Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has sent a letter to the 831 lead authors and editors of the panel’s fifth, and next, assessment report apologizing for a previous letter, which advised them to “keep a distance from the media.” In it, he wrote:

I want to reassure everyone the IPCC is a transparent organization. At a time when the work of climate scientists is undergoing intense scrutiny, it is essential that we promote clear and open communication with the media and the public.

While the media have at times been critical of the IPCC, I have a profound respect for their responsibility to inform the public about our activities. A free flow of information is a fundamental component of our commitment to transparency.

Pachauri had sent the previous letter discouraging media interaction, which drew criticism from scientists and journalists alike, just ten days before. That letter came with a three-page guide, “Background & Tips for Responding to the Media.” Pachauri admitted that the two documents contradicted one another and may have caused confusion. “My only intent was to advise new authors not to speak ‘on behalf of the IPCC’ because we are an inter-governmental body consisting of 194 states,” he wrote last week, adding that “the IPCC’s role goes beyond preparation of assessment reports and must increasingly expand into outreach efforts.”

Pachauri clarified his “advice” about interactions with journalists in three bullet points:

• First of all, the IPCC does not seek in any way to discourage you from engaging in discussions with the media about your own work. To the contrary, we see such interaction as an important way of making your research more accessible to the public.

• Second, all of us at the IPCC are immensely proud of our author team and have no interest in micro-managing your interactions with the media. I only remind you that the AR5 process is in its beginning stages and our final report is several years away. No one, including me, can speak to the likely findings of the AR5.

• Lastly, we ask that you forward all media inquiries about official IPCC policies to the Working Group co-chairs or the IPCC Secretariat. This protocol is not an attempt to muzzle anyone. It is a standard procedure for large inter-governmental organizations and is intended to draw a distinction between the official work of the IPCC and your own work or that of your institution.


Fair enough. Scientists should take Pachauri’s encouragement to interact with the media at face value, and journalists should view it as an open invitation to scrutinize all facets of the IPCC’s work as it gears up for its next report.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.