The Production of Knowledge in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Jessica O'Reilly, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University
Stephanie Pinkalla, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been producing reports assessing the state of climate science since 1990. IPCC assessors consist of scientists nominated by their governments, who perform the work of assessing all of the peer-reviewed literature on their topic on a volunteer basis for the purpose of compiling the state of climate science into a single set of documents. In this project, researchers O'Reilly and Pinkalla are interested in conflict and consensus within the scientific community-those people who accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change and have stakes in ascertaining that the most recent scientific findings are presented clearly to policy makers. To study this, the researchers analyzed the archived draft review comments for Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Anyone can nominate themselves to serve as expert reviewers of the draft IPCC reports and the authors are required to respond to each comment submitted. We categorized levels of conflict through the draft report comments and pieced together a trajectory showing how the reviewers and authors interacted to produce the final IPCC assessment report documents. As we did this, we characterized how politics at multiple scales shape a purportedly policy-neutral document and how climate scientists grapple with interjections from climate denialists out of the public eye. Ultimately, our study demonstrates how a diverse community of experts works discursively to produce knowledge while navigating the sociocultural dynamics associated with politically important scientific facts.