The IPCC and Conflicts of Interest

by Brian McGraw on April 19, 2011

in Blog, Features, Politics

Post image for The IPCC and Conflicts of Interest

Via Roger Pielke Jr.

The IPCC has released documents to address policy changes related to concerns over conflicts of interest that may exist for authors of IPCC reports (summary here). They refer to conflicts of interest as mainly financial in nature, though allow for the possibility of significant non-financial COI’s to be considered as well.

They also have an interesting discussion on the difference between a conflict of interest and bias, noting that bias is mostly unavoidable and attempts will be made to balance perspectives:

Conflict of interest policies in scientific assessment bodies typically make a distinction between “conflict of interest” and “bias,” which refers to a point of view or perspective that is strongly held regarding a particular issue or set of issues. In the case of author and review teams, bias can and should be managed through the selection of a balance of perspectives. For example, it is expected that IPCC author teams will include individuals with different perspectives and affiliations.

Unfortunately, as Roger points out, there a number of problems that remain to be addressed. The submissions rely entirely on individual authors to disclose potential COI’s, and many could go unreported. The most glaring problem though is that the committee will work in secret on these issues and will disclose none of this information to the public.

Given the extent to which there have been problems involving IPCC authors, a tilt towards further transparency of these disclosures or deliberations (while respecting an individual’s financial privacy) seems like a good idea. Do they expect people to be satisfied with “trust us, we looked into this” given past issues?

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