Fox Scraping the Barrel for Attacks on UN Climate Panel (or, You Have Got To Be F*!$*%@&! Kidding Me)

Man Scraping Barrel

JR:  Another day, another inane attack on the IPCC.  Here are two debunkings, one from Media Matters and, for those who like science snark, one from Brooke LaFlamme, grad student: “An open letter to Donna Laframboise (or, You have got to be F*!$*%@&! kidding me).”  First, MM:

Fox Scraping the Barrel for Attacks on UN Climate Panel

by Jocelyn Fong & Shauna Theel of Media Matters

Citing what it calls “a scathing new expose on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change,” Fox News is trumpeting claims that IPCC reports “have often been written by graduate students with little or no experience in their field of study.” Fox’s article, titled “U.N. Hires Grad Students to Author Key Climate Report,” comes as the IPCC prepares to issue a new report on weather extremes.

Fox’s “expose” is an e-book by Canadian writer Donna Laframboise, who recruited “a team of citizen auditors” to pore over IPCC reports from the past two decades. Drawing from the book, Fox identifies four IPCC authors since 1994 who were in, or had recently completed, grad school.

Here are the facts Fox characteristically avoided: There were over 450 lead authors for the 2007 assessment report, plus 800 contributing authors and more than 2,500 reviewers. Fox identified only one graduate student who worked on the 2007 report. 1 out of over 1250 authors.

The IPCC does not conduct climate research, it reviews and summarizes scientists’ studies of climate change. The assessment reports have three volumes consisting of 10-20 chapters. Each chapter has around 7-10 lead authors and 2 coordinating lead authors and goes through two rounds of scientific review. Four of the lead authors could have been chimpanzees and it wouldn’t have made a dent in the scientific heft of these massive reports.

Fox also missed key facts for three of the four individuals — all of whom certainly know more about climate change than the guys Fox presents as experts:


  • Fox News dismisses Jonathan Patz as a lead author because he had “earned his master’s only two years earlier.” However, Patz was already a doctor — board certified in Occupational and Environmental Medicine — when he earned his Masters of Public Health (see Patz’s CV). He was one of the principal lead authors on a chapter on “Human Population Health.”
  • Fox News claims that Richard Klein “was promoted to the panel’s most senior role” – a coordinating lead author — prior to completing his PhD. However, Klein was the coordinating lead author for a chapter of one of IPCC’s special reports — not one of the major assessment reports.
  • Fox News claims that Lisa Alexander was an “assistant author” in 2001 and a “lead author” in 2007. However, the 2001 report simply referenced studies that Alexander had co-authored and in 2007 Alexander was listed as a contributor but not a lead author, as Fox claimed. Alexander will be a lead author for a chapter in the 2013 assessment report — she now has a Ph.D.

The thesis of Laframboise’s book is that IPCC is “a spoiled child” that has “morphed into an obnoxious adolescent.” We’ll leave you with this excerpt:

Notice that the word intergovernmental is part of its name. This means that every country that chooses to send delegates to infrequent meetings is a godparent of the IPCC. Any child with over 100 godparents is bound to be spoiled. Even when he torments small animals there will always be those who think he can do no wrong.

— by Jocelyn Fong & Shauna Theel, in a Media Matters repost.

JR:  Here is the second repost.

An open letter to Donna Laframboise (or, You have got to be F*!$*%@&! kidding me)

by Brooke LaFlamme, reposted from Molecular Love (and other facts of life)

I don’t even have a Ph.D. I probably shouldn’t be handling chemicals. 

Yesterday, I read a lovely article on with the headline “U.N. Hires Grad Students to Author Key Climate Report.” The article was about a new ‘book’ by ‘journalist’ Donna Laframboise, or as Fox put it “A scathing expose”. Scathing. The book is called “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.”

After I calmed down, I decided that the best way to cope with the idiocy in this article with my strong feelings about the article was to write this little letter to her. I will have to say two things up front. First, I didn’t read the book because, honestly, I could barely make it through the terribly written Fox News piece. I don’t think I would have survived the book (nor do I have the time to read it).

Second, I am not a climate change expert (or even an expert at all, according to Ms. Laframboise), but she isn’t really qualified to comment on climate change, either. Ms. Laframboise has a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s studies. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for people who study gender issues. It just doesn’t make them climate scientists.

