Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations organization regarded by many as the best source of scientific information about the human impact on the earth's climate, released "The Science of Climate Change 1995," its first new report in five years. The report will surely be hailed as the latest and most authoritative statement on global warming. Policy makers and the press around the world will likely view the report as the basis for critical decisions on energy policy that would have an enormous impact on U.S. oil and gas prices and on the international economy.
This IPCC report, like all others, is held in such high regard largely because it has been peer-reviewed. That is, it has been read, discussed, modified and approved by an international body of experts. These scientists have laid their reputations on the line. But this report is not what it appears to be--it is not the version that was approved by the contributing scientists listed on the title page. In my more than 60 years as a member of the American scientific community, including service as president of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society, I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report.
A comparison between the report approved by the contributing scientists and the published version reveals that key changes were made after the scientists had met and accepted what they thought was the final peer-reviewed version. The scientists were assuming that the IPCC would obey the IPCC Rules--a body of regulations that is supposed to govern the panel's actions. Nothing in the IPCC Rules permits anyone to change a scientific report after it has been accepted by the panel of scientific contributors and the full IPCC.
The participating scientists accepted "The Science of Climate Change" in Madrid last November; the full IPCC accepted it the following month in Rome. But more than 15 sections in Chapter 8 of the report--the key chapter setting out the scientific evidence for and against a human influence over climate--were changed or deleted after the scientists charged with examining this question had accepted the supposedly final text.
Few of these changes were merely cosmetic; nearly all worked to remove hints of the skepticism with which many scientists regard claims that human activities are having a major impact on climate in general and on global warming in particular.
The following passages are examples of those included in the approved report but deleted from the supposedly peer-reviewed published version:
The reviewing scientists used this original language to keep themselves and the IPCC honest. I am in no position to know who made the major changes in Chapter 8; but the report's lead author, Benjamin D. Santer, must presumably take the major responsibility.
IPCC reports are often called the "consensus" view. If they lead to carbon taxes and restraints on economic growth, they will have a major and almost certainly destructive impact on the economies of the world. Whatever the intent was of those who made these significant changes, their effect is to deceive policy makers and the public into believing that the scientific evidence shows human activities are causing global warming.
If the IPCC is incapable of following its most basic procedures, it would be best to abandon the entire IPCC process, or at least that part that is concerned with the scientific evidence on climate change, and look for more reliable sources of advice to governments on this important question.
Mr. Seitz is president emeritus of Rockefeller University
and chairman of the George C. Marshall Institute.
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