A Climate Change Reality Check?

Anyone who’s interested in the climate change debate (and I’m still of the opinion that there is a debate) should read this two-part paper published in the World Economics Journal at the end of last year. It’s a critical analysis of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, a document that has arguably done more than any other (save, perhaps for the various IPCC papers) to convince governments of the need to act on global warming. The first part covers the science (written by several climate change experts), and the second covers the economics. Readers of this weblog might be particularly interested in the following excerpt from the critique:

Section 3 is concerned with fundamental issues of scientific conduct and procedure that the Review fails to consider. Professional contributions to the climate change debate very largely take the form of published peer-reviewed articles and studies. It is widely assumed, in particular by governments and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that the peer review process provides a guarantee of quality and objectivity. This is not so. We note that the process as applied to climate science has tolerated gross failures in due disclosure and archiving, and that peer review is both too inbred and insufficiently thorough to serve any audit purpose, which we believe is now essential for science studies that are to be used to drive trillion-dollar policies.

I think this observation about peer-review processes in the climate science community probably holds true for many, if not most, scientific communities. I’ve certainly seen evidence of inbreeding and insufficient thoroughness within the small subset of the computer science community with which I’m involved. And, from my (still fairly limited) experience, due disclosure barely gets a look-in. For instance, the frequency with which authors are asked whether they’ve disclosed all their funding sources and correctly cited all their sources is very low in my (still fairly limited) experience.