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« Use your HSI effectively | Main | St Andrews tonight »
Friday
Mar182011

How to get to the top

Donna Laframboise has uncovered the remarkable story of the IPCC lead author, Sari Kovats, who was appointed a lead author on the IPCC report before publication of her first scientific paper and years before she had completed her PhD. In the meantime she appears to occupy the position of senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, desite the fact she was only awarded a PhD last year.

It stinks.

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Reader Comments (96)

It would be instructive to find out who, from the UK Government recommended this young lady to be a UK representative for the IPCC. Does anyone know which government department makes the recommendations, I feel a FOI request coming on.

Mar 18, 2011 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Presumably Sari Kovats has other "qualifications" which caused her to be nominated. For obvious reasons Donna doesn't change the focus of her post by speculating on what they might be but does anyone know?

Mar 18, 2011 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterTDK

although this says "Sari has researched health issues related to climate change since 1994 and has published widely on the health impacts of weather and climate, including extreme weather events (heat waves) and associated public health responses."

it lists "all" her 8 publications since 2001

http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/people/kovats.sari

The smell is indeed offensive.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

correction, follow the link on the page hits 45 papers

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

I think people need to check their facts before wading in. I've just been to the website linked by Frosty above and Sari Kovats has 45 publications since 2001. It looks as though most of these are in reputable journals. By any measure this represents a productive research career.

Her h-score (a commonly used indicator of research performance) is 22 (the same as mine). It's commonly accepted that an h score equivalent to the number of years you have been researching, is a very good index.

Many of Kovats' publications relate to morbidity and heat in Britain and not just the area of her PhD research.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Sorry Frosty...you spotted the 45 papers too!

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

Coming hot on the heels of Jill Duggan, is it a case of who rather than what you know? Not knowing your subject and/or being unqualified for the job may not matter in the mutual admiration society that demonises CO2 but the real world is watching. Donna Laframboise is one of the watchers and very very good at it.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

She has also been an expert witness to Parliament, and is mentioned in the Stern report as one of the scientists who provided expert opinion. I scanned her publications, or the ones she contributed to, she seems to have a morbid pre-occupation with death caused through weather. I particularly liked:

"Relationship between daily suicide counts and temperature in England and Wales"
and am trying to get it put onto Mrs. Geronimo's Kindle to add to her holiday reading, should cheer her up.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Hmmmm. Drop someone in at the deep end, making them reliant (and thus pliable) on the needs of the organisation's controllers. They'll do what you tell them - and take any heat that comes the organisation's way. This appears to have become a deliberate and now quite common strategy among certain organisations.

And it really has to end.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterfrank verismo

Paul

Donna notes that she was a contributing author to IPCC reports from 1994 and published her first paper in 1997.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:46 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

@ Paul,

From that publication record I can't see a lead author citation prior to 2003, which unless I am mistaken would precede her selection as Chapter Lead Author for TAR?

I would have thought it would be the other way around.

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Andrew, I agree this all looks very odd. I wasn't trying to justify her role as an IPCC contributing and lead author. I just wanted to point out that her recent research profile is relatively strong.

I suspect that the IPCC, like many international organisations, is rather like a gentleman's club. Once invited in then you're on the ever upward escalator as well as considered for roles with UNEP, UNESCO and UN-everything. One of my former undergraduate advisees ended up as a contributor to the IPCC TAR. They're also working with UNEP, the UNDP and the EU!

Mar 18, 2011 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

The problem isn't that she didn't have a PhD - Freeman Dyson doesn't have a PhD. The problem is that Freeman Dyson is very able.

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Geckko, I don't disagree. I don't know how lead authors are chosen. I rather suspect that in many cases there is a degree of self promotion and a degree of rubber stamping by the authorities.

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

My Phil's got a PhD, 'e 'as. 'ad it for years: years an' years an' years. You got one, Bishop bloody 'ill?

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterProf jones's Mum

Whilst I share the concern of how an unpublished author, or one without a PhD, adopts such a senior role in the IPCC process (t unlike Mann actually) I do not agree with all the comments by Donna.

Particularly she notes Kovats became a Senior Lecturer, before her PhD was awarded. I had university lecturers who were just plain Mr (ie degree qualified but not PhD) and they were pretty good. I myself provide some specialist ad hoc teaching at Imperial College on an MSc course (I am not employed there) and I am only plain old BSc, not PhD. However the difference is I have 25 years of industry experience and a fair number of presentations/publications at conferences and in journals.

