by Judith Curry
The events of the past week have provided some potential insights into the conflict over the climate debate among the climate establishment, McIntyre & McKitrick, skeptical scientists, the extended peer community of the climate blogosphere, and a public that is trying to to make sense of it all.
The reaction of the climate establishment to Mark Lynas favorably citing Steve McIntyre’s analysis has been telling, particularly this comment by Raymond Pierrehumbert that originally appeared at Collide-a-Scape:
June 17th, 2011 at 6:56 pm
Keith, your problem is that you have no judgment and you are just too gullible. Anytime anybody who looks like part of “the team” comes along and turns around and criticizes “the team,” you will fawn all over them without thinking about the actual factual basis or merits of their claims. Think Judy Curry, and now, Lynas. There may or may not be something fishy about the specifics of the renewable energy claims under discussion here (I think not, though it’s certain that the practice of doing press releases in advance of the full report is available is a bad thing and needs to stop, no questions there) but you aren’t even asking the hard questions before jumping in on Lynas’ side. Some of the defense of the IPCC may be knee-jerk, but a lot of it is in fact well-considered, from people who know the process and the checks and balances there — which can be improved, but are not by any means as bad as most people seem to think.
Your other problem is that in your efforts to show what a big heart you have and be inclusive, you are blind to the real failings and chicanery of people like McIntyre and McKittrick. The actual scientific consequence of these guys, relative to the noise they make and their character assasination operation against honest, earnest climate scientists is tiny, and they’ve pretty much lost any right to be taken seriously. Note that the IPCC blunder on Himalayan glaciers — something that really did reveal problems (though not fatal ones) in IPCC procedures — was outed first by professional glaciologists, both within and outside the IPCC. i.e. REAL SCIENTISTS, not noisemakers.
McIntyre, McKittrick, and Watts are the Andrew Breitbarts of climate. Occasionally they may out something that is technically true, but it is always of minor consequence compared to the noise, and always a distraction from the truly important questions facing society. That’s why, big as the IPCC tent may be, I hope there will never be a place in it for any of these clowns.
The entire thread of comments at Collide-a-Scape is well worth reading. My response over at Collide-a-Scape:
Judith Curry Says:
June 18th, 2011 at 11:25 am
Keith, I’ve thought about raypierre’s comment over night. The issue seems to be this. Academics like raypierre seem totally disconnected from what the public wants and expects in a policy relevant debate. The academics are mostly concerned with the academic and public reputations of themselves and their colleagues. The public on the other hand is interested in accountability and independent analyses, which is what they have found in M&M and explains their enduring appeal to a large segment of people paying attention to this debate. Whether M&M have recently published papers in the most prestigious science journals is irrelevant to the public. The public wants policy relevant science to be held accountable. And until the IPCC figures this out, we are probably going to see more calls for accountability and not less.
Raypierre’s comment was featured in a thread over at WUWT, which has a few interesting comments out of the 163 comments so far.
Fred Moolten seeks conciliation in this response to my comment:
“The academics are mostly concerned with the academic and public reputations of themselves and their colleagues”
Imputing motives to others is a risky occupation, but I suspect there is truth to the notion that Raypierre and like-minded individuals are concerned with reputations. I also suspect that in Raypierre’s case, the motives run far deeper than that alone.
In my view, Raymond Pierrehumbert is one of the most brilliant and knowledgeable geophysicists working in the field today. His own reputation is secure, nor is it intimately tied to any other set of individuals or to the IPCC. Why would he have indulged in an intemperate and indiscriminate lashing out of the kind he exhibited in the quoted passages, particularly since even an instant’s reflection should have convinced him that the results would likely be counterproductive?
I am guessing that he is expressing an enormous anger at what he sees as attempts by groups with dishonorable motives to undermine the climate science edifice he has helped build over a career, and which he sees as a potentially critical bulwark for the protection of human welfare if permitted to endure without sabotage. Because his reaction was visceral, it was not only excessive but poorly targeted to include honorable individuals, but the underlying instinct to protect a valuable resource into which he has poured an immense emotional and intellectual investment was not without justification.
I sympathize with his anger if not his means of expressing it. I have followed his work and that of other notables in climate science in the process of my own self-education in this realm, accomplished with little help from the IPCC reports or from any individuals at the heart of scandal accusations. I will be immodest enough to state on the basis of reasonably detailed scientific understanding that I believe the edifice Raypierre and others have constructed is fundamentally sound, and that its destruction would be a tragedy – not for him but for all of us. I think I understand his frustration that criticisms of individual people and conclusions, even when legitimate, have been used to imply that the entire structure is worthless when it is not, or to imply that the climate science is based on the IPCC reports when it is the reverse that is true.
This thread and comment are not the place to elaborate on the reasons for my conclusions – except to say that they are not based on philosophy, ideology, or politics, but on my knowledge (and ignorance) of scientific evidence ranging from radiative transfer to paleoclimatology to Bayesian analysis of climate sensitivity to the virtues and flaws of climate models, and so on. Those who disagree can perhaps prove my conclusions misguided, but only, I believe, but showing that my scientific interpretations are misguided. I also hope some readers will note that I have addressed scientific details on many occasions elsewhere.
I feel strongly that what is needed is a multi-pronged approach that strives to convince the Raypierres of the world that they must acknowledge legitimate criticisms (as Judith Curry informs us), but which also requires Dr. Curry and other knowledgeable individuals who are not seen as reflexive defenders of the status quo to vigorously defend the basic science. It is a defense that includes quite explicitly a recognition of the potential dangers of climate change unconstrained by combined mitigation and adaptation. As in any defense, it requires the defenders to repel destructive attacks, and to distinguish these from criticisms designed to make the science stronger rather than tear it down.
