05 December 2011

Response to An open letter to Donna Laframboise

This is a rebuttal to:  

by Brooke LaFlamme, 
November 3, 2011, 
posted on the Molecular Love blog. 

I couldn't post on that page because the comments are now closed.  It regards Donna Laframboise's book on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:  The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert.  

I must apologise for the value of this exercise in advance, as the poster admits she hasn't even read the book which made it rather an easy target to rebut.  But here goes anyway.

I have read the book and it's a good read and quite an expose of the IPCC.  If you want to read it on PC I recommend the Kindle version on which it is easy to resize the font on the Kindle-for-PC.  

Highlight's of the book include the ties chapter reviewers have to environmental activist groups.  And a survey of references which reveal that almost a third of the IPCC references are actually grey, environmental activist literature, not peer-reviewed.

The post from Molecular Love is in red.  My response is in black:
Yesterday, I read a lovely article on Foxnews.com with the headline “U.N. Hires Grad Students to Author Key Climate Report.” The article was about a new ‘book’ by ‘journalist’ Donna Laframboise, or as Fox put it “A scathing expose”. Scathing. The book is called “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.”
Not sure why "journalist" is put in quotes here.  Whatever you may think of what she writes Ms Laframboise has been publishing writing in one form or other for over two decades. (Donna Laframboise profile here.)  I'd say this makes her a journalist.  So this seems to be a slight ad hominem attack.
After I calmed down, I decided that the best way to cope with the idiocy in this article with my strong feelings about the article was to write this little letter to her. I will have to say two things up front. First, I didn’t read the book because, honestly, I could barely make it through the terribly written Fox News piece. I don’t think I would have survived the book (nor do I have the time to read it).
The book is actually quite a pleasant, easy read and could be read in a day or two. (Of course it could be an excruciating read if you like to believe in the IPCC without question.)

Second, I am not a climate change expert (or even an expert at all, according to Ms. Laframboise), but she isn’t really qualified to comment on climate change, either. Ms. Laframboise has a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s studies. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for people who study gender issues. It just doesn’t make them climate scientists.
The book is an investigation of the procedures and systems of the organisation of the IPCC.  It does not directly address any of the science.  The science does come up, many times actually, but only to add context to the story.
I do believe I am qualified to write about the scientific process, and what it means to be a graduate student in the sciences, and that’s what I’m going to focus on here.
An earth sciences graduate student perhaps? Anyhow, as said above the book is primarily journalistic, not scientific.  You can garner that from the reviews on Amazon of the book.

So, with that, a calmly written letter…

Dear Ms. Laframboise,

I read with interest an article about your new book about the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.” Because I know, from reading your Google profile, that you are a constantly evolving person, I thought I might help to speed up the process a little in one important aspect.

You write that the people performing much of the research relating to climate science are graduate students, people in their twenties. In fact, it is much worse than that: much of the research in all of science is performed by these people whose “experience of the world,” you write, “is neither broad nor deep.” You seem upset by the fact that these young scientists are called upon as experts to aid in the writing of the IPCC’s reports.
It's a shame Ms LaFlamme didn't read the book as she would have learned that the IPCC does not do any research of its own.  It's job is to collate and summarize the works of others.  So, the next three paragraphs are a complete waste of effort on her part.

The problem appears to arise from your complete lack of knowledge of how the academic system works. I can’t blame you, since you never experienced it yourself, having stopped after your undergraduate degree to pursue a higher calling. A calling that includes labelling people who DO pursue a higher degree as incompetent and unqualified.

For example, the article on foxnews.com states, “Grad students often co-author scientific papers to help with the laborious task of writing. Such papers are rarely the cornerstone for trillions of dollars worth of government climate funding, however — nor do they win Nobel Peace prizes.” I will assume that the bit about “Nobel Peace prizes” was a mistake made by the Fox News writer, since as I’m sure you’re aware, scientific achievements do not lead to Peace prizes. Further, most science of any kind doesn’t lead to a Nobel Prize. They really don’t hand out that many of them.
The author isn't aware at this point that the IPCC shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore (seems crazy all these years later, doesn't it?) This fact is pointed out to her in the comments section of her posting, which she does acknowledge.