I do believe I am qualified to write about the scientific process, and what it means to be a graduate student in the sciences, and that’s what I’m going to focus on here.

So, with that, a calmly written letter…

Dear Ms. Laframboise,

I read with interest an article about your new book about the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.” Because I know, from reading your Google profile, that you are a constantly evolving person, I thought I might help to speed up the process a little in one important aspect.

You write that the people performing much of the research relating to climate science are graduate students, people in their twenties. In fact, it is much worse than that: much of the research in all of science is performed by these people whose “experience of the world,” you write, “is neither broad nor deep.” You seem upset by the fact that these young scientists are called upon as experts to aid in the writing of the IPCC’s reports.

The problem appears to arise from your complete lack of knowledge of how the academic system works. I can’t blame you, since you never experienced it yourself, having stopped after your undergraduate degree to pursue a higher calling. A calling that includes labeling people who DO pursue a higher degree as incompetent and unqualified.

For example, the article on states, “Grad students often co-author scientific papers to help with the laborious task of writing. Such papers are rarely the cornerstone for trillions of dollars worth of government climate funding, however — nor do they win Nobel Peace prizes.” I will assume that the bit about “Nobel Peace prizes” was a mistake made by the Fox News writer, since as I’m sure you’re aware, scientific achievements do not lead to Peace prizes. Further, most science of any kind doesn’t lead to a Nobel Prize. They really don’t hand out that many of them.

But let’s de-construct this one a little more. Grad students often are the lead author on scientific publications, because they carried out the work. I know you feel that this shouldn’t be the case. How can they do science without a Ph.D?! Well, it turns out that’s how you get a Ph.D. By doing research that leads to publications. I can’t comment on the “cornerstone” comment because I genuinely have no idea what the point even was.

I was astounded, and personally very offended by this little gem, though I’m sure you had the very best of intentions:

“We’ve been told for the past two decades that ‘the Climate Bible’ was written by the world’s foremost experts,” Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise told “But the fact is, you are just not qualified without a doctorate. In academia you aren’t even on the radar at that point.”

First of all, what is a Climate Bible? The Bible is a collection of books that the faithful believe is the word of God and cannot be refuted. The IPCC recommendations, on the other hand, are based on evidence, research, and the scientific method, all of which can be refuted if research is performed that comes to a different conclusion. It’s not a bible, but rather the conclusions drawn from an enormous base of scientific results.

Secondly, I’m not even “on the radar”? Come on, that’s just hurtful. The fact is, if you are working toward your Ph.D. under the supervision of an established researcher, you *are* qualified to write scientific articles, including reviews, and to be on advisory panels. Getting your Ph.D. is not a magical transition from being a useless grunt to having all the tools necessary to do science. It’s a long road. You have to perform world-class science, be published in peer-reviewed journals, and present your work at national and international meetings, among other things. By the time a grad student receives their Ph.D. he or she should most certainly be “on the radar”. Their names should be known to top scientists in the field. They should be an expert in that field long before they get a magic piece of paper that gives them the right to say “Doctor” before their name. The expertise doesn’t come after.

But while grad students do author many papers, and are often the corresponding authors on those papers, they are always co-authored by their mentor, an established researcher in the field, one who goes by Doctor. This author is often called the “senior author,” not “lead author.” I think that’s where you got confused. Those “top experts” in a larger field are the senior authors. The lead authors, often graduate students, are in training to be top experts in a large scientific field, as well. However, they are the top experts in their own narrower research field, which is why they are called upon as experts by the IPCC.

In reading the article on, I found myself confused about some of the sensational information from the book that I thought you might be able to clarify. Specifically, I was confused about why the information was sensational.

The article states:

One lead author of the 2001 edition was a trainee at the Munich Reinsurance Company in 2000 and lacked a master’s degree while on the panel. He did not earn a Ph.D. until ten years later.

Is the issue that he didn’t have a Master’s or that he didn’t earn his Ph.D. for so long? Granted, 10 years or more is a long Ph.D., but it seems he was working at a company at the same time, so it doesn’t surprise me. Further, most graduate students in science working toward their Ph.D. don’t have a Master’s degree. It’s not necessary in many countries, including the U.S.

