The IPCC does work

Let’s continue with Paul Newall’s great post at the Galilean Library.  Paul writes that “if science has become so deeply specialised that even scientists in the same discipline can barely speak to one another…interdisciplinary projects like the IPCC could never work.”

I’ll politely push-back on this argument.  As I described previously, I believe we’re already at the point where even scientists in the same discipline can barely speak to one another.  I bet that the physicists, climatologists, ecologists, and hurricane experts in the IPCC really do not understand one anothers’ disciplines.  I suspect that in the end they largely rely on trust.  But despite this specialization, it’s important to note that the interdisciplinary IPCC does in fact work!  Pretty much all IPCC scientists agree with the basic idea of anthropogenic climate change.  Lindzen and Christy might disagree with magnitude of the effect, but I don’t think they dispute the main thesis.  Naomi Oreskes’s study showed 100% agreement in the peer-reviewed literature.

Earlier on in the post Paul writes:

I would say that all talk of a consensus is an example of this rhetorical pushing; another example is demanding that only suitably-qualified scientists can speak credibly about ACC, which immediately runs into the “Lindzen problem” and leaves us counting numbers, which is – or should be – obviously a ridiculous way to conduct scientific debate.

I agree that counting numbers is a ridiculous way to conduct a scientific debate.  But this issue has never been entirely about science.  ACC has always intersected with deeply political and contested beliefs.  And for these aspects of the debate, I believe that counting numbers can be reasonable as long as we count the right numbers.

It should matter that the overwhelming majority of IPCC scientists support ACC.  It should also matter that most of these 9,000 odd Ph.D’s really shouldn’t have any credibility on ACC.  The IPCC is not on equal footing with arbitrary lists of PhDs and shouldn’t be treated that way.  In the end it is important to identify “suitably qualified scientists.”


  1. A small clarification: my argument was intended as a reductio. I realise interdisciplinary projects work and perhaps people are better able to gain an understanding of a subject than we think, particularly when motivated to do so.

    Regarding your other point, I think it would be interesting to set out why the IPCC “is not on an equal footing”. What is it, epistemically, that makes a difference?

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