At lot of faith is attached to having the PhD title and I think that faith is oftimes mis-placed. When I graduated (early 1980s) those intending to pursue an industrial career rarely bothered with an MSc or PhD because it wasn't considered important unless an academic career path was going to be followed. I was offered a fully funded PhD position but in the end declined and took a full time job. These days things have changed and in my industry an MSc is a minimum and the number of PhDs is also much higher. At Imperial College the (few) classes I teach comprise about 70 - 80 MSc students and about 10 - 15 PhD students and they seem quite happy to learn from a plain old Mr ThinkingScientist (BSc, Jt. Hons.)

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

A case of start at the bottom and work your way DOWN to the top?

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Credentials are not an issue for me. A pre-existing agenda is. Who would feel comfortable with a PhD with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry being a lead author? Who would feel comfortable with a lead author with strong ties to the environment protection industry? On the other hand, if both were lead authors for the same chapter I would have fewer concerns - assuming that they were both highly regarded in their scientific fields.

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Paul, it helps if you are a part of Greenpeace:
http://nofrakkingconsensus.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/greenpeace-and-the-nobel-winning-climate-report/

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

I had posted this at Pielke jr's site, on a similar subject. In this case, it the IPCC, the WWF and 60 billion dollars. No conflict of interest there, right?


From Donna Laframboise's blog, I saw the name Richard Moss, and his affiliation, the WWF.

http://nofrakkingconsensus.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/the-wwf-vice-president-the-new-ipcc-report/

Richard Moss is on the 15th chapter of the AR5, the section on Adaptation Planning and Implementation.

It’s interesting about his WWF connection, and the name just below his on the AR5, Walter Vergara, with the World Bank.

The WWF, with grant money from the World Bank, have purchased the rights to Amazonian forest, and hope to make 60 billion dollars from carbon credits, through REDD (reducing emissions from developing countries deforestation).

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/03/amazongate-part-ii-seeing-redd.html

Of course, Chapter 15 also deals with REDD.

I really suspect that the theme music to the IPCC is “Dueling Banjos”. And that they feel the hillbillies in “Deliverance” were just misunderstood.

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterLes Johnson

Talent is irrelevant here. She may be a genius, or not. The important factor is that to the IPCC she is, in the immortal words of the Old Boy Network, "One of us".

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

Lord Beaverbrook, really membership of Greenpeace, FOE, Suzuki Foundation or any other campaigning group should immediately disbar anyone from being a contributor to the IPCC process.

Mar 18, 2011 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Dennis

thinkingscientist: I agree with you, in our day, especially if you were in industry the PhD didn't matter. i was industrial supervisor for two or three PhD students, and in fact supervised the postgraduate work of three students at one of our prestigious universities, because I was funding the research. I don't have a PhD, nor did I have one, I have an MSc because I needed to move into multi-media research and the course was the equivalent of a City and Guilds in computer science as far as I was concerned. Having said all that it's not you and I that are making the fuss about the world's greatest scientists producing reports for the IPCC, we're not telling the world that the best brains available have put together this forecast of doom and they must be obeyed because they're the best brains available. And the measure they have said they've used is people with doctorates and years of research in the field, when clearly this amiable young lady had neither and has made major contributions to the debate. Bit like Michael Mann really, and possibly demonstrates the lack of talent available in climate science when they have to use clearly inexperienced people to produce their reports.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Notwithstanding most of the above; does any of you know that she is not astonishingly sharp and competent? Why do you assume she isn't?

Nor to forgive her apparent predisposition with regard to the subjects which concern us here.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterj fergusonj

"Notwithstanding most of the above; does any of you know that she is not astonishingly sharp and competent? Why do you assume she isn't?"

I don't believe that's at issue, what is at issue is that the IPCC have consistently claimed that the finest scientific minds of the day have worked on their reports. Ms Kovats was working on them before she'd published a paper, and some 10 years (bit of a long time for an astonishnlgy sharp mind) before she was awarded her PhD.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Paul,

You say above:

Lord Beaverbrook, really membership of Greenpeace, FOE, Suzuki Foundation or any other campaigning group should immediately disbar anyone from being a contributor to the IPCC process.

Here is what the world-famous scientists at Realclimate had to say:

Reports by non-governmental organizations like the WWF can be used [in IPCC reports] (as in the Himalaya glacier and Amazon forest cases) but any information from them needs to be carefully checked.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

There's a good chance that she's also going to star in the Bollywood production of Pacman's last book. She must be very good at something.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterPascvaks

The problem here is not that Sari Kovats is not competent to do the job, but that the IPCC continually claim that all involved in the AR authoring process are fully qualified academics, research active with the right post-graduate credentials.

The best you can say of Sari Kovats involvement is that she was a grey academic, much like the grey literature that plagues IPCC reports.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

I took a quick look at Sari's publications, and found a 'hide the decline' or two, e.g. here:http://www.urbanclimate.net/matzarakis/papers/WHO_2.pdf with the obligatory reuse of some text from here: http://www.jstor.org/pss/3066696.