But let’s de-construct this one a little more. Grad students often are the lead author on scientific publications, because they carried out the work. I know you feel that this shouldn’t be the case. How can they do science without a Ph.D?! Well, it turns out that’s how you get a Ph.D. By doing research that leads to publications. I can’t comment on the “cornerstone” comment because I genuinely have no idea what the point even was.
Again, there is no original research done by the IPCC itself.  Therefore, they need high level experts deciding which works are in and which are not.  For this you need top professors and experts with PhD's and years of experience, not early 20's graduate students (many with ties to activist groups like Greenpeace and WWF).  That is Laframboise's book in a nutshell.

I was astounded, and personally very offended by this little gem, though I’m sure you had the very best of intentions:

    “We’ve been told for the past two decades that ‘the Climate Bible’ was written by the world’s foremost experts,” Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise told FoxNews.com. “But the fact is, you are just not qualified without a doctorate. In academia you aren’t even on the radar at that point.”

First of all, what is a Climate Bible? The Bible is a collection of books that the faithful believe is the word of God and cannot be refuted. The IPCC recommendations, on the other hand, are based on evidence, research, and the scientific method, all of which can be refuted if research is performed that comes to a different conclusion. It’s not a bible, but rather the conclusions drawn from an enormous base of scientific results.
In fact, we find that the lead authors are dominated by scientists who believe in "the cause", exclude others who don't believe in the theory of AGW and often have longstanding involvements with activist groups like Greenpeace and WWF.  There is evidence of bias from these authors in choosing which point of view the IPCC takes. 
The Delinquent Teenager also contains the results of a survey of the references used for Assessment Report 4 (AR4) and found that one third of the them were "grey literature" from hiking magazines, and various articles from activist organisations such as Greenpeace and the WWF.

At the end of Brooke's post is the call to trust the experts.  This is where the term Bible comes in.  Because, it is blind faith not to question or to attempt to confirm scientific claims from such experts especially when the stakes are so high.
Secondly, I’m not even “on the radar”? Come on, that’s just hurtful. The fact is, if you are working toward your Ph.D. under the supervision of an established researcher, you *are* qualified to write scientific articles, including reviews, and to be on advisory panels...
Yeah, but to lead the advisory panel?  No, grad students should not be on the radar for that.
...Getting your Ph.D. is not a magical transition from being a useless grunt to having all the tools necessary to do science. It’s a long road...
We want to get to the end of the road, to a fully fledged climate expert, because that is what the "world's future" deserves.  We're not supervising a thesis here.  We are supposed to be creating the most Grand Coalition of climate science, or any science, ever seen.  

Laframboise's book shows what a failure this has been. So tainted by politics it was always going to fail the scientific standard. 

When the dices have to be so loaded, the lead authors hand-picked to be complicit with the global warming script; when you have to bully and exclude papers or opinions that do not conform to the consensus, you have nothing more than a faith.
... You have to perform world-class science, be published in peer-reviewed journals, and present your work at national and international meetings, among other things. By the time a grad student receives their Ph.D. he or she should most certainly be “on the radar”. Their names should be known to top scientists in the field. They should be an expert in that field long before they get a magic piece of paper that gives them the right to say “Doctor” before their name. The expertise doesn’t come after.

But while grad students do author many papers, and are often the corresponding authors on those papers, they are always co-authored by their mentor, an established researcher in the field, one who goes by Doctor. This author is often called the “senior author,” not “lead author.” I think that’s where you got confused. Those “top experts” in a larger field are the senior authors. The lead authors, often graduate students, are in training to be top experts in a large scientific field, as well.
No, Brooke is confusing the term "lead author" here.  The lead author of a paper is the one which does the most work or writing.  A grad student would be fine in many such circumstances.  

At the IPCC, on the other hand, "lead author" means the person who selects which papers are included and which aren't in a particular chapter of the report.  In that case you need the top expert -- the finished product.  Surely no-one less would do for the world's foremost climate body?

However, they are the top experts in their own narrower research field, which is why they are called upon as experts by the IPCC.
Again, no expert testimony or evidence is provided by anyone other than contributing authors, and they are not necessarily involved in the construction of the various chapters of the report. Some like Environmental Defense Fund's (a vested interest group) Michael Oppenheimer are exceptions -- mentioned in the book.

