by Judith Curry
Well, I hope that everyone is having difficulty in classifying “Climate Etc.”, it is definitely my intention to defy classification by the norms of the climate blogosphere. Over the past four months, I have been labeled as a warmist , lukewarmer , skeptic , confusionist, and notorious (!) denier (posted here, but since deleted).
These labels are terms that reflect a postnormal environment, they don’t have anything to do with science. I’ve used the labels myself in discourse, trying to understand and explain the dynamic of what is going on, and I keep changing labels as I struggle to make sense of the dynamic and not offend (pretty much everyone is offended by their label except for the lukewarmers). In the past I’ve even self-labeled myself at various times as “warmist” or “lukewarmer”, when it seemed that some sort of label was necessary for the dialogue. But no longer. I am through with these labels, and I hope to convince you to be finished with them also. Not only do these labels have nothing to do with science, but the labels are polarizing and are used to denigrate opposing “tribes” that have emerged in this postnormal environment.
So how should we conduct a discussion about the dynamic of disagreement on this issue?
Well, the first thing we can do is sort out the actual scientific debate from the debate about politics and policy. A considerable amount of climate skepticism has been fueled by big business, attempting to protect their personal financial interests (e.g. the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil). True, but so what? It’s not as if the environmental community doesn’t have resources, and hasn’t use them in support of climate policies and even climate alarmism. All this just isn’t relevant to the scientific debate. And if you can’t disentangle the scientific debate from concerns about the fate of your preferred policy, then you have become hopelessly postnormal. There’s a real debate that needs to be had on the values, economics, and politics associated with the risks of climate change; lets have that debate in the context of a rational backdrop of what we understand about the climate system, along with the uncertainties and unknowns.
Now back to the science. Lets start with some wisdom from Richard Feymann:
“When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty damn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress, we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.”
The Wikipedia has this to say about doubt:
“Doubt, a status between belief and disbelief, involves uncertainty or lack of sureness of an alleged fact.”
Doubt is different from denial, see this definition of deny:
Deny:to state that (something declared or believed to be true) is not true.
Lets frame belief, disbelief, and doubt in the context of the Italian flag, that was introduced previously on the hurricane thread:
in which evidence for a hypothesis is represented as green, evidence against is represented as red, and the white area reflecting uncommitted belief that can be associated with uncertainty in evidence or unknowns.
As an example, lets apply the Italian flag to the issue of attribution of the 20th century warming, specifically the statement by the IPCC:
- Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
This statement is often used as a litmus test for belief regarding global warming, i.e. you believe this statement (consensus) or you don’t (skeptic). Very likely denotes a probability of anthropogenic influence between 90 and 99% (lets pick 95%) and I interpret most to mean between 51 and 90% (lets pick 70%), with the remainder (30%) associated with natural variability. Hence, the Italian flag analysis could represent this in the following way:
- 5% assigned to uncommitted belief (white),
- 67% assigned to anthropogenic forcing (green),
- 28% assigned to natural variability (red).
The assignment of degree of belief is a much richer method for assessing belief than a binary choice of believing or not believing the statement. As an example, my personal weights for the Italian flag are:
- white 40%,
- green 30%,
- red 30%.
My assignment allows the anthropogenic influence to be as large as 70% and as small as 30%, leaving plenty of room for natural variability and uncertainties. An average score of 50% might be assigned to this distribution, with a white dominance. Note, my weights were not determined using any fancy analysis, but integrate my sense of uncertainty in CO2 sensitivity, model uncertainties, and particularly the wild card that is natural variability.
As a litmus test question, I prefer the following:
Will the climate of the 21st century will be dominated by anthropogenic warming (green) or natural variability (solar, volcanoes, natural internal oscillations)?
which is the question with the greatest policy relevance, IMO. My scores on this one are
- green 25%
- white 50%,
- red 25%.
This assessment allows for a greater level of uncertainty in the 21st century than in the 20th century, retaining the 50% mean score albeit with a greater level of overall certainty. Although greenhouse gas forcing will be greater in the 21st than the 20th century, my percentages reflect that natural variability is such a wild card.
This type of analysis allows for a spectrum of degrees of belief and highlights uncertainty and doubt as a key element. It is unlikely that any climate researcher would go less than 10% on either anthropogenic or natural variability. Whereas the IPCC assessment drastically underplays uncertainty in their consensus approach to determining confidence levels IMO, I suspect that most individual climate researchers would make the uncertainty box greater than 10%. Who knows, maybe the difference between Jim Hansen, myself, and Pat Michaels might be only a few %, here and there :)
Theres should be a second dimension to this analysis, a fuzzy one, that reflects the analyst’s degree of expertise and effort in understanding and assessing the state of knowledge. Uncommitted belief (white) can be associated with an acknowledgement of a low level of expertise and/or effort.
I’m seeking comments about:
- The best way to phrase one or two “litmus” type questions that characterize where an individual stands re anthropogenic global warming
- Whether you like the Italian flag idea, and can suggest ways for characterizing the degree of belief analysis
- What values you would assign to the questions
- Speculate on what values other public figures in the climate debate might assign
I’m hoping that this strategy takes the wind out the sails of “support the consensus or you are a skeptic,” making the merchant of doubt strategy basically irrelevant and labels such as “denier” unecessary. Then science can be science again and the politicians can stop waging their political battles through the science and start grappling with the hard problems. We have to start somewhere, lets start here and give it a try.
Moderation notes: apart from netiquette guidelines, moderation on this thread will be light. However, do not use the traditional labels of denier, warmist etc. in reference to any individuals (other than yourself), although these words may be used in a thoughtful discourse on the topic of doubt as it relates to climate change. The objective is to stop using the labels, unless an individual so labels himself or herself.