There has been considerable excitement over the AR5 leak (for those not so involved in the climate change debate, this the latest major report from the IPCC). The leak was made by Alex Rawls, an expert reviewer on the IPCC, and he says:
I believe that the leaking of this draft is entirely legal, that the taxpayer funded report report is properly in the public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, and that making it available to the public is in any case protected by established legal and ethical standards [...]
With regards to whether the leaking is a good or bad thing, in an ethical sense, Donna Laframboise covers the question extremely well, by quoting Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, on his views and statements about transparency. This is just one of several quotes provided by Donna:
“So you can’t think of a more transparent process…than what we have in the IPCC. I would only put that forward as valid reasons to accept the science and the scientific assessments that are carried out.” – newspaper interview, June 2007
In light of the many quotes that emphasise transparency, the publication of an interim draft should not raise any problems, as it shows an element of the process in developing the final report. This seems to be the meaning of transparency; showing the stages and processes for how conclusions were developed in the IPCC reports. However, the IPCC is unhappy about the leak, and the Guardian reports:
The IPCC, which confirmed the draft is genuine, said in a statement: “The IPCC regrets this unauthorized posting which interferes with the process of assessment and review. We will continue not to comment on the contents of draft reports, as they are works in progress.”
As such, it seems that the idea of transparency is more rhetoric than reality. Indeed, one would have thought that, if the IPCC really did value transparency, they would be celebrating the interest that the leak has generated; there is considerable interest in their process. Furthermore, it is not entirely clear how leaking the report might interfere in the review process. Is it that the leaked report will make reviewers alter the nature of their reviews? Surely a review should be an objective assessment of the nature of the science being presented, and should therefore be ‘immune’ from any commentary that might be made on the basis of the leak.
There are some concerns regarding the leak. The first is that Alex Rawls also discussed that the leaked report includes admission of enhanced solar forcing. This part of the story has been taken up by several people, such as James Delingpole in the Telegraph. I will leave the analysis of the science to others, but the gist of the story is that sections of the report admit that solar forcing has a greater impact on the climate than previously accepted. However, there are indications that the conclusions being drawn do not reflect the actual substance of the report overall. For example, at the Reference Frame blog, the conclusion is that the only real change is that there are now references to the work of Svensmark et al., which offers a consideration of mechanisms for solar forcing. The post concludes:
The situation, as I see it, is that the IPCC writing process is still controlled purely by the staunch, stubborn alarmists. They may have just split into several camps that differ in the opinion whether it should be legal to pronounce the name of Henrik Svensmark, albeit with a negative sentence required immediately afterwords, or whether his name should remain a blasphemy.
The question of what the report really proposes will no doubt be clarified over time as the science focused blogs start to digest the detail of the report. In the meantime, I would urge caution, and not jumping to hasty pronouncements over the content of the report. Indeed, Anthony Watts is pointing at a ‘bombshell’ to be found in the following Figure 1.4 from the AR5 draft, and will follow up with an essay in the near future:
For the moment, I will leave the figure undiscussed, but it will be interesting to see Anthony’s essay, once he has had the time to examine the details and context surrounding the figure. The reason why I give this example is that, if it is indeed a ‘bombshell’, it may indicate why the IPCC would not seek the transparency that it claims; the early drafts of the reports may include material that can serve to raise doubts about the science that is finally used in the final report. In the end, the final report is selective in the material that is presented, and how the material is presented. This means that some material will be excluded, and also that the emphasis in the final report will also be determined by the review process.
Real transparency would see this process of selection, rejection, and choice of emphasis take place in the public domain. For example, the ‘bombshell’ figure above might have finally been excluded from the report (we have no way of knowing what would have happened without the leak, of course), and transparency would demand that there is an explanation for its exclusion, if it is indeed a bombshell (which I suspect it is). After all, this would be part of the overall science, and any treatment of the science is a matter of the public interest.
In particular, as Alec Rawls points out, the IPCC reports are used as a basis for policy decisions, and those policy decisions can have far reaching impacts. The real question surrounding the leak, therefore, is why the IPCC might object, and why it does not conduct the entire report drafting process in the clear light of day? There should, in other words, be no need for leaks, as a genuinely transparent process would make leaks irrelevant.
Update: I see that the Climate Conversation Group has picked up on the leak, but nothing so far in the New Zealand press (for the media I checked).
Update 2: The full IPCC statement on the leak can be found here. I think it simply reinforces the points I am making here.