It is tough work at the London School of Copying and Pasting maintaining ones h-score (whatever the heck that is) but someone has to do it.

"Detecting climate change is difficult because any climate change “signal” is superimposed on the background “noise” of natural climate variability. Nevertheless, there is now good evidence that the climate is changing...." etc. etc.

Your income tax pounds at work...providing the necessary and compelling evidence of the immense risk to which humanity is being exposed - through the endless repetition of the same untruths.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

OT but good news:

"UK government unveils plans to slash solar feed-in tariffs
The move is expected to deal a death blow to large-scale low-carbon projects"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/18/slash-feed-in-tariffs

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

artwest

There is need to cut the domestic feed-in-tariff as well. Electricty produced by domestic solar panels is 9 TIMES more expensive than other renewable energy sources. Domestic solar panels atop houses are a middle-class folly, which is more about being seen to be Green than actually being Green.

Mar 18, 2011 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Mac
True, but it's a start and we get little enough encouraging news in this area in the UK.

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

From the conclusions of the IAC Report (This Blog 'Did the IAC "lose" some submissions', Mar 16):

- Increasing Transparency

- Recommendations

- The IPCC should establish a formal set of criteria and processes for selecting Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors

We will have to wait and see what happens. It will be difficult for them to come up with a formulation that ensures that the old boy network is prohibited, and equally that it will not, in practice, be the basis for future selection.

Also, however, under

-Maintaining flexibility

- Implementation

- Because the fifth assessment is already under way, it may be too late to establish a more transparent scoping process and criteria for selecting authors.

So the old boys will get their jobs again next time. Does the text mean what it says or does it mean Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors as well?

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterEcclesiastical Uncle

I think the story is upside down. Kovats is perfectly competent to serve at the IPCC. She in fact performs better than the average author. Her career got a boost from the IPCC, which is good for her.

The real scandal is the IPCC's claim that it is composed of the world's leading experts. That is simply not true. It is easy to show in Kovats' case because she lacked formal qualifications.

However, take a random IPCC chapter. Find the world's leading experts on the subject. Intersect the set of leading experts with the set of IPCC chapters. The intersection will be empty in many cases.

Or take the IPCC authors from a random country. Find the leading experts from that country. Intersect. Empty? More often than not.

Does this matter? Yes, because the IPCC is lying. No, because you don't need to be world class to write a decent literature survey. Yes, because mediocre minds are more easily seduced by political correctness and group think.

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Thanks so much for the honourable mention. A small correction: Kovats was a contributing author for the 1995 IPCC report (rather than a lead author). She would have done that work in 1994 - three years prior to the appearance of her first paper and well before she became a doctoral candidate in 2001.

I agree that some individuals can be considered "top experts" even though they lack a PhD. But Kovats was 25 years old and had no publications to her name when her IPCC participation began. From what I can tell she is a bona fide expert in the writing of IPCC-like reports, since she has spent the past 16 years engaged in that sort of activity.

If we had not been advised for those same 16 years that the IPCC is comprised of the world's top scientists and best experts, there'd be no story here.

My best guess is that Kovats has benefited from her relationship with Anthony McMichael. He was the convening lead author for that first IPPC health chapter, is a Kovats co-author, and was also her thesis supervisor.

McMichael, if you remember, is the gent who cut-and-pasted substantial sections of his polemical book into what was supposed to be a dispassionate literature review by the IPCC regarding climate change and human health.

(my initial blog post on Kovats, dated last October when I believed her PhD had been awarded in 2009, is here)

Wishing everyone a great weekend!

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDonna Laframboise

Richard Tol - who should know - makes an interesting point (4:08 pm). "Does this matter? [...] No, because you don't need to be world class to write a decent literature survey [...]". I'm sure that's how insiders view the matter. But Richard's other points are important, because I think many people in the public view the IPCC as being more than some kind of climate change Readers' Digest. Certainly, people tend to be told that statements have greater weight from being in IPCC reports than if they are just in primary publications. The whole "its peer-reviewed so it must be true" way of thinking is applied in double-thickness to IPCC reports. Hence the details about Ms. Kovats, however talented she may be, really look shocking.

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

She was only listed as a "Contributing Author" in 1995. Surely the most likely explanation is that did some work as a research assisstant for one of the Principal Lead Authors (Andrew Haines from LSHTM perhaps?) and did it really well so they gave her credit for it. I'm only guessing because I know nothing about her. But then you know nothing about her either.

Mar 18, 2011 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Russell

To be blunt, I find the suppositions tossed around above a bit offensive.

First, His Grace has assumed that she is professionally unqualified for her current position and so must have attained it by other means.