Or this one:

Another lead author in 1994 earned his master’s only two years earlier and had his first academic paper published in 1995.

First academic paper only three years after starting his Ph.D. program? I also think it’s pretty impressive. I assume that’s what you were getting at.

Dutch geography professor Richard Klein has been a lead author for six IPCC reports and in 1997 became a coordinating lead author. He was promoted to the panel’s most senior role while he was 28 years old — six years prior to completing his PhD.

Wow, he had a lot going on during his Ph.D. Was probably difficult to work with the IPCC and complete all his research. I guess you were also impressed by this? And the fact that his research was so recognized by the scientific community, even before publication (which always takes forever, let me tell you), that they promoted him to this senior role.

I read that you said, “neither [Klein’s] youth nor his thin academic credentials prevented the IPCC from regarding him as one of the world’s top experts,” so I guess you were simply impressed. That’s right, in science, you can be good at your job even if you’re young and have yet to publish numerous papers.

Finally, I’d like to comment on the closing quote you gave for the Fox article:

“We’ve been told that [the IPCC] is a responsible business man in a three-piece suit, but it turns out it’s a sloppily dressed teenager — a spoiled brat that can’t be trusted,” she said.

Yes, we scientists may be sloppily dressed, having no reason to wear a three-piece suit to do our jobs, but judging the validity of the IPCC based on the fact that it recognizes the contributions and expertise of young scientists is irresponsible, offensive, and uninformed.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I know you hate “intellectual laziness” and “hysteria”, and greatly value “independent analysis” and “fair play”, according to your own profile, I might think that you wrote this book simply to push an agenda of climate-change denial. I hope that my letter has helped you realize that one of your points, the youth of some scientists, is not a valid one to use to bash the work of a respected community of scientists within the IPCC. Unfortunately, though, I can’t help you see the flaws in your logic on climate change. I’ll leave that up to the experts.


Brooke LaFlamme (a graduate student).


26 Responses to Fox Scraping the Barrel for Attacks on UN Climate Panel (or, You Have Got To Be F*!$*%@&! Kidding Me)

  1. Millicent says:

    I’m confused again. Didn’t the deniers own Wegman report use material written by students – or at least wasn’t that the claim made by Wegman in his defence?

  2. BillD says:

    Of course, the main issue is whether a study passed peer review. A graduate student must make a significant contribution to his or her field in order to be awarded a Ph.D. So, of course, it’s ridiculous to argue that graduate students are somehow unqualified to make significant contributions. On the other hand,it’s not surprising that most articles were written by scientists who had already completed their graduate studies.

    As Joe suggests, this criticism just reflects a basic misunderstanding of how science and scientific publications work. In evaluating a scientific study, prior to acceptance and publication, we look at the quality of the research and whether the conclusions are well supported by data. We do not need to know the educational level or afilliation of the author(s).

  3. Joe Romm says:

    The deniers aren’t held to the same standard as real science. If they were, nobody would pay attention to them in the least given all the utterly-debunked crap they have been spewing for years.

  4. Have the facts? Argue the facts.
    Don’t have the facts? Argue policy?
    Have neither? Slam the table?
    Been scolded by the judge for slamming the table? Argue personalities.

    The right wing’s argument against AGW is pre-eminently one of personalities.

  5. Bob-O says:

    So when are we going to stop reinforcing the Fox frame around climate and just ignore them when they make stupid claims like this? Media Matters is actually helping Fox by responding to every stupid statement they make. Once they respond, then the echo chamber is in full effect, and Fox has already achieved its aims.

    Is Media Matters really helping us or hurting us?

    If we just ignored the statement, most people would never know the statement was made. (How many people actually watch Fox?)

    There’s been a lot of talk about framing over the years. But we still haven’t figured out how to set a frame – only respond to one others have set. How do we change that?

  6. harvey says:

    She’s a major denialist..

    She’ll just throw your letter in the barrel.

  7. Robert says:

    Dunning-Kruger effect among “journalists.” (Of course, in what sense any of these people trained as journalists — either Ms. Laframboise or anyone on fox — is not clear.)

    They don’t know enough about the process of doing science to make sense of the information they have, and they don’t know that they don’t know, which puffs them all up, full of self-assurance and self-righteosness.

