RE: Environment-IPCC

Ruth Douglas Miller (
Thu, 27 Jun 1996 11:59:00 CST6CDT

I don't subscribe to the listserv because my husband does, and 2 of
us dealing with all those posts every day would be excessive.
However, I have some experience with the operation of consensus
scientific bodies, and thought I'd share them with the group as
relevant to the question of the accuracy/reliability of the IPCC
report on global climate change.

First an introduction: I am an electrical engineer, I teach at Kansas
State University, and I'm an active member of the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE: international professional
organisation for EE's) by participation on 2 committees: one a
standards-setting committee (SCC-28) trying to set standards for human
exposure to non-ionizing radiation (that's electromagnetic fields of
microwave-, radio-, television- and power-frequencies) and one a
committee of experts providing answers on questions of health effects
of non-ionizing radiation (the Committee on Man and Radiation,
COMAR). Both these committees select members thru internal peer
review of interested applicants, and both produce consensus
statements on relevant topics meant for general public edification,
not unlike the IPCC, though not as broad in international involvement
or influence.

All consensus documents produced by COMAR or SCC-28, and most likely
IPCC as well, go thru repeated revisions. They are chewed over about
as thoroughly as any publication I can imagine--far more in-depth
than the peer-review of any one scientific journal article--because
by its nature the group members cover the entire range of scientific
opinion. When COMAR, for example, puts out a Technical Information
Statement it _must_ be approved by _everyone_--all 40-odd voting
members--before it can be official. The numerous drafts circulated
among members before approval are _not_ official and should not be
released, though that does happen unfortunately, producing such
responses as this listserv is discussing. The IPCC issue is very
like what happened to an EPA draft document on EMF (electric and
magnetic fields of power frequency) and more recently a document on
the same topic released by an international group (International
Radiation Protection Agency, I think--my memory fails me here.)

Bottom line: don't go swallowing whole the lines presented about such
consensus documents in the popular press. Get hold of the original
document, find the names of co-signers, look for letters such as that
quoted by Dennis Sweitzer, and above all, exercise your God-given
ability to discriminate. On all these controversial topics we can
easily find scientists of repute on both sides of the issue:
consensus documents are the best place to start to get a handle on
the "sides". They nearly always contain extensive references: read
those before you decide what to believe. The popular press is a
lousy place to get decent information!


Ruth Douglas Miller, Assistant Professor
Electrical and Computer Engineering, Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506-5105. Ph 913-532-4596. Fx 913-532-1188.