Second, some have assumed that she actually originated some of the material in IPCC, not simply done the write-up. I suppose doing the write-up might be insufficient for your name to be mentioned.

If we knew that she was an originator AND knew that she was incapable, it would be one thing, perhaps the misdemeanor that Richard Tol suggests, but we don't.

I very much fear that this particular thread exhibits a trait suggested a week or so ago by our local troll.

I'm thinking this is a cheap shot. I will be delighted to be shown the error in this conclusion, but i haven't seen it yet.

Mar 18, 2011 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

The IPCC's promotion of manmade global warming seems to be plagued by missing degrees.

(Josh?)

Mar 18, 2011 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter S

I got my PhD ten years ago (in an arts subject) but we were all teaching assistants/ graduate researchers until the PhD was awarded. If you wanted to be appointed as a lecturer you had to apply after you had submitted your thesis.

Mar 18, 2011 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

j ferguson - some of the speculation might rate as erring on the 'cheap shot' side - but compared to some of the rough-and-tumble on blogs I think we're being reasonably civilized...

The point is, though, that Andrew M is right about this: it does stink. IPCC assessment reports are consistently presented as being carefully prepared reports assembled by the finest, most experienced scientific minds. The claim is that these reports, through their careful sifting through and weighing of the published literature, further copper-plate the scientific conclusions and provide a sound basis for Policy-Makers. We are encouraged to genuflect to them. So their authors must not only be smart - they must have evidence of being respectable and well-credentialled.

However much scientific promise she may have shown in 1994, Ms. Kovats had never published a paper or dreamed of starting a PhD. Yet she was a contributing author. Finest and most experienced scientific mind? I don't think so. One might say, OK, she was just a contributing author, helping out someone who knew her and recognized her potential. Fair enough. But then for the TAR, she was a lead author - still before starting her PhD. Finest and most experienced scientific mind? I still don't think so. Let's not get TOO hung up over scientific qualifications - it has been known that there were some clever people who did not have a PhD ;-), and I would venture that there are quite a few who are not SO clever and do have one ;-). But the IPCC really sells itself on being both excellent at science AND excellent on judgement. It should do a better job at picking its authors. The other stories on Donna's webpage suggest this is a far from isolated example.

Mar 18, 2011 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

I agree with Richard Tol. "....because mediocre minds are more easily seduced by political correctness and group think."

I would also add that immature minds are more easily seduced...

I reckon that had I been about 12 when the AGW scare started I might have fallen for it. But I would have seen through the scam when I got to about 13. To me the people that still can't see through it must never have grown up.

Mar 18, 2011 at 5:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

@ Richard Toll, 4:08 PM

"Yes, because mediocre minds are more easily seduced by political correctness and group think."

I have a perfectly mediocre mind yet one small CAGW claim which I knew to be incorrect pulled me up short and then question. There has to be more to it, some inhibitor perhaps that prevents the scales lifting from the eyes.

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:11 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

@J
thanks much. maybe the misdemeanor, perhaps felony, is by others and that although Dr. Kovats may be a beneficiary but not a conscious conspirator.

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterj ferguson

Is Donna Laframboise insinuating that the IPCC has broken it's own rules on recruitment, if so which rule?

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

@ Hengist McStone

No.

Read the headpost and the link to D L.

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered Commentersimpleseekeraftertruth

Hengist, this is not about a legalistic interpretation of rules. Like Caligula, the IPCC may be within the rules in appointing a horse as Lead Author. It is about intellectual integrity and authority. If you seriously think there's no issue there...

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered Commenterj

j ferguson: I cannot see anybody making accusations or slights agains the young lady on this thread, the point has always been that the IPCC has used the finest scientific minds to prepare their reports and there is no evidence that Ms Kovats was one of the finest scientific minds of the day when she became an author of the reports. That's the issue at hand, not the abilities of the young lady to do the work, for all we know she might be an absolute genius who eschewed the opportunity to pick up her PhD until she'd worked in the real world, but with no publications and no PhD it's difficult to see how she was picked out as a contributing author to the IPCC. She seems peculiarly obsessed with weather and death though, which in my view isn't healthy in a young woman, in my view at least/

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:48 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

@J Ferguson
Leave Kovats out of it. She saw an opportunity and took it. Blame the IPCC.

Note that I too was recruited to the IPCC when I had just completed my MSc at the time. Should the IPCC have put this responsibility at the shoulders of a 25 year old? Of course not. But it was a big break for me.

See http://nofrakkingconsensus.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/an-even-younger-senior-author/

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Richard Tol

I was hoping you would bring that up. It didn't feel right for me to do so as you have already commented on this thread.

Mar 18, 2011 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

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