by Judith Curry
The significance of the debate over the hockey stick and “hide the decline” is the following:
Sir John Houghton made the hockey stick into an icon for the climate change problem, which became of substantial importance in the marketing of climate change to the public; therefore, challenges to the hockey stick, while maybe not being of particular scientific importance are highly important in the public debate on climate change.
The subject of climate change is complex and important topic; the public is counting on scientists to provide the best available information. When the public saw in climategate, with “hide the decline” being its slogan, there was a substantial loss of public trust. This is not a good thing for climate science, nor for policy deliberations.
The response to climategate (of which hide the decline is the slogan) of the climate scientists and the broader climate establishment has been to say to the public “not to worry, the science is still sound, nothing has changed.” No one is standing up to acknowledge the problems and talk about addressing them so that this kind of thing does not happen in the future. Restoring trust would have been easier a year ago than it is now.
In terms of the actual science, it is critically important that have a better understanding and characterization of uncertainty regarding regional climate variability over the past 1-2 millennium. This is needed for evaluating climate models, testing our ideas about climate sensitivity over a range of conditions, and understanding the interplay of forced and unforced climate variability on decadal to century time scales. The hockey stick and its more recent incarnations have acted to diminish the importance of unforced climate variability on these time scales.
Analogy to the hurricane conflict
On the previous thread, Gavin brought up the Webster et al. (2005) Hurricanepaper, in the context of an argument about how it would be equally easy to make the same criticism of the main Webster et al. figure that was made of the hide the decline figure. Not even close (details discussed on the earlier thread), but there are some interesting parallels between the hockey/decline debate and the hurricane/global warming debate that are worth pointing out (for background on the hurricane debate, see previous thread.)
This paper ignited a major #$%^storm, as intense as anything seen in the hockey stick debate. There was one big difference from the get go: we published the data set on our website upon publication of the paper. In addition to the climate change debate on this topic, meteorologists all over the world were digging into the data set, comparing ours with other data sets, identifying discrepancies, etc. Things got really really heated, with the full debate and controversy taking place in full glare of the media, we were fighting both the AGW skeptics and meteorologists who were questioning the data. The conflict peaked about 6 months after it started, with the “brain fossilization” crisis, which resulted in the combatants agreeing to disagree with more civility and to work together to sort this out. 10 months after the initiation of this tempest, scientists on both sides got together and made this joint statement.
See any parallels with the hockey stick/hide the decline debate? Er, no. So why did the hurricane debate proceed so differently? Here’s why:
- publicly available data
- scientists who care first and foremost about science and wanted to get it right, and who were prepared to put there personal egos in the back seat over this important debate
- both sides acknowledging uncertainty
- leadership (kudos particularly to Kerry Emanuel) and cooperation
When I ponder the hockeystick debate, and its differences with the hurricane debate, and then I read those emails, well, I don’t have much sympathy. They could have taken a different path in all this. The hurricane group (and certainly myself) are no saints, but they did the right thing and it didn’t take them all that long to do it.
Demographics of the response
When I posted this, I did not expect a particularly big response, since all of this is pretty much an old, hashed over topic in the climate blogosphere. There has been a big response at Climate Etc., but it is mostly contained over here; not newsy enough for most places, but fodder I’m sure for the “Curry as crazy aunt” meme.
Some quick stats on the blog dynamics of the response to the previous thread (as per 6 pm). Total number of hits today is almost 22,000 (well above previous CE high already, which equates to an average day for WUWT). Of these, 8,000 were referrals (5,000 from WUWT; then more than 100 ea from Climate Depot, Climate Audit, Bishop Hill). Compared to normal traffic, about 15% of the daily hits are from referrals. Of the total hits, 16,000 are for the two hiding the decline threads, with the normal daily number landing on the home page and much lower than normal traffic on the other threads (usually I get a significant fraction of hits on older threads). Seems that there are relatively few first timers showing up for the discussion (few hits on the About page), with most people apparently spending significant time on the thread and hanging around for discussion. While this thread is linked to at Bishop Hill, WUWT and Climate Depot early on, it has now been picked up at Climate Progress (fear not; Gavin has “eviscerated” me). Richard Muller’s video has gotten 330 hits.
So what does this mean? I don’t really know. But it seems that this subject remains as a really sore spot on both sides among the hard core denizens of the climate blogosphere, and an unresolved one at that. The topic raises a whole host of issues about the scientific method, the IPCC and professional ethics.
Whither paleoclimate research?
While these threads have been compared to “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment,” my main interest and intent is trying to address the problems with the integrity of climate science and the path of paleoclimate research. I think the field of paleoclimate should be an important one in the context of climate research, but I see some serious problems. And I am running out of steam, I hope that we can discuss some constructive suggestions for moving forward.