Pielke on Muir Russell’s Erroneous Understanding of IPCC Mission

Pielke Jr is off the mark quickly with a demonstration of an important Muir Russell misunderstanding of IPCC responsibilities, that invalidates much of their work on IPCC. (BTW it seems clear to me that Muir Russell contains many gaffes and errors, which are going to get placed into the sunshine over the next few days, as critics get a chance to work through the report. It’s too bad that Muir Russell decided that it was a good idea not to interview critics during the preparation of the report.

Roger highlights the following Muir Russellism:

Its purpose is to produce a “best estimate” of what is currently understood, through the work of a group of scientists chosen for their expertise and experience to make reasoned assessments on the balance of evidence. It is not to produce a review of the scientific literature.

Roger strongly contests this assertion. Roger cites actual IPCC procedures as opposed to apparent Muir Russell reliance on what Jones and Briffa told them.

The Muir Russell mischaracterization of the IPCC becomes relevant in the report when it uses the characterization as a criterion for evaluating the efforts revealed in the emails to minimize or exclude certain perspectives. For instance, the Muir Russell report explains with respect to one alleged instance of exclusion of peer reviewed literature from IPCC drafts that (p. 76):

Those within the [IPCC] writing team took one view, and a group outside it took another. It is not in our remit to comment on the rights and wrongs of this debate, but those within the team had been entrusted with the responsibility of forming a view, and that is what they did.

This speaks directly to problems of the IPCC, revealed to some degree by the emails, but of much broader concern. The IPCC is supposed to “identify disparate views” not hide them from view or take the side held by the author team. Had the Muir Russell review actually taken an accurate view of the IPCC, it is likely that its judgment about the appropriateness of the behaviors revealed by the emails would be considerably different.

It is not the job of the IPCC authors to serve as selective arbiters of the peer reviewed literature and judge which peer reviewed science they agree with and disagree with. This only invites extra-scientific considerations into the assessment process and a cherrypicking of the literature, rather than a considered assessment. The job of the IPCC should be exactly as it says it is — to produce a comprehensive, balanced and complete review of the relevant literature. If the IPCC finds itself in a situation where its author team reflects a perspective represented by only a subset of the literature, then the IPCC has a problem.

The released East Anglia emails — for better or worse — revealed some problems associated with in-group control of parts of the IPCC. Muir Russell’s sanctioning of in group behavior in the preparation of IPCC reports is a notable shortfall in what otherwise appears to be a nuanced and comprehensive assessment of the implications of the East Anglia emails.


  1. Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 2:25 PM | Permalink

    It’s interesting to read different takes on the same report. Here’s a snippet from RealClimate:

    “The Muir-Russell report
    Filed under: Climate Science Communicating Climate IPCC Instrumental Record Paleoclimate — group @ 7 July 2010
    by Gavin and Mike

    The long-awaited and surprisingly thorough Muir-Russell report (readable online version) was released this morning. We’ve had a brief read through of the report, but a thorough analysis of this and the supplemental information on the web site will have to wait for a day or so.

    The main issue is that they conclude that the rigour and honesty of the CRU scientists is not in doubt. For anyone who knows Phil Jones and his colleagues this comes as no surprise, and we are very pleased to have this proclaimed so vigorously. Secondly, they conclude that none of the emails cast doubt on the integrity and conclusions of the IPCC, again, something we have been saying since the beginning. They also conclude as we did that there was no ‘corruption’ of the peer-review process. Interestingly, they independently analysed the public domain temperature data themselves to ascertain whether the could validate the CRU record. They managed this in two days, somewhat undermining claims that the CRU temperature data was somehow manipulated inappropriately. (Note that this exercise has been undertaken by a number of people since November – all of which show that the CRU results are robust).

    All in all, none of the various accusations and insinuations that have been floating around the blogosphere have been sustained. (See some of the early media coverage of the report).”


