It's an all too familiar story - something that when viewed from a distance appears perfectly fine but on closer inspection turns out to be a mess. The flawless makeup concealing a face covered in blemishes, the smooth paint job disguising a lethally decrepit car, the beautiful mansion later found to be riddled with dry rot, the brilliant and charismatic politician with - alas - feet of clay.
This can equally apply to institutions. Take the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Ever since it was established in 1988, the IPCC has been held up as an exemplary organisation, representing a "gold standard" for the synthesis of climate science. Operating with utter transparency and relying only on solid, peer-reviewed material, an army of 2,500 expert reviewers and over a thousand contributing and lead authors from all over the globe have been working tirelessly to build a superlative up-to-date and reliable picture of the science of climate change, which in turn can be used, with absolute confidence, to inform and underpin the policies of governments the world over.
Except - it turns out that this is not exactly the case. Enter Donna Laframboise, Canadian writer and blogger, who, aided by a team of citizen auditors, has painstakingly examined the workings of the IPCC, placed them under the microscope, so to speak, and reports her findings in this very timely book. And what she has uncovered is a picture radically different to the one the IPCC would like the world to see. One by one, she refutes and demolishes a number of key assertions made by the IPCC and its supporters over the years.
The IPCC's material is prepared by the finest scientific minds? Well, no - many of them are little more than activists, who have worked for Greenpeace or for wildlife charity turned climate-campaigning behemoth, WWF. People at the top of their profession? Hardly - quite a few of them have been graduate students in their twenties. The IPCC only uses peer-reviewed scientific literature? No again - many of its sources have been newspaper and magazine articles, press releases and documents from environmental organisations. And authoritative? Some of its bolder claims, for instance that 20-30% of all plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to global warming, are based on flawed and controversial scientific studies. Behind the crisp, definitive headline statements like Ban Ki-moon's "the world's scientists have spoken, clearly and with one voice", exists something far less clear-cut - a body of work that is more like a perplexing, indeterminate mass of uncertainties, likelihoods, suggestions, coulds, mights and maybes.
In addition, the author describes the IPCC's various underhand practices, its lack of openness, its defensiveness and its arrival at predetermined conclusions. What she reveals is an unattractive picture of an organisation staffed with activists and reliant on "grey material" from partisan lobby groups, an organisation which has been set up to promulgate a certain point of view, and accordingly has employed whatever means it feels is justified, including the frequent breaking of its own rules. An organisation that is meant to be "policy-neutral", but whose chairman is an outspoken advocate for carbon prices, vegetarianism, aviation taxes and, overall, a "radical value shift" in the western world.
The next IPPC report on the state of climate science (AR8) is due out in 2013, and even if a fraction of what Donna Laframboise reports in her book is accurate, an urgent root-and-branch reform of this organisation is sorely needed, at the very least. Whether this will happen in time to make a real difference is another matter entirely.
In The Delinquent Teenager, Donna Laframboise has written a succinct and hard-hitting book, which I think should be read and heeded by those from all sides of the climate debate. It is a product of the sort of methodical investigative journalism the mainstream media have consistently failed to deploy when it comes to climate change, and it arrives at a time when the institutions of climate science, with all their shortcomings, deserve to be under more scrutiny than ever before.