Experts only

So, the IPCC has produced a special report on the issue of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C. This report is still open for comments for another 13 days…if you are an “expert” in the IPCC’s eyes. And what if you are not? Well if you’re American, you could still have commented, for a 30 day period that ended last week (Feb. 8), through a commenting system run by the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)…assuming you actually knew about it.  And that latter issue is the topic of this post.

All IPCC report drafts are open to expert review, internationally, through a system the IPCC operates. In that system, you apply to be a reviewer by submitting your name and qualifications, which basically involves stating your expertise, including your degree and a list of up to five publications that demonstrate it. Then IPCC-associated folks say yes or no to your request.

But IPCC reports are also open to comments by national governments. The United States of course does so, the USGCRP administering this process.  But unlike the IPCC process, the USGCRP solicits comments from… anybody.  The notifications for these comment periods are required by law to be posted in the Federal Register, and the notice also appears on a USGCRP web page (corresponding links here and here; screenshots for the two below).
Fed Register


At least for this report, the USGCRP also posted four Twitter notices, on January 16, 24, 29 and February 5, all identical.  Why they waited six days before the first notice I don’t know. Below is the Jan. 24 notice.


You still have to register, but in that process you just select the category from a drop-down list that best describes your status, in one of five broad categories, screenshot below:
USGCRP Registration screen

I now encourage you to read the Federal Register notice linked to above. Notice exactly what it says. Specifically, even though the process is open to everyone, the entire notice, including the title (“Call for Expert Reviewers…”) is framed in the language of “expert” reviewer, the crux of which reads as follows:

As part of the U.S. Government Review, starting on 8 January 2018, experts wishing to contribute to the U.S. Government review are encouraged to register via the USGCRP Review and Comment System (… The USGCRP coordination office will compile U.S. expert comments and submit to the IPCC, on behalf of the Department of State, by the prescribed deadline. U.S. experts have the opportunity to submit properly formatted comments via the USGCRP Review and Comment System ( from 8 January to 8 February 2018. To be considered for inclusion in the U.S. Government submission, comments must be received by 8 February 2018.

Experts may choose to provide comments directly through the IPCC’s Expert Review process, which occurs in parallel with the U.S. Government Review. Registration opened on 15 December 2017, and runs through 18 February 2018:

The Government and Expert Review of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C ends February 25, 2018.

Do you see any indication anywhere in any of it, that indicates that the commenting process is in fact open to the general citizens of the United States? I don’t. This is in fact only apparent when you actually go to the USGCRP Review and Comment page, and attempt to register, per the screen shot above. To say nothing of the fact that experts using the IPCC’s review system have 90 days to comment whereas those using the USGCRP’s have only 30.

OK, so then one day ~two weeks ago I was wasting my time and energy, which is to say I was reading Twitter comments, and I noticed a climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe relay a message inviting “colleagues” to comment on the IPCC report (original comment here). In response, a climate activist, Steve Bloom, asked her directly (paraphrasing) “And what about people like me?”, meaning non-academics (and non-experts to the IPCC).

This conversation immediately went downhill, but the bottom line in this context is that Hayhoe either (1) had no idea that all Americans still had nearly another two weeks or so to comment on the report, or (2) she did know but didn’t tell him. I have no evidence for believing the latter, and so the logical conclusion is the former. I didn’t see the exchange until a few days later, but when I did I jumped in to alert everyone that yes indeed, any American citizen could still comment for another week or so. I also directly criticized Hayhoe for not knowing this, given that she was a lead author on a chapter of another report, the National Climate Assessment #4 that just went through the USGCRP review process. But after seeing how the USGCRP phrases their official notices (and Tweets) regarding their review process, I can surely see why she might not have known.

Hayhoe, who won the AGU’s “Climate Communication” award four years ago (with its $10,000 prize) made no response whatsoever to my comments—she simply blocked me on Twitter, meaning I can no longer read any of her comments there. No acknowledgement of the USGCRP process, no apology to Bloom, nothing. Her main comment in the process was to tell Bloom not to talk disrespectfully to climate scientists, adding that he’d been warned before, screen shot below.
Hayhoe Twitter comments
Steve Bloom–no, no response from him either. The only person to comment at all on what I said was Richard Betts, a UK climate scientist who stated that it was interesting to learn that the United States allowed all citizens to comment on IPCC reports. Maybe the United States, unlike the IPCC, understands that having something important to say, is not limited to “experts”, whatever the latter entails exactly. Volumes could be written on that topic alone, but that’s not for the here and now.

