UN panel rejects political claim by 'New Scientist'


THE UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has defended itself against charges by New Scientist that it was “putting politics before science” by imposing geographical and even gender quotas in the selection of its contributing scientists.

In a statement, the panel said it “has always sought, among other considerations, to achieve geographical representation, including representation from developing countries, in the selection of authors for its reports” assessing the phenomenon and risks of global warming.

“This is because the IPCC wants its assessments to reflect a range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and expertise, and not to be subject to any one perspective. There has never been any question, nor is there now, of imposing geographical or gender quotas.”

The statement noted the original article published in the online edition of New Scientist on June 18th – written from Rio by Fred Pearce, its highly respected senior environment correspondent – had been “corrected” on June 19th and “further corrected” on June 22nd.

Responding to a charge it had decided to impose geographical quotas for the election of its 31-strong ruling bureau, it said the composition had “always represented the different regions of the world”, in line with the practice of many UN bodies. At its meeting in Geneva this month, “the panel amended the election rules to strengthen the representation of Southwest Pacific states . . . in order to ensure that each region is represented in each [IPCC] working group and in the executive committee”.

The New Scientist article also said the IPCC had decided to give greater weight in its assessments to “grey literature” not subject to peer review – the type of material that led to the panel vastly over-estimating the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were losing ice.

The IPCC said it had agreed to “strengthen the rules” governing the use of such literature, specifying that scientific writing teams “were explicitly required to critically access and to review the quality and validity of all cited literature”. The panel said the changes it had made at meetings in Geneva this month and in Kampala, Uganda, last November “represent a strengthening of the IPCC’s operations to ensure the IPCC can produce its policy-neutral assessments of climate science more effectively”.

In an editorial, New Scientist said the panel was suffering from “institutional sclerosis” and needed to be reformed along the lines suggested by the Inter Academy Council, which represents national science academies worldwide.

“The IPCC has tried hard to preserve the normal rules of scientific discourse and to explain continuing uncertainty, but it has been pushed towards simple sound-bite conclusions . . . On occasions, this has led to exaggerated claims and a reluctance to subject eye-catching research findings to proper scrutiny.”