by Judith Curry
As we approach the anniversary of Climategate, I am getting a lot of queries from reporters, which invariably includes the following question:
Is there any hope for ending the war between climate scientists that support the IPCC and skeptics?
My answer is “yes.”
The big war is arguably over
The political war over whether anthropogenic climate change will be the primary driver of global energy policy is pretty much over. Yes, everyone agrees that we need a new energy policy and that clean green energy is desirable. Further, people recognize that there is an increasing need to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events. But it seems that climate change is not going to be the primary driver for global energy policy; the UNFCCC is losing that war.
Without political impetus, what is the rationale for continued trench warfare between the climate scientists that defend the IPCC and the skeptics? I can’t think of any. Climate science will continue on its merry way, with a spectrum of view points and ideas on how and why the climate system is changing, and how humans and ecosystems respond and react to this change. Yes, we are all concerned about sustainability. But saving the planet is above the pay grade of climate scientists. Climate scientists have made a clear and cogent case that we are facing risk from the threat from anthropogenic climate change. The nature and magnitude and likelihood of this threat is the subject of continued active investigation. Let the economists, military/defense intelligence experts, resource managers, and yes politicians, sort out how we should manage these risks.
The artless climate wars
Apart from the “why” of the climate wars, the “how” needs to be looked at also. It seems that those fighting to defend the IPCC consensus never read the Art of War. Translated to the climate war, Sun Tzu’s principles might look something like this:
- Outsmart your opponent so that battles aren’t necessary
- Pick your battles carefully.
- In the course of your battle, don’t lose the moral high ground.
- Divide and conquer; don’t give your enemy cause to rally together and combine forces
- Overconfidence can be fatal to your strategy
- If the campaign is prolonged, the resources will not be equal to the strain
- If you know your enemy, you can win battles without a single loss
The mistakes made by the defenders of the IPCC have been illuminated by the outcome of this war against the skeptics over the past year. The most visible outcome is the hugely enhanced public platform for skeptics, particularly McIntyre and Michaels, which seems the opposite of their intention as reflected by the emails.
Some terms for ending the war
Here are some ideas for how we can end the war with skeptics. Lets start by declaring the war over. Its pointless. Scientific progress is spurred by disagreement. There will always be cranks. There will be rebels who are outside the mainstream, but with ideas that are not irrational. There will be newcomers to the field with fresh ideas and new perspectives. Etc. Let it happen. When somebody puts forward what you think is mistaken, rebut it. Open your mind and try to learn from other people’s ideas, even if their conclusions are incorrect.
So let’s declare a truce. Here is what it might look like:
- If someone presents research that you disagree with, either ignore it or rebut it, in the blogosphere or journal publication if the research is published.
- Attack the argument, not the person. No ad hominem attacks and no appeal to motive attacks. No argumentum ad populum.
- Do not use science to fight political battles
- Rediscover the joy of science, with debate as the spice of scientific discourse.
- Amnesty for war crimes on both sides (that fall short of formal research misconduct) (h/t to Zajko)
This is already happening, one scientist at a time. Here is a quote from an email message from a climate science colleague that I received this morning:
A couple years ago I met a skeptic that got me past my troglodyte stereotype. I haven’t been quite the same since in climate science circles. Not that I am free of sorrow and worry about the future of the planet in climate as well as other terms, but that’s beyond my pay grade.