    So, is it the opinion of Ms. Laframboise — because it turns out an enormous amount of science is done by graduate students — that the polar ice cap isn’t melting (nor Greenland); that the surface temperature record doesn’t show warming (nor the satellite record); that worldwide species aren’t migrating; oceans aren’t warming; sea levels aren’t rising; tundra isn’t thawing?

    Also, is she aware that the trillion dollar semiconductor industry is based on the work of a bunch of grad students and twenty-somethings (Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac, etc.)?

  8. Robert says:

    My… Ms. Laframboise’ her credentials read like… a bubble gum wrapper. Thank goodness she’s on the job…

    Total shill.

  9. Spike says:

    “Four of the lead authors could have been chimpanzees”

    Impossible Joe – Fox have cornered the market.

  10. MapleLeaf says:

    Brooke, good for you for writing the letter. Donna Laframboise will ignore it, or spin it, or mock it, who knows; who cares really. You did not get everything quite right, but the sentiment and key message stand.

    But what is telling is that her claims and accusations are simply false. When National Post cut a bunch of positions, she was one of them, I think her poorly researched and written book makes it clear why. Further, that same group who she worked is also being sued for defamation by a respected climate scientist. So she has roots in the denial and and misinformation defamation business.

    I started reading her “book” and she lost me when she started talking about the IPCC assessment reports as “The Bible”….wow, talk about out being out of touch with reality.

    I think the one guilty of “intellectual laziness” and “hysteria” and being a spoiled brat (yes, some people evidently do not grow up) is Donna Laframboise. Like many of those who deny the theory of global warming she is projecting her failings, her misunderstanding of the science, her ineptitude and her lack of ethics on others. That is not my opinion, that is a conclusion based on the pitiful evidence that she presented in her vitriolic and inaccurate “book”.

    “I might think that you [Laframboise] wrote this book simply to push an agenda of climate-change denial”–Brooke LaFlamme


  11. John Mason says:

    Jeez, what a complete misunderstanding of how postgrad science proceeds. I did a part-time MPhil over a number of years from 1986-94 because I was allowed to splice it with work, publishing the first paper in 1988, a good number since and so much data were generated that there’s still scope for a few more!

    This was in mineralogy – partly a location-based science – hence the scope, but several papers during and following the completion of a postgrad research project is perfectly normal and if you write crap papers containing bad science they’ll either fail first-stage peer review or be ripped apart post-publication if they slip that far through the net.

    In other words, Laframboise hasn’t a fracking clue what she’s talking about.

    Cheers – John

  12. Aaron Lewis says:

    Does your computer work? Very likely either Bill Gates or Steve Jobs had a hand in that. Neither had academic degrees.

    Just because one does not have certain academic credentials does not mean one is not the very best in their field.

    The IPCC is really a review and summary, rather than original research. For that, I would rather have a grad student that can write and edit, than a Ph.D. steeped in arcane vernacular. The days when every PhD can write well are past.

  13. Anderlan says:

    This Faux News coverage, and the book, are chock full of examples of the outright war against science being waged by fossil fuel protectors. They’re outright proclaiming that they’ve had it with every bit of the scientific process. This is how we know they’re up to no good.

  14. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Many Nobel-prize winning ideas were outlined by people in their late 20s.

    Laframboise simply doesn’t have any idea what she’s criticizing. She badly needs to spend some time with grad students doing cutting edge research. Or maybe she does know but is just a bit jealous that these young unkempt whippersnappers are doing something she isn’t capable of doing–that is, meticulous careful evidence-based research.

  15. Artful Dodger says:

    Bill, this is NOT a basic misunderstanding of how Science works. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive the general public, who do not have that basic understanding. The difference is MOTIVE. Follow the money to see what makes Deniers work…

  16. PeterW says:

    Wouldn’t this be another perfect opportunity for the other networks to knock FOX down a few steps. You would think they would take every opportunity to point out the lunacy at FOX. Instead they just let it go.

    In many ways the other networks are just like the Democrats, never willing to stand up to the bully.

  17. Jim says:

    If youth and lack of credentials are disqualifiers, we’d better strat with Einstein’s papers. Written by a 26 year old with only a teaching certificate, who was forced to take a job as a government worker. Let’s start by taking away that Nobel since it was given for a paper he submitted before his PhD was approved. And take away the PhD as well, since he never actually attended any graduate classes, but just read a bunch of magazines!

