We are aware of how entities in the climate change communication and advocacy business frequently direct the media how they should conduct their affairs. Apparently, some of these entities are slightly displeased that media outlets did their job during Climategate and public opinion about climate change advocacy and science tanked.
12 environmental advocacy organizations in the United States, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) signed a somewhat long list of complaints against “editorial boards and journalists” about their “misrepresentations” (that word again) . What interests us however, is a small passage, inserted presumably by the WWF, regarding the use of gray literature and documents by environmental pressure groups by the IPCC.
Here’s the relevant passage:
The Sunday Times also admitted it misrepresented the views of Dr. Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds, implying he agreed with the article’s false premise and believed the IPCC should not use reports issued by outside organizations.
So, per the interpretation of this group, Simon Lewis believes that it is OK for the IPCC to use reports issued by ‘outside organizations’, and somehow the Sunday Times implied otherwise. Is this correct?
Examine the whole record
Fortunately for us, via Cimate Progress, Simon Lewis’ full letter of complaint to the PCC is available for some time now. The whole record is public.
In one of his emails (Jan 29th) to Jonathan Leake of the Sunday Times, Lewis says, talking about the use of gray literature such as the WWF report in question (page 14 ):
The IPCC would do well to just outlaw un-peer reviewed journal or book chapters from being citable (sic) in its reports to stop this type of thing happening again.
Another time, talking about the WWF report by Rowell and Moore (Jan 29 ), he says (page 16):
In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited, it isn’t sufficient evidence to back any claim at all, as it contains no primary research data.
In the body of his complaint to the PCC, Simon Lewis writes (page 7 ):
I stated that no material from sources that have not been published after peer-review should be cited by the IPCC. I do not restrict my call to pressure groups, but include business reports and newspaper articles to name but two.
On the same page of the PCC complaint,
Note that in the email exchange this quote was given before any investigation or opinion was given on the WWF report, because I do not think any report from outside the peer-reviewed literature should be included in IPCC reports
In his unpublished letter to the Sunday Times (listed on page 18):
I recommend that the IPCC cite only peer-reviewed documents, not because of bias in green group reports, as they are usually of high quality, but because citing them is unnecessary and introduces the possibility of perceptions of bias and unnecessary controversy.
Finally, the Sunday Times, in its ill-fated retraction,
In addition, the article stated that Dr Lewis’ concern at the IPCC’s use of reports by environmental campaign groups related to the prospect of those reports being biased in their conclusions. We accept that Dr Lewis holds no such view – rather, he was concerned that the use of non-peer-reviewed sources risks creating the perception of bias and unnecessary controversy, which is unhelpful in advancing the public’s understanding of the science of climate change.
It is abundantly clear from an examination of the complete record that Simon Lewis did not feel that the WWF report should have been quoted by the IPCC, that he did not favor any un-peer reviewed material being used by the IPCC and their use might create a perception of bias and engender controversy.
Let us be clear – certainly Lewis was unhappy about how his views about the WWF and its report – ‘Global Review of Forest Fires’ were represented by the Sunday Times. But he delineated his position saying he would prefer that the IPCC avoid citing *any* and all un-peer-reviewed articles altogether. This includes WWF reports obviously. Sure, he feels that these organizations produce high-quality reports and we totally agree with him, no doubt.
But should such high-quality reports from advocacy groups be used in the IPCC reports and do Lewis’ statements support this? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.
The Sunday Times retraction emboldened certain groups to claim that the IPCC itself was ‘vindicated’ over its ‘Amazongate‘ problem. Advocacy groups such as the WWF are now seen attempting to use the same retraction to advance their agenda that it is somehow alright for their reports be cited by the IPCC.
The press release is deliberately vague about the Sunday Times retraction. It is duplicitous, coming at the same time the WWF admits that its controversial much-vaunted report made an ‘substantive’ statement drawn from an educational website – after 6 months of obsfuscation.
It would be wrong for media outlets to listen to such advice.
- Clean Energy, Progressive Groups Urge Media to Revisit Bogus “Climategate” Reports | Media Matters for America. – the press release
- List of organizations signing the statement
- Alliance for Climate Protection
- Center for American Progress Action Fund
- Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
- League of Conservation Voters
- Media Matters for America
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Project on Climate Science
- Safe Climate Campaign
- Sierra Club
- United Nations Foundation
- World Wildlife Fund
- Amazongate: At last we reach the source – Sunday Telegraph
- The now-retracted Sunday Times article on the IPCC Amazon claim – Here