Regulating knowledge monopolies

I have a post on VoxEU (backed up by a paper) on the regulation of knowledge monopolies in general and the IPCC in particular.

Other countries have carefully prepared their positions for next week’s meeting in Busan. The Netherlands will call for substantial reform of the IPCC along the lines of the IAC and PBL reports. The United Kingdom will not call for Pachauri’s resignation as cordial relationships with India are deemed more important than effective leadership of the IPCC. I was met with a stunned silence when I recently asked two senior civil servants about the Busan position of Ireland, the Country That Leads The World in the Fight Against Climate Change.

We are used to thinking about market structures for goods and services, and there is a considerable body of theoretical and empirical work on how to keep market power in check. Policy advice is a service too, and relying on a single source of knowledge can have detrimental effects. The IPCC is one example, but there are examples closer to home too.

Meanwhile, Brian Lenihan wishes there was a single source of advice, and again. Cosy groupthink was one of the things that got the Irish economy into the current mess.

30 replies on “Regulating knowledge monopolies”

@Richard Tol

Where, in the Irish Times link that you gave, does Brian Lenihan express the wish that there be ‘a single source of advice’? I can’t see it. Perhaps you can point out to me in which line of the Irish Times link does he say that?

What he said was:

“A crucial element in dispelling fear was the provision of accurate, reliable and balanced information.”

Somewhat different to what you said he said.

Do you disagree that information should be ‘accurate, reliable and balanced’?

A prime example was the ESRI report on population and migration in July 2010, which claimed that net emigration amounted to 70k in the year to April 2010 and that the population was 24.1k lower in April 2010 than in April 2009. As I predicted at the time on here, when gthe CSO published definitive figures in September 2010, the ESRI claims turned out to be totally wrong. Net emigration amounted to 34.5k, not 70k. The population was 11.4k higher in April 2010 than in April 2009. So, the information provided by ESRI in July 2010 was not accurate, was not reliable, and media coverage of it was not balanced. That is the sort of thing the Minister had in mind. And quite right too.

I don’t understand how the IPCC is a knowledge monopoly. Sure all they do is disseminate knowledge under the UN logo.

Is there anything preventing someone else doing something similar under a different logo?

I was met with a stunned silence when I recently asked two senior civil servants about the Busan position of Ireland, the Country That Leads The World in the Fight Against Climate Change.

If it would not be so sad, it would be really funny!

In a public consultation meeting on the next county development plan I asked on what quantitative econometric policy analysis their assumptions for the need to include EHSA areas for wind turbine developments would be based, and I was hit by the same deafening silence.

“Cosy groupthink was one of the things that got the Irish economy into the current mess.”
But, doesn’t that mean it’s one of the things that’ll get us out?! Borrow more, spend it on property! The hivemind says so!

@Rory
On some points, the IPCC is a de jure monopoly, but this is mostly to do with standards for emissions monitoring.

On other points, the IPCC is a de facto monopoly at the international level, for example, access to UNFCCC and scenarios.

The IPCC is also a dominant player in national policy advice. Just read some of the documents of the EPA and DEHLG, or the look at the list of international speakers invited by the EPA. Our civil service does not have the capacity to independently assess the literature on climate change and climate policy, so most of the time they rely on the IPCC.

“A crucial element in dispelling fear was the provision of accurate, reliable and balanced information, he said.”
Isn’t that the CSO’s job?

“Mr Lenihan said a “cosy cartel” was in operation among economists”
He seems to to mistake a consensus (by almost every economist except some banks and stockbrokers) that his banking policy is terrible with a cartel. Could it be that the people with economic training are right, and the lawyer is wrong? Given that cartels are unstable, I wonder how he thinks this one is maintained. Perhaps there is an Economics Society that restricts entry into the profession.

On issues other than banking there is plenty of discussion and disagreement with some jokes about how two economists never agree.

Maybe there is a cosy cartel amongst geographers in preventing discussion on the earth being flat, or amongst biologists in preventing disagreement on Creationism being wrong.

@Rory O’Farrell,

Richard likes to get in the occasional dig at the IPCC which is insufficiently attentive (in his view) to the opinions of him and his mates. However, he is wrong in this case. The task of the IPCC in not to be a single source, but to collate the diverse sources. Richard and his buddies would like to reduce the IPCC to its Chairman, who is in the hot seat right now.

The recent report of the Inter-Academy is worth reading. Somehow only the last sentence of this paragraph got into the popular press:

“The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well. The commitment of many thousands of the world’s leading scientists and other experts to the assessment process and to the communication of the nature of our understanding of the changing climate, its impacts, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies is a considerable achievement in its own right. Similarly, the sustained commitment of governments to the process and their buy-in to the results is a mark of a successful assessment. Through its unique partnership between scientists and governments, the IPCC has heightened public awareness of climate change, raised the level of scientific debate, and influenced the science agendas of many nations. However, despite these successes, some fundamental changes
to the process and the management structure are essential, as discussed in this report and summarized below.”

@Toby
In the paper, I briefly discuss the origins of the IPCC and refer to a bunch of other papers that add more detail. The IPCC was created exactly with the purpose of being a single source of information for climate policy makers.

In fact, some people who helped to found the IPCC wanted it to be a central planning bureau in the Tinbergen sense of the word.

An excellent ideological intervention.

Everything is to be turned into a market or brought under the one-dimensional tyranny of market metaphors. Truth is for sale.

If you don’t like this body of evidence, sir, we can sell you one that is more to your liking.

@Richard Tol.

My policy is to not feed the trolls. That policy applies to you from now on.

JTO again:

This is always the last resort of those who can’t answer the point made.