Many contributors disagreed with the lead author's chapter conclusions.  It is mentioned in Laframboise's book that many were forbidden to express dissent toward the chapter conclusions as decided by the lead author.
In reading the article on foxnews.com, I found myself confused about some of the sensational information from the book that I thought you might be able to clarify. Specifically, I was confused about why the information was sensational.

The article states:

    One lead author of the 2001 edition was a trainee at the Munich Reinsurance Company in 2000 and lacked a master’s degree while on the panel. He did not earn a Ph.D. until ten years later.

Is the issue that he didn’t have a Master’s or that he didn’t earn his Ph.D. for so long? Granted, 10 years or more is a long Ph.D., but it seems he was working at a company at the same time, so it doesn’t surprise me. Further, most graduate students in science working toward their Ph.D. don’t have a Master’s degree. It’s not necessary in many countries, including the U.S.
Or this one:

    Another lead author in 1994 earned his master’s only two years earlier and had his first academic paper published in 1995.

First academic paper only three years after starting his Ph.D. program? I also think it’s pretty impressive. I assume that’s what you were getting at.

    Dutch geography professor Richard Klein has been a lead author for six IPCC reports and in 1997 became a coordinating lead author. He was promoted to the panel’s most senior role while he was 28 years old — six years prior to completing his PhD.

Wow, he had a lot going on during his Ph.D. Was probably difficult to work with the IPCC and complete all his research. I guess you were also impressed by this?...
No.  This is awful; that they would have these two academics who had both other jobs and/or degrees to work on.  I would expect the lavishly funded IPCC to be able to employ the top experts full-time to address humanity's supposed greatest threat ever
... And the fact that his research was so recognized by the scientific community, even before publication (which always takes forever, let me tell you), that they promoted him to this senior role.

I read that you said, “neither [Klein's] youth nor his thin academic credentials prevented the IPCC from regarding him as one of the world’s top experts,” so I guess you were simply impressed. That’s right, in science, you can be good at your job even if you’re young and have yet to publish numerous papers.
Of course you can be good.  But we want the best.  Every academic looks forward to a life where one's expertise gets greater with age, not the same or less.  So we go for the "ripest", most qualified academic product. This is generally increased with age.
Finally, I’d like to comment on the closing quote you gave for the Fox article:

    “We’ve been told that [the IPCC] is a responsible business man in a three-piece suit, but it turns out it’s a sloppily dressed teenager — a spoiled brat that can’t be trusted,” she said.

Yes, we scientists may be sloppily dressed, having no reason to wear a three-piece suit to do our jobs, but judging the validity of the IPCC based on the fact that it recognizes the contributions and expertise of young scientists is irresponsible, offensive, and uninformed.
The teenager is a metaphor for the delinquency of the IPCC.  Hence, the sloppy dressing is also a metaphor.  It's not meant to be taken literally as a stab at professors dressed like a 1960's golfer with the comb-over that never works.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I know you hate “intellectual laziness” and “hysteria”, and greatly value “independent analysis” and “fair play”, according to your own profile, I might think that you wrote this book simply to push an agenda of climate-change denial. I hope that my letter has helped you realize that one of your points, the youth of some scientists, is not a valid one to use to bash the work of a respected community of scientists within the IPCC....
Well, all of the evidence in the book -- if Ms LaFlamme had read it -- is that the IPCC is a politically and ideologically driven organisation that stamps out any dissenting views that man is dangerously warming the planet.  

And through things like climategate we have ample evidence from the inside at the sort of group think and circle-the-wagon mentality of the world's top climate scientists.
.... Unfortunately, though, I can’t help you see the flaws in your logic on climate change. I’ll leave that up to the experts.


Brooke LaFlamme (a graduate student).

Well, unfortunately for Brooke, some of us choose to question the methods, practices and opinions of these experts to see if they add up.  

It's all too easy to just sit back and believe other people.  Brooke concludes here letter with: "I’ll leave that up to the experts."  Now that's the very kind of intellectual laziness Brooke tangentially accuses Laframboise of in her last paragraph! 

After Brooke's lecture on what science is and isn't I thought there should something about the endeavour to verify work from her but there isn't.  

Researchers like Michael Mann and Phil Jones seek to deny Freedom Of Information requests for their raw data and methods.  They still refuse to give it to this day.  