    • Gerald Machnee
      Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 3:44 PM | Permalink

      I think I will stay away from anything UnReal. I do not want to leave my dinner on the ball diamond.

  2. Dave Andrews
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 3:58 PM | Permalink

    What do you expect when a former senior civil servant is put in charge of a supposedly ‘independent’ inquiry. Civil servants, by definition, do not question anything – they might try to steer but their rationale is not to rock the boat. They also believe implicitly in the organs of the state/establishment on both a national and international scale.

    Russell was never going to produce anything other than the report he has. He could never be radical.

  3. Ron Cram
    Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

    Roger Pielke Jr is right on the mark with this comment. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

    • anon
      Posted Jul 7, 2010 at 10:04 PM | Permalink

      Yes, English is nicely ambiguous at times.

      Is Roger off the mark here? Well no, he’s right on the mark. And yes, he was off the mark and quickly running down the track.

      • MichaelM
        Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

        Sorry to nit-pick but I think the opening line definitely needs to be changed – I was so confused at first, and it’s an easy thing to fix.

        Thanks for your tireless work, Steve.


      • Earle Williams
        Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 2:03 PM | Permalink

        In Steve’s defense, I interpeted his ‘off the mark quickly’ as employing a runner’s mark metaphor. Granted, it isn’t commonly used in Merican, but the use of ‘quickly’ does argue against a target metaphor.

        Steve- yes. Maybe it’s a bit of a Canadianism. I didn[t have the target thing in mind at all.

    • Keith Herbert
      Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 4:48 PM | Permalink

      I take it “off the mark” in Canada is “out of the gate” in the States.

  4. bender
    Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 9:30 AM | Permalink

    a cherrypicking of the literature, rather than a considered assessment

    mind. there are a lot of cherries to choose from on this tree.

  5. Tom Gray
    Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 9:55 AM | Permalink

    According to Muir Russsell (and apparently to the climate science in-group), IPCC authors and editors have been charged with coming to a view on climate science. Now if this is the case then perhaps IPCC authors and editors should consider the implications before they get too happy.

    If there is a contentious topic in climate science (say temperature reconstructions) then is it advisable to appoint adherents of one view to “come to a view”?

    How could a sincere advocate for one view be expected to put aside all of his/her opinions and assess the veracity of his/her own work in contrast to those of other opinions.. It appears to me that this justification for current IPCC practice is not viable. It merely shifts the problem from the output product to the process of selecting authors. How can we ensure that the selection of authors does not in itself predestine the conclusion that will be produced?.

  6. RoyFOMR
    Posted Jul 8, 2010 at 7:16 PM | Permalink

    Sir Russell comma Muir was very, very poor
    when chairing his commission.
    But pretty, pretty please
    don’t begrudge his fees
    his omissioning realised his positioning!

  7. Peter Graversen
    Posted Jul 12, 2010 at 2:48 AM | Permalink

    To follow up on the comment from Tom Gray:

    The IPCC has been claimed by some to have established a “scientific concensus” on climate change. We already know that they did not, that the present knowledge is far from adequate, and that it was most likely a meaningless task in the first place.

    Now we learn indirectly from the remarks and arguments of the Muir Russell Report, that some key authors apparently did not even try to establish concensus, but rather thought it their task to produce their “best estimate” of the current understanding.

    So, perhaps unintended in their eargerness to defend UEA/CRU, the Muir Russell team provides yet another argument against the idea of “settled science”.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Climate Audit's McIntyre: 'Muir Russell's [climategate report] contains many gaffes and errors, which are going to get placed into the sunshine over the next few days, as critics get a chance to work through the report. It's too bad that Muir Russell decided that it was a good idea not to interview critics during the preparation of the report' […]

  2. […] Climate Audit’s McIntyre: ‘Muir Russell’s [climategate report] contains many gaffe…, which are going to get placed into the sunshine over the next few days, as critics get a chance to work through the report. It’s too bad that Muir Russell decided that it was a good idea not to interview critics during the preparation of the report’ […]

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