Expert reports by large multidisciplinary groups: the case of the International Panel on Climate Change
Synthese (5-6):14491-14508 (2021)
AbstractRecent years have seen a notable increase in the production of scientific expertise by large multidisciplinary groups. The issue we address is how reports may be written by such groups in spite of their size and of formidable obstacles: complexity of subject matter, uncertainty, and scientific disagreement. Our focus is on the International Panel on Climate Change, unquestionably the best-known case of such collective scientific expertise. What we show is that the organization of work within the IPCC aims to make it possible to produce documents that are indeed expert reports. To do so, we first put forward the epistemic norms that apply to expert reports in general, that is, the properties that reports should have in order to be useful and to help decision-making. Section 2 claims that these properties are: intelligibility, relevance and accuracy. Based on this analysis, section 3 points to the difficulties of having IPCC reports indeed satisfying these norms. We then show how the organization of work within the IPCC aims at and to a large extent secures intelligibility, relevance and accuracy, with the result that IPCC reports can be relied on for decision-making. Section 4 focuses on the fundamentals of IPCC’s work organization--that is, division of labour within the IPCC--while section 5 investigates three frameworks that were introduced over the course of the functioning of the IPCC: the reviewing procedure of IPCC reports, the language that IPCC authors use to express uncertainty and the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. Concluding remarks are offered in section 6.
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