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Climate panel change

Science | Advisory group proposes reforms for the controversial IPCC

Issue: "Broken beyond repair?," Sept. 25, 2010

The ongoing international "climate talks" are premised on scientific climate reports that build a case for man-made catastrophic global warming. The reports are created every six years by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Last year critics upbraided the IPCC for relying on non-peer-reviewed "gray literature" to substantiate dire environmental predictions in its 2007 report. (Memorably, it concluded there was a "very high" likelihood that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035-yet not one scientific study backed up the claim.) Critics say the organization has downplayed climate views that aren't mainstream and failed to disclose the scientific disagreement that exists.

So in March IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri invited the InterAcademy Council, representing scientific academies from several nations, to review his organization's report-writing process. The Council released a 113-page assessment on Aug. 30 recommending significant changes in IPCC structure and policy, including more guarded treatment of gray literature and a more transparent writing process overall.

John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who was one of many "lead authors" for the IPCC's 2001 report, testified before the Council in June. Christy disagrees that global warming is largely man-made, as the reports conclude. "The IPCC [has] become pretty much a series of gatekeepers," Christy told me-meaning that people with alternate interpretations of climate data lose their voices in the review process. As a former lead author, Christy knows why: The lead authors have final say over their sections of the report, even if a reviewer disagrees with them. "Whose view gets pushed forward? You are probably predisposed to your data," said Christy. The Council is calling for reviewers to exercise more clout, and Christy said that's a good thing.

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The assessment recommended changes within IPCC management as well-including reducing the term limit of the chairman to six years. That provision may be an indirect call for the resignation of Pachauri, the chairman since 2002 who has been criticized for his handling of the past year's controversies. (He defended the Himalayan glacier statement for weeks before issuing an apology for the "poorly substantiated" prediction.)

The InterAcademy Council is aiming to strengthen the IPCC, and the recommendations may-if adopted-have the effect of broadening the perspective of the climate reports and thereby toning down the doom-laced language used to describe the present global warming. In turn, that could reduce the impetus for an international climate treaty.

Caesarean spike

One in three births in U.S. hospitals now occurs by Caesarean section, trading risks from natural delivery for possible complications in future pregnancies. Some OB-GYNs go Caesarean to avoid lawsuits, but others hope the practice decreases: A study released last month found women whose labor was induced were twice as likely to get a C-section-and once labor began, the decision for surgery was often made earlier than guidelines recommend. The study authors suspect "clinical impatience" plays a role.

U.S. Caesarean stats

  • 31% - Number of new mothers giving birth by C-section
  • 53% - Increase in C-sections from 1996 to 2007
  • 9% - Number of vaginal births after Caesarean in 2006, down from 28 percent in 1996
Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.


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