Posted by: Michael Ritter PhD | May 5, 2010

News reporting, The Laframboise report, and the IPCC

A news article titled “Last in Class: Critics Give U.N. Climate Researchers an F” on the Fox News site recently caught my eye. Its subtitle states “A group of 40 auditors from across the globe have released a shocking report card that flunks the U.N.’s landmark climate change research report”. Keep in mind that I don’t regularly read Fox News, the article appeared in a feed from my iCurrent page. From the title, I assumed it would be a critique of the science contained in the IPCC reports. (Note to self: quit assuming things). The article discusses the recent “Laframboise report” released by noconsensus.org concerning an analysis of sources used by the IPCC. The organization has taken issue with statements made by chairman Rajendra Pachauri that the IPCC reports mostly rely on peer-reviewd sources.

The Laframboise report appears to consider any source that was not published in a peer-reviewed journal as grey literature. I didn’t see a breakdown of the grey sources categorizing them by secondhand newspaper articles, government reports, academic books, etc. Comments appended to the “How to Audit” document indicate that books are considered grey sources and not peer-reviewed. All academic books I have been involved with have gone through a peer-review process. To be accurate, those auditing should have investigated which books were or were not peer-reviewed.

Although correct in its reporting, the Fox News article is rather shallow in its analysis. Fox News provides feedback from both IPCC supporters and climate change deniers. What they don’t do, is to look deeper into the story. Their headline may lead one to believe that the Laframboise report debunks climate change science. All the report does is tally the IPCC sources. And in the last paragraph Fox News states that “Others are calling for a more cautious approach than spending public or private dollars on discredited scientific research.” Characterizing the IPCC reports as “discredited” is a misnomer. Questioning the IPCC’s conclusions, yes, but few of the conclusion have been outright discredited with equally valid research.

In a bit of journalistic slight of hand, Ms Laframboise states that “For years we’ve been told the UN’s climate bible bases its conclusions solely on peer-reviewed scientific literature”. What she should state is that Professor Pachauri has stated on several occasions between 2007 and 2009, that the IPCC reports relied on such. If one digs past these statements, the public has been been told that grey literature was indeed used .

The Laframboise report provides very little valuable information to the public in order to ascertain the validity of the science underlying the IPCC reports. The Laframboise report is only a challenge to comments, some unfortunate, by the IPCC chair. The fundamental issue that remains unaddressed by the Laframboise report is the validity grey literature. Just because research appears in a doctoral dissertation, which is reviewed by the candidate’s dissertation committee, does not weaken its validity. Until such a review is completed, one can never know if the hoopla over the issue of grey literature has any basis in fact. Alarmist and lackluster reports such as those produced by noconsensus.org do little to further our understanding of climate change or the process of doing scientific research.

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Responses

  1. If the Laframboise report appears to consider any source that was not published in a peer-reviewed journal as grey literature, then it may well consider studies in line with GL12, Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature, http://www.textrelease.com/gl12conference.html

    “Now that grey literature is readily catalogued, referenced, cited, and openly accessible to subject based communities as well as net users, the claims that grey literature is unpublished or non-published have sufficiently been put to rest. However, now that grey literature has met these former challenges and entered mainstream publishing, it requires in the spirit of science to have a system in place for the quality control of its content. This new challenge has recently been spurred by the IPCC affaire involving the use/misuse of grey literature and is now almost a daily topic in the world media.
    The purpose of one study will be to explore the degree to which grey literature is reviewed and to compare similarities and differences with formal peer review carried out in various degrees by commercial publishers. This study will further distinguish the review process implemented by grey publishers from that of mavericks and vanity press (including Fox News), where personal opinion and pure speculation run rampant.”


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