So, this is just one example of the kind of thing we’re dealing with in the whole climate change public outreach circus, or tragedy, whichever it is. But it’s one thing if it’s just an entertaining circus, and another thing altogether if your so-called “climate communicators” can’t communicate crucial facts about the public interaction process.


9 thoughts on “Experts only

    • Yes, especially the NCA4 Vol. II, which just ended. I at least found a couple of good chapters in the SOCCR-2, but I also looked at that one more closely. I’m hoping I’ll get time to get into it but probably the principal one is that it’s an absolutely massive document (1300+ pages, not counting the appendices, or Volume 1, total kitchen sink approach and feel to it) which places fully four chapters summarizing at a global scales what the IPCC AR5 has already said, before even beginning to address the US climate state. This at the expense of actually updating US state by state climate data since their last report, just four years ago. Nobody’s going to read that thing in it’s entirety.

    • Thanks. I’ll hold my breath until they’re published, then. And like most, just read the executive summary and one or two chapters of particular interest.

    • One of the big problems I’ve seen in these types of reports–including the NCA4–is how they choose what goes into the ES, and how they present it. Real issues there, and to the credit of this 1.5 degree report, they are specifically requesting feedback on that very process: whether the ES truly lives up to it’s name as a summary of the document. I was very glad to see that.

    • She’s some combination of cheerleader and propriety officer. She once argued that a woman named Eunice Foote discovered the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 some years before John Tyndall’s experiments. When I read the original article, it was clear that Foote did not in fact attribute what she observed to absorption and re-radiation in the infrared, but rather to solar absorption. There’s no evidences that Foote in fact had any idea of the process of what we now call the greenhouse gas effect. A number of people mentioned this, including me, but Hayhoe never did acknowledge it. People notice stuff like that.

  1. [steps onto soapbox]

    I am unfamiliar with the subject document. Understanding the cause of the modern warming is structurally a question of an input/output imbalance perturbing a stable or quasi-stable system in a control volume, and as such, is fundamentally a mechanical engineering problem. AGW is one plausible cause, and the 1.5 degree question is tangential to that cause. Engineers have developed formal approaches to these sorts of problems that are comprehensive, systematic, and objective.

    There are three types of engineers that are Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) on a functional system: design, system, and energetics engineers. The analogues in climate science are obvious. But there is a fourth kind of engineer as well that specializes in root cause analysis. This fourth kind of engineer is necessary because the other engineers, honest and sincere though they may be, simply cannot be trusted to be objective about the system they work with when it comes to diagnosing a problem. The SMEs decide all the plausible root causes for the problem that go into the “fault tree,” and develop and execute the comprehensive testing approach. Measurement, modelling, and experimentation are the tools that the SMEs use. But the root cause engineer manages the resolution of the fault tree.

    Significant perturbations to otherwise stable systems can be assumed to have a single root cause. The fault tree is resolved when there is strong supporting evidence for a single root cause, and adequate refuting evidence for other root causes.

    The IPCC approach looks nothing like this. The subject of this post is a perfect example. AGW proponents often argue that the public should trust the climate scientists because they are the only ones who understand the science. This might be true in theoretical physics or pure math, but climate science is just not that hard. The IPCC should be run by folks who specialize in root cause analysis, not climate science. Even in its present form, the most meaningful critiques of IPCC methodology would most likely come from folks who are trained in root cause analysis, and those folks would not be able to point to five significant publications in the field of climate science.

    [steps off soapbox]

    • Great comment Matt, could well serve as a springboard for extended discussions. Your point is exemplified in the CMIP5 (and other model inter-comparison projects), in which there is a heavy emphasis on results presentation and a light to non-existent emphasis on model evaluation. Also, there was never a conscious and coordinated effort made at the beginning to design a comprehensive system by which the problem would be attacked. It’s instead fragmented and ad-hoc.

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