Why wouldn't they just have it all out in the open in the first place so we can all verify it?  Can we verify the exact correlation between human CO2 and temperatures?  Here is the correlation, or lack of it:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". -- Wendell Phillips

I imagine Ms LaFlamme means well; that she cares about the environment, and sincerely believes in this consensus of climate scientists.  But I urge her to consider that consensus is not how science is done.  It involves evidence and transparency.

In fact the history of science is littered with consensuses that were wrong.  One example is the former consensus that stomach ulcers were not caused by bacteria.  

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were ridiculed by mainstream science until one of them proved it by giving himself an ulcer with the bacteria they discovered, then curing himself.

Sometimes scientific bodies and organisations can be more of a hindrance than a help to advancing science, due to dogma.  

The key is to look for the signs.  Do the researchers show their data and methods, or do they hide them?  Do they consider two sides to an argument or only one?  Do they seek to have papers not published just because they don't like the conclusions?  Do they seek to have some person's thesis revoked because they don't toe the line? (Such as here.) 

If so it suggests that the climate scare is made not for pure or scientific purposes, but because of a loose grouping of vested interests who stand to benefit from it at our expense. 

In that Fox News article there is a claim by Aaron Huertas from left-wing environmental activist group Union of Concerned Scientists:
"Attacking scientists based on their age instead of their work is misleading and more than a little offensive to younger researchers," Huertas said....
It's not about age, and that's clear in the book. So this is a "straw-man" argument -- changing the original intent of Laframboise's criticism to make it seem ludicrous.  

No, it's not ageism.  It's respect for qualifications that are accumulated through the passage of time -- and that time is namely years. That's why most professors are old and most grad students are young.  There's no secret there. 

The IPCC should be going for the scientists with the best and highest qualifications they can get.  Not people who happened to do a bit of field research in flowers a few years back and will write what they want.  

There is evidence in Laframboise's book of non-climate scientists being the chapter reviewers.  Oh the horror.  It's OK, the grad student turned out to be from WWF and Greenpeace, so they don't need PhDs.
 "The IPCC’s materials are thoroughly vetted by many scientists and are open to public comment, too."
Except, in Laframboise's book we find instances where contributing author's who did not toe the line were silenced or dismissed.


  1. Bravo! Love the chart. From this page to the greater public's ears. Unfortunately, by now we realize that the fix is in, pretty much. Still, it's important to continue to attack the legitimacy of any person or organization that hide their sources, especially those who do it under the guise of helping us avoid a coming global catastrophe and want money, and lots of it. Sounds like the 2012 crowd that says the world ends on Dec. 23, 2012 because the Mayans said so. Duh. I suggest anyone who does believe such a thing send me their money, since they won't need it anymore. Honest people reform when corruption is exposed. Dishonest people try to disparage the messenger.

  2. @MrAlt

    Yeah, perhaps the people believing in global warming can sell me their beachfront property at a discount rate due to the supposed rising sea-levels.

    Surprised you haven't seen that chart, it's pretty commonplace. I just ripped it from Google images.

    Thanks for reading my rather long post (surprised if you did read it through actually!). I try to make it easy reading -- just like Donna Laframboise's book -- I think the truth is easier to read.

    As for the Mayan thing I'm going to be OK because I have a blanket to cover me. I've heard that helps when the end of the world comes.

    Actually, I'm pretty sure most scholars have it that the Mayan's didn't say that with the end of the calendar would come the end of the world but just a new calendar. And, when the end doesn't come later this year, it will, of course, be postponed.....to maybe 2013?!

  3. Thank you Mr Clark for your comprehensive rebuttal. I'm in an ongoing debate with my neighbor about anthropogenic climate change and whether it is reasonable or not to question the objectivity of the IPCC. My neighbor has Donna LaFramboise pegged as a "charlatan" and intellectually manipulative and dishonest. As for me I'm a conspiracy theorist who allegedly believes she has the monopoly on critical thinking. Obviously neither of us has really delved sufficiently into the science nor read LaFramboise's book (which I'm about to order right now!) I don't know about the atmosphere but the debate is really heating up!

    In this world where everything must go quickly and time appears short your analysis has helped me to clarify my ideas (and the ambiguity of the term "Lead author") and should allow me to hold my own as a revisionist, negationist, wing-nut conspiracy climate-sceptic denialist, I hope, for some time to come.