  18. Matt says:

    Yes, Einstein wrote three of the most seminal papers in all of physics while working as a patent examiner, third class, and was ultimately awarded his doctorate for one of them. Newton was 22 or so when he revolutionized several fields of science. The quantum revolution of the 1920s was called the era of “knabephysik”, or youth physics because almost all of the major contributors (Heisenberg, Dirac etc.) were in their 20s. Indeed, in the physical sciences and mathematics it’s sad but true that few major advances are made by scientists who have passed their twenties. Einstein was unusual into continuing to be very productive well into his 30s. Clearly, the author has not read much history either.

  19. MapleLeaf says:

    The logical fallacy of Ms. Donna Laframboise’s “argument” is clear. She and her ilk claim that the IPCC and academia are “ivory towers” et cetera and consequently they openly embrace citizenship “science” projects like Anthony Watts’ failed project. But then she tries and claims that if someone is a lowly graduate student, they are the equivalent of a spoiled brat who knows nothing and is indept. And by extension in her vivid imgaintation the entire IPCC becomes a spoiled brat. Talk about alarmist exaggerations base on logical fallacies. And I see who really is the spoiled brat trying to get attention here, it is Donna.

    It is all quite laughable (this would make a good April fool’s joke Ms. Laframboise), but unsurprisingly Donna and her band of merry misinformers are quite serious. They abhor anything that does not fit their libertarian ideology.

    And Ms. Donna Laframboise talks about how she values “courtesy and respect”. Read her book or her web site and show me where she demonstrates those values. She is clearly full of BS.

  20. MapleLeaf says:

    Another example of Ms. Donna Laframboise playing loose with the truth:

    The youngest lead author of the IPCC ARs is in fact Richard Tol, a contrarian and global warming “skeptic”. LOL.

    And people might want to read this to get a flavour of just what we are dealing with. A quote:

    “once I decide that my position is right, I don’t back down”

    Donna doesn’t realise that physics, chemistry, thermodynamics and laws of nature do not care one iota for what she thinks is right.

    Another quote:
    “By the time she was a teenager, Laframboise was opinionated and argumentative”

    Quite funny then that she is accusing others of being “spoiled brats”. What was that about her opining about “respect and courtesy” again? ;) She doth protest far too much.

  21. harvey says:

    She is a “feminist libertarian”, with some odd viewpoints.

  22. BlueRock says:

    So, her argument is that if you don’t have a PhD, plenty of experience and published papers to your name then you should be ignored on any given subject?

    Fair enough.

    Donna Laframboise, Anthony Watts, Lord Monckton and every other bellowing crank on the internet should be ignored forthwith.

  23. David Frye says:

    Actually, I think it is both — that is, both a “deliberate attempt to mislead and deceive the general public” AND based on a “basic misunderstanding of how science works.” The misunderstanding of science is clearly implied by the “Climate Bible” statement. Denialists, I think, believe as they do because they trust certain authority figures (the paradigm for this is basing belief in the Bible on biblical authority). The concept of evidence-based knowledge, as opposed to authority-based belief, is foreign to this epistemological framework. Within this “authority paradigm,” portraying climate scientists as relying on the word of “a sloppily dressed teenager” is fatal.

    In the world of science, it is true that “getting your Ph.D. is not a magical transition from being a useless grunt to having all the tools necessary to do science.” But the denialists do not live in the world of science, and the concept of “doing science” is beyond the ken of the good people at Fox. Authority is a mystical quality, like charisma, that does call for just such a “magical transition.”

  24. Dean says:

    Me thinks not…

  25. John Mashey says:

    Yes, the Wegman report used material by grad students, but not particular expert ones. See SSWR, p.7: Rigsby and Reeves were grad students … but that wasn’t the problem. They were doing social networks work without anyone in the group having serious SNA expertise. See STaE for how Wegman tried to blame it on Reeves. She was picked as the most knowledgeable because she had just taken a short course.

  26. W Scott Lincoln says:

    Nothing quite like criticizing scientific conclusions for being partially written by folks that havent earned their PhDs yet while frequently peddling viewpoints of people who havent even earned a B.S. in ANYTHING.

    The obvious double standard is almost surprising even for Fox News.