New Paper “Physical And Economic Bias In Climate Change Research: A Scientometric Study Of IPCC Third Assessment Report” By Andreas Bjurström and Merritt Polk

Update: corrected particular IPCC report that the authors studied in my comments [h/t to Sven Titz]

I have been alerted to a new paper [h/t Jos de Laat]

Andreas Bjurström and Merritt Polk, 2011: Physical and economic bias in climate change research: a scientometric study of IPCC Third Assessment Report. Climatic Change DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0018-8

The abstract reads

“This study demonstrates that IPCC Third Assessment Report is strongly dominated by Natural sciences, especially the Earth sciences. The Social sciences are dominated by Economics. The IPCC assessment also results in the separation of the Earth, Biological and Social sciences. The integration that occurs is mainly between closely related scientific fields. The research community consequently imposes a physical and economic bias and a separation of scientific fields that the IPCC reproduces in the policy sphere. It is argued that this physical and economic bias distorts a comprehensive understanding of climate change and that the weak integration of scientific fields hinders climate change from being fully addressed as an integral environmental and social problem. If climate change is to be understood, evaluated and responded to in its fullness, the IPCC must broaden its knowledge base and challenge the anthropocentric worldview that places humans outside of nature.”

Informative excepts include

“WG1 consists entirely of Natural science. The Earth sciences (‘Geosciences’, ‘Oceanography’ and ‘Meteorology’) are strongly dominant with three-quarters of the references. ….‘Biology’ is insignificant.”

“WG2 has a rather even distribution of scientific fields.”

“In WG1, ‘Geosciences’, ‘Oceanography’ and ‘Meteorology’ are integrated since they have similar distribution patterns. These are in turn integrated with ‘Environmental science’. This is expected since the journal content analysis shows that Earth science is important in ‘Environmental science’. ‘Biology’ is concentrated to one chapter which is integrated with the Earth sciences.All other chapters are dominated by the Earth sciences with an insignificant presence of ‘Biology’.”

“WG2 is by far the most integrated working group with the most complex patterns of integration and separation of scientific fields.”

“Climate research is often claimed to be an interdisciplinary showcase. This analysis shows that this is rather questionable.”

“The journal references in the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) are strongly dominated by Natural sciences, especially the Earth sciences. Social sciences are dominated by Economics. This mirrors the emphasis of climate change research. The research community consequently imposes a physical and economic bias that IPCC reproduces in the policy sphere.”

“TAR separates the Physical, Biological and Social sciences. Scientific fields are therefore weakly integrated. Integration occurs mainly between closely related scientific fields. However, interdisciplinary fields integrate to some extent all scientific fields, even distant ones on rare occasions. This mirrors the academic research organization and knowledge dissemination in scientific journals. Thus, the research community imposes a separation of scientific fields that IPCC reproduces. This physical and economic bias distorts a comprehensive understanding of climate change. The weak integration of scientific fields hinders climate change from being fully addressed as an integral environmental and social problem. The IPCC must broaden its knowledge base and challenge an anthropocentric worldview that places humans outside of nature, if climate change is to be understood, evaluated and responded to in its fullness.”

This crtitique of the 2007 2001 IPCC provides important evidence of a bias that also exists in the 2007 WG1 report, which is the basis for the following 2007 IPCC WG2 and WG3 reports. As illustrated below from

National Research Council, 2005: Radiative forcing of climate change: Expanding the concept and addressing uncertainties. Committee on Radiative Forcing Effects on Climate Change, Climate Research Committee, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 208 pp

FIGURE 1-1 The climate system, consisting of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and cryosphere. Important state variables for each sphere of the climate system are listed in the boxes. For the purposes of this report, the Sun, volcanic emissions, and human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases and changes to the land surface are considered external to the climate system.

the climate system is incompletely assessed if only a subset of climate forcings and feedbacks (i.e. the physical components of the climate system) are considered. The authors do not emphasize this conclusion, however, it is clearly evident in their assessment of the source of information for the WG1 2007 IPCC report.

In terms of how to better integrate across the physical, chemical and biological components of the climate system, as well as to include human activity as components, I recommend the adoption of the approach I posted on in

A Way Forward In Climate Science Based On A Bottom-Up Resource-Based Perspective

where I wrote

“There are 5 broad areas that we can use to define the need for vulnerability assessments : water, food, energy, [human] health and ecosystem function. Each area has societally critical resources. The vulnerability concept requires the determination of the major threats to these resources from climate, but also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risk from natural- and human-caused climate change (estimated from the GCM projections, but also the historical, paleo-record and worst case sequences of events) can be compared with other risks in order to adopt the optimal mitigation/adaptation strategy.”

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