If the above sounds fairly general, that is deliberate, because it is future oriented. I am less concerned with citing claims I’ve read in these threads that I thought deserved a more vigorous challenge, than in hoping that these challenges will become more frequent in the future. That any particular claim may be seen as legitimate by some of us and illegitimate by others is less important than that the process be seen as vigilant in all directions.
My response to Fred:
Fred, I view my role as not to defend the basic science, but to continue to challenge the science and improve our understanding. The dangers of bad climate policies can be as bad as the unfettered impacts of projected climate change. Trying to develop better scenarios of future climate change (both natural and anthropogenically forced) including black swans and dragon kings is a big part of what I have been trying to do, and then using these scenarios to develop a broad range of policy options that can be incorporated into robust policy making.
As for the IPCC, there has been a dangerous positive feedback loop between the UNFCCC, IPCC, and climate science (including national funding) that has resulted in an overly narrow framing of the climate science problem and its solutions. This feedback loop needs to be broken so we can do the things i described in the previous paragraph.
And defending the basic science does not “includes quite explicitly a recognition of the potential dangers of climate change unconstrained by combined mitigation and adaptation.” The IPCC WG II report fails to establish climate change as “dangerous” and the UNFCCC has not clearly defined what dangerous means, I have written numerous previous threads on this (not to mention my testimony). And tying global energy policy to climate change is a red herring; there are much bigger things to worry about in the context of energy such as energy security and peak oil.
As for raypierre et al., IMO there is too much bunker mentality and not enough thinking outside the the IPCC box and too little understanding of the policy process and broader policy issues for most climate scientists to be a credible voice on energy policy.
While this little conflict plays itself out in the climate blogosphere, Craig Good at Skeptoid has an extremely interesting and relevant post entitled “I, Global Warming Skeptic.” Some excerpts:
I have many good reasons to be skeptical about AGW (anthropogenic global warming).
- I’m old enough to remember “Global Cooling”, the population bomb, the hole in the ozone, and any number of other tidings of doom. The Chicken Littles have a track record indistinguishable from that ofHarold Camping.
- The issue is massively politicized. The Left has seized on it as an opportunity to dismantle free markets and grow government. They have entangled it with their beliefs the way creationists entangle evolution with religion.
- That amount of politicization brings corrupting quantities of money.
- The IPCC was formed by the United Nations. The UN is a systemically-corrupt, left-wing political organization. Any organization that coddles dictators and thugs should not be trusted even if it claims the sky is blue.
- Anybody who didn’t just fall off the turnip truck can see “cap and trade” and carbon credit markets for the bald-faced scams they are.
- Climate science is very complicated, and there are any number of legitimate questions having to do with the accuracy of our models, the true effect of CO2 as a forcing agent, the reliability of temperature data, the effect of solar cycles, etc.
- Stop calling people “deniers”.
- Stop calling it “climate change”.
- Stop blaming every unusual weather event on global warming.
- Dump Al Gore.
- Enough with the “green”.
- Hug a nuke.
- Stick with the science.
- Scientists: Go Independent.
David Wojick is skeptical of skepticalscience.com:
David Wojick | June 19, 2011 at 7:23 am Robert, regarding your 99% claim (which is amusing in its own right). SkepticalScience.com is a tour de force of pro-AGW argument. They present over 100 important skeptical arguments in such a way as to make skeptics look ignorant. The formula is simple. Present the skeptical argument in naive terms then answer it with a relatively sophisticated pro-AGW response, preferably citing a paper or two. They now even have three levels of response sophistication in some cases. As propaganda goes it is an impressive achievement.
The glaring fallacy is that there are skeptical counter arguments of equal, or even superior, scientific merit, for every argument listed. There is no hint on SS.com that these even exist. But the denizens here know these counter arguments well so your 99% claim is not merely false, it is silly. There is a wealth of skeptical scientific knowledge on this blog, none of which is found on SS.com.
The good thing about SS.com is that it makes clear just how complex the debate really is, Once you get passed their intentionally deceptive formula that is. Every one of the skeptical arguments they address is significant, once it is properly understood. Many are quite deep.
JC comments: this conflict is basically rooted in the development a blogospheric extended peer community, which is anticipated in the context of a scientific problem of high societal relevance (I won’t call it postnormal science). The blogospheric auditors (mostly on the skeptical side, but DeepClimate audits the skeptical auditors) are bringing much needed probity to the science, its assessments, and the supporting institutions. The climate establishment is elitist in that it doesn’t like its “authority” questioned by people that do not have equal academic standing. Some really good advice comes from the skeptoid article:
Scientists: Go Independent. How much do you mistrust a report funded, even in part, by Exxon? Multiply that by ten and that’s how much we mistrust the UN. If you’re a climate scientist with a talent for speaking or writing, follow Dr. Gleick’s example and provide politics-free, all-science talks and articles. The IPCC consensus may be correct but, as a body, its credibility is tainted. It looks too much like political consensus. You’ll be much more effective without them.
Just because AGW is real doesn’t mean you are wrong politically. We both know that freedom works, and socialism and other forms of totalitarianism don’t. Recognizing a scientific reality is not the same thing as handing a political victory to theLeft. High taxes, giant government, and scams like cap and trade are extremely unlikely to actually help. What will? I don’t know. The whole point of a pro-market, pro-freedom agenda is that all of us are smarter than any of us. Thinking that government knows the answers requires kilotons of hubris and a near total ignorance of history.