Why is it so difficult, for some, to understand the meaning of an advocacy organization or a pressure group? Their very purpose is to push a certain perspective, a certain agenda on to public or polity consciousness, or directly work for pre-determined objectives.
Since everyday communication is swamped with grey noise and people have their own business to mind, pressure groups resort to stridency. This stridency may involve tone, or the loudness of their message. Or it may be subtle – the tone may be sombre but overstatement is present in the content. Pressure groups now produce scientific-sounding literature. These are narratives and potraits put together using researched facts, strung together however to make their case—the scientificality lends palatability to the message. Tables, graphs, charts and abstracts. Models and calculations and what not.
In effect, if one were to define advocacy it would be that selected facets of reality are highlighted, and there is exaggeration. It therefore follows that if one were to perform an assessment of scientific literature, one may take the lead from advocacy groups and their material but in no way, rely on their content or expertise.
So what if environmental pressure groups put so much science into their pamplets, that they bedazzle themselves? It still is advocacy. As Donna Laframboise points out, for the umpteenth time,
If the IPCC is a scientific organization, if it says it is conducting a scientific assessment it cannot rely on work that was in any way undertaken or funded by activist groups.
Now however, the pattern in the foibles of the IPCC is becoming evident. People ask: why does this keep happening again and again? Why do the most dramatic of the IPCC’s conclusions come directly from environmental pressure groups? Even in instances when more alarmist claims are to be found in the peer-reviewed literature. In the latest fiasco (some have termed Climategate II): we have Greenpeace-sourced material forming the direct basis of a IPCC-sanctioned claim, sent out into the world burnished with the regalia of IPCC-science-authority.
Why the surprise?
Part of the answer, of course, is that there is no accountability in the IPCC domain. They can do whatever they want and they like what they do. There is only a ragtag team of Internet ‘deniers’ asking questions, no one else looks this way. Starting merely a year and half back in time, there is a whole list of events, junctures and points in time where accountability could have been shown, as being alive and well in the climate establishment. But nothing happened. Inside it, it appears, no one has knees, nor elbows nor jaws. No blow can connect anywhere – the gargauntan blob just bobbles, jiggles and bobs along.
This is the point that Richard North hits upon. Did the IPCC intend to “learn” anything at all from Climategate, from the various assortment of other ‘gates? Did they learn from their experience with using advocacy literature?
We cannot be dealing with an organisation that has learned nothing. After the furore over AR4 in the wake of Climategate, no one person, and no institution can be that stupid as to fail to take away lessons from the experience. Doubtless, the IPCC has learned something – just not what its critics would have it learn.
This is true – the IPCC did ‘learn’ something. Ensconsed away safely from the outside world, whispering to each others’ coiffured ears was the refrain: “we did not ‘communicate’ well. We did not spring quickly enough to our scientists’ defense, we did not beat back the raving hordes, we lacked the equipment’.
That is why, of all the measures the IPCC management discussed at the two plenary sessions since the IPCC-gates, the one that sprang forth in the most advanced of gestation, was its ‘media and communications strategy’ [pdf]. All the problems: the conflicts-of-interest with the present chairman, the question of what to do with errors in the present report, the issue of grey literature, the question of framing a conflict-of-interest policy – all languish on the backburner. Most importantly, the IPCC just buried the issue of what it is to do with advocacy material.
Whatever anyone else might say, be it Nature magazine, Roger Pielke Jr, Bob Ward, or the hapless Interacademy Council or the array of consensus sympathizers, get it from here – nothing has been done at the IPCC yet. Sure, there has much breast-beating, and even ‘soul-searching‘ if one believes Nature magazine(?), but let us remember – no single reform has been carried out at the IPCC presently. All sorts of plans are in the air, but nothing has been done. Why?
Again, if we turn to North:
And from its current behaviour, it [the IPCC] is self-evident that it has learned that its critics do not matter. They are not important to the institution and cannot damage it or prevent it from operating. Nor is it in the least bit concerned about “credibility”, scientific or otherwise. With Rajendra Pachauri at its head, writing the foreword for the current report, it enjoys something more important and powerful – the element of “prestige”.
To its customers and clients, the IPCC’s prestige was and is completely unaffected by the fallout from Climategate. This is just as well because, even without driving a horse and cart through its own principles, the report is unmitigated tosh. Nowhere, then is it credible but, unlike its critics, the IPCC understands the realities of power – that single, all-important word, “prestige”, is all it needs.
Consider the IPCC’s shenanigans at the height of the Glaciergate scandal. At the point when an official correction became wholly inevitable due to media pressure, the IPCC issued a ‘statement‘. It is instructive to take in the brazenness of its action, in light of the magnitude of the error it addressed:
In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.
Yes, we knew that, didn’t we? The corrective action the IPCC would take was what interested observers then. And what did it do? Nothing.
In the same statement, the IPCC continued:
The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.
And yet, here we are, in the same situation, despite the ‘reaffirmation’, the ‘strong committment’ to the ‘absolute adherence to the IPCC standards’, despite the promise to ‘thouroughly review’ the ‘quality and validity of each source’. How come?
What the IPCC has done is tap into the nexus of transnational players, linking
in with member state funders – the various governments which, like [David] Cameron’s administration, are not in the least bit concerned what their own voters think or want, and have long since ceased to be functional democracies.
Thus, as long as the IPCC satisfies its true clients, it can – like its clients – completely ignore the critics. They are valueless, unimportant and powerless. That is what it has learned – the classic “mind over matter” trick. It doesn’t mind and we don’t matter. That is the way modern government works, and the IPCC is part of it – as this brazen example shows.
There is another dimension to this whole thing. Working with the IPCC is very much post-modern, post-normal (whatever you wish to call it) – look at the evasive and slippery responses given by Ottmar Edenhofer and the Greenpeace author Sven Teske. Its a bit like calling up customer service today when something at home, purchased from a large transnational company, is broken or needs servicing. You call up, jump through the hoops, talk to 5 different people explaining the same thing over and over again. Then they play you some music after putting you on hold, and then suddenly the line goes dead. You get angry and decide to call the higher-ups only to realize that there are no higher-ups – the call center is run by someone else, the goods are manufactured somewhere else and there are a handful of executive bosses who have no clue what their own company is selling, and have gone on yacht trips after locking up the office.