1 TSU to David Holland stated:
Dear Dr Holland,
Thank you for your interest in the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Please find attached a copy of the Review Editor Report from Dr John Mitchell on Chapter 6 Paleoclimate of the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis”.
Perhaps Mitchell made other comments and IPCC and the UK FOI have failed to provide these other comments. It would probably be worthwhile renewing the request under the UK FOI legislation to ensure that there really is nothing else. It’s not like IPCC to be fulsome in their responses. On the basis of the correspondence provided by IPCC, Mitchell’s contribution as Chapter 6 Review Editor are so minimal that he’s rendered the office of Chapter 6 Review Editor pretty much useless. One surely would expect more from a senior U.K. scientist and experienced scientific administrator.
If this is all that Mitchell contributed, the quality of the comments by the Chapter 6 Review Editor hardly support claims that the IPCC review process is some sort of model review process. In saying this, I’m not saying that the fact that Mitchell made perfunctory comments as Review Editor proves that anything in the report is wrong; the report is written by experienced and knowledgeable scientists and, as such, warrants careful consideration. However, in the corner of the IPCC report with which I’m most familiar – the 1000 year reconstructions – Review Editor Mitchell did not discharge all his IPCC responsibilities and acquiesced in a section that contained a rather one-sided exposition of a relevant controversy and the lamentable quality of his Comments show his acquiescence in this particular section of the IPCC Report failing to meet IPCC standards.
Update: David Holland reports that “WGI TSU have just sent me Dr Jouzel’s report”. Here is his transcription:
As Review Editor of Chapter 6 Paleoclimate of the Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis”, I can confirm that all substantive expert and government review comments have been afforded appropriate consideration by the writing team in accordance with IPCC procedures.