More likely that ESRI have forbidden you to comment on the massive inaccuracy in their population and migration forecasts of the past two years.

I think Minister Lenihan was correct in his ‘cosy cartel comment.

@Richard,

This post – and paper – have a very broad and deep significance (as your final observation in the VoxEU post indicates) – and seems to have touched a raw nerve (as some comments here indicate).

Evidence and positions on policy should be presented and thrashed out in open forums. This is what parliaments/legislatures (and their committees) are for. And it is not necessary that the public representatives who sit in these parliaments are experts. A key principle of the legal system is that decisions on penalty or liberty are made by a jury of one’s peers without specialist knowledge.

And so it should be in parliaments and their committees. Policy positions, supported by evidence, should be advanced in open forum. Rebuttal and counter-rebuttal (equally evidence-based) should occur. And the public representatives should make their decision based on their assessment of the evidence presented.

Of course, mundane political factors will influence the decisions made, but the openness of the proceedings will allow voters to see how far the decision (and how it was supported) deviates from the evidence presented.

That promise not to air the propaganda of yourself and your buddies in the GWPF seems not to have lasted too long.

The United Kingdom will not call for Pachauri’s resignation as cordial relationships with India are deemed more important than effective leadership of the IPCC.

Or else they have more sense than the Dutch, who I’m guessing were ‘advised’ in this by you?

Policy advice is a service too, and relying on a single source of knowledge can have detrimental effects. The IPCC is one example, but there are examples closer to home too.

Heh, indeed. Consulting the ESRI on environmental issues, for example.

@Richard Tol

Knowledge monopolies tend to set the agenda – and to set the terms of reference for various reports – The Irish Cabinet, for example, acts as a knowledge monopoly in setting the TOR for the various Banking Reports in ‘insisting’ that NO NAMES be written or divulged to the vulgar mass of serfs ………. Ms Jolly’s parallel work in Iceland, however, did name names ………. who sets the agenda? whose interests count?

off thread – I believe the U East Anglia ….. received a clean bill of health on their research? What is your reading on this?
Might it be the boyos-an-gals behind the Iranian-virus who hacked the UEA servers? Energy policy and geo-politics are inseparable these days …..

@David
You’re mixing up the clients of the knowledge (the cabinet) and the generators of knowledge (consultants, academics).

On UEA, I think that the first three committees ducked the real issues and generally failed to conduct a proper investigation. There is more to come. As CRU received US money, it will be scrutinized by the next Congress. My main worry is that the forthcoming investigations will be just as biased as the previous ones.

@Richard

On UEA – keep us updated ….. (big boys intervened here – timing is everything)

At times the Cabinet acts as ‘knowledge monopoly’ – the distinction is not that clear cut between generators and (non)users of such know-how …. classic, if sore, example the non-use of Paddy H’s (the economist not the golfer) 2002 World Bank paper on a certain night in late September 2008 …

@ Richard

Is there any chance of gettng one of your colleagues to address that population stat?

@ Richard

I genuinely thought you’d be interested. I also thought it wouldn’t be unreasonable to request you raise a question with a colleague. The most it would require is a chat over coffee but most likely would only require an e-mail.

Besides I’m sure they’d be far more receptive to answering a query from a member of their own tribe than from me, a random punter. Besides if their attitude is in anyway similar to yours they’d most likely tell me get lost.

What is this nonsense about knowledge monopolies? Sounds like a straightforward attempt to intimidate the IPCC to me. If you want to talk about actual knowledge monopolies, you should consider academic publishers and so forth.

Which isn’t to say that data shouldn’t be made public where possible; indeed almost everywhere. But the reality is that the Government and financial institutions are not keen on parading their nakedness before all and sundry if they can possibly avoid it. And despite being the ones paying for it, I doubt the public is really all that keen on the idea either.

@EWI – I’m dying to know what EWI stands for!

Is it Egalitarian World Initiative?
Or Elliot Wave International?
Or Electronic Wind Instrument perhaps?

@ Alan

@EWI – I’m dying to know what EWI stands for!

Why not ask Richard? He seems to be on the right track, given past claims that he knows who I am.

@EWI
The usual misrepresentation. You claimed to be privy to certain information, which implied that you were (a) bluffing or (b) one of two very senior people.

@ JtO

“the information provided by ESRI in July 2010 was not accurate, was not reliable, and media coverage of it was not balanced. That is the sort of thing the Minister had in mind.”

Neither of us know his mind but I actually am quite confident that the discrepancy between the ESRI and the CSO on migration statistics is not what the Minister had in it, assuming he doesn’t share your fixation with population.

@ Richard,

I wonder where Phillip Lane’s proposal of a fiscal council would fit into your concern over policy-advice monopolies? Phillip’s idea seems to be that if you give the wise men some kind of official status their advice will seem so prestigious that governments will at a minimum have to explain why they don’t follow it. It sounds like you might be sceptical about this and would prefer the wise men to have to argue their case without the benefits of such official benediction?

@James
At the moment, the budget is decided with virtually no independent, evidence-based input. Under Philip’s proposal, there would be a single body giving such input. This is an improvement over the current situation.

A fiscal council would be a monopoly if it were a unitary organization. If the council gives voice to the diversity of qualified opinions, it should be fine. If the council represents a single view, I’d be worried. The word “council” suggests, however, that there will be mutually independent people.

Did ‘cosy groupthink’ contribute to the ESRI medium-term review 2008-2015? Surely one of history’s least accurate forecasts, it projected average growth in the 2.75-4.25% range for the Irish economy over the period.

Is the Richard Tol on the cover the same Richard Tol that makes confident projections about climate, economics and technology 90 years hence?

Comments are closed.