Since this is a highly politicized topic, it’s important to note that any opinions you can pick out from my diction in this entry are my own and do not reflect an official stance by my apolitical scientific graduate institution.
I’ve always wanted to start something with a disclaimer!
Yesterday several of the heads of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had a cross between a press briefing and a scientific lecture. It began with a public response to the topic of the day among science skeptics…the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia. These are a number of personal e-mails stolen from the computers of climate researchers at this British University that were selectively published out of context in the recent weeks. These e-mails painted a picture of an author locked in a bitter battle with another scientist. At one point the author stated to the recipient that he was going to prevent his rival’s work from getting into the IPCC reports. He also called the rival hurtful names. Naturally, pundits have used this to attempt to call all of climate change research and, indeed, all of peer reviewed science into question.
However, truly peer reviewed science is, by its very definition, resistant to being called into question. Were it not, it probably wouldn’t have survived the peer-review gauntlet. I think I can speak for Scripps on this account.
The IPCC response began by discussing the sheer numbers of people involved in any peer review process and the (much larger) numbers involved in peer review for the IPCC AR4 assessment. The numbers I jotted down were 400 lead authors, 800 contributing authors, and 2,500 review authors for the assessment report. The speaker talked about how no one author has the kind of power implied by the researcher in the e-mails, and called the review process “objective, robust, and open.” The most striking point that he made was that the rival’s research (that the e-mails’ author was so vehemently opposing) was, after the peer review process, actually included in the IPCC’s Fourth Assesment Report (Working Group 1, chapter 6, look for “divergence”). The speaker then paused for questions briefly before having the heads of each of the Working Groups (sections) of the IPCC report give an update on any findings that have emerged since AR4, but that have yet to be compiled to form AR5. Sadly one of the research topics that Scripps is present at COP-15 to call attention to, ocean acidification, falls between these particular cracks. There was some discussion of ocean acidification during the second part’s Q&A, but I’ll save that for the blog entry on that topic.
–Brendan Carter, Scripps Oceanography graduate student