Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation. Part VIII: McKitrick’s Comments

by Judith Curry

Prior to the Lisbon Workshop, the participants were asked to write a 2 page essay with their thoughts on the topic of the Workshop.  There were some very interesting and provocative statements.  Ross McKitrick has published his statement here (h/t Bishop Hill).  The section headings are:

  • The Key to Intellectual Freedom in Economics:  No Society Statements
  • The Unintended Consequences of the IPCC

Some excerpts:

Economists believe that freedom of discussion requires a prohibition on our major societies issuing position statements. There is wisdom in this! Individual experts can speak for themselves if they desire. Official “society” statements put words in peoples’ mouths, imposing groupthink and conformity and fostering bitterness on the part of those who find themselves with no voice. They silence and marginalize members who disagree with some or all of the statement, demoting them to second-class citizens in their own profession, regardless of their numbers or credibility as scientists.

and

Suppose the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created an economics version of the IPCC, which proceeded to issue an Assessment Report and Summary for Policymakers every five years that was promoted as the consensus view of what “every mainstream economist believes.” Suppose further that the IMF was committed to one particular school of economic thought, such as New Keynesianism, that they ensured that all the lead authors of the IMF report were dedicated New Keynesians, and that the report inevitably concluded the New Keynesians are right and their critics are wrong (or do not even exist). And finally, suppose that the IMF report was sponsored and endorsed by government departments who benefited by promotion of New Keynesian ideas, and that major funding agencies and university oversight agencies also began to endorse, support and promulgate the views in the IMF report.

It should be obvious that all of this would, over time, degrade the intellectual climate in the economics profession. It would do so even if New Keynesianism is true—and moreso otherwise. Members of the research community would be forced to respond to the warped incentives created by such a dominant institution by embracing, or at least paying lip service to, New Keynesianism. Over time it would be costlier and costlier to be publicly identified as a critic of New Keynesianism, and as critics became marginalized by political forces the IMF’s declaration of a “consensus” would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those who were disposed to support the IMF view would find it easier to get funding and academic posts, and journals would be more receptive to their papers since they would gain prominence by being cited in the IMF Report. Likewise journals would be increasingly reluctant to publish critics since their papers would be marginalized and subject to official denigration. Over time, people who had serious doubts about New Keynesianism would learn to suppress them and leave the field, or accept marginalization and negative career consequences.

All these things are playing out in climatology as the IPCC exerts its force over the profession. For those who find the IPCC unreceptive or hostile to their research the result is bitterness and alienation. When the Inter-Academy Council was asked to review IPCC procedures they found a “near-universal” demand by those they interviewed was for Reviewers to have more authority, especially in ensuring that alternative or dissenting views receive proper consideration (pp. 22-23). The IPCC appears to have ignored this suggestion and others like it. In light of the distortions the IPCC is creating, and its apparent unwillingness to undertake reform, I do not know how this situation can be resolved without shutting down the IPCC altogether.

While I have raised these issues previously (albeid more tepidly), McKitrick makes some very strong arguments that I find difficult to refute.

With regards to his last statement “I do not know how this situation can be resolved without shutting down the IPCC altogether. ”  I recall seeing a statement like this:  “If the IPCC didn’t exist, we would need to invent it.”  Well that statement is true  if you view the cause and the solution to global warming to be irreducibly global.    Its a view I no longer hold.

53 responses to “Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation. Part VIII: McKitrick’s Comments

  1. Those of good will across all disciplines should not be slow to acknowledge the simple fact that basing conclusions on statistically inadequate data is unsafe and unwise. In climatology, for example, researchers abused mathematical methods and then refused allow their observations to be questioned or refuted by others. In the end, AGW True Believers were only able to demonstrate there inability rise above emotion because they lacked the intellectual integrity necessary to to acknowledge their own faults.

  2. You quote Ross writing “I do not know how this situation can be resolved without shutting down the IPCC altogether. ”

    My idea is for the IPCC to publish a Majority Report and a Minority Report. The names of the editors are not important, but must be competent people from the two camps. My idea was mentioned by DeepClimate (not that he supports the idea) and I think it deserves to be discussed. I laid out some details in an earlier post here:

    “My idea is to have one report lead by Jim Hansen or Gavin Schmidt. The other to be led by Roger Pielke Sr or Judith Curry. You have 4,000 qualified climate scientists take part in the writing and review process. If you are part of the process, then you get to vote on which report best represents the science. After the two reports come out, you might be surprised which report wins the vote to become the Majority Report.”

    “Of course, voting doesn’t determine truth. Truth would still be open to debate. The vote would only determine which report was called the Majority Report.”

    • While a step in the right direction, having a ‘Majority Report’ and a ‘Minority Report’ assumes that there is a Majority and a Minority position, and that will of course becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy even if the true situation is that there is no Majority position and several different Minority positions.

      And why Jim Hansen and Gavem Schidt for the Majority, with Pielke and Curry the Minority? Why not Pielke and Curry for the Majority, and Lindzen and Singer for the Minority?

      Positions should be permitted to self-assemble from individual scientists’ willingness to be associated with a position. That of course is not sufficient – left as outstanding questions at minimum are the incentive matrix that the individual scientists will be operating under when choosing their associations, as well as the all important decision as to who gets to participate at all …

      And of course, taking a step back we must ask – what is the value of this process? Really, one must have an objective before one can design a system to meet that objective. What is the IPCC supposed to accomplish? Scientific clearing house? Scientific ‘consensus’ (contradiction in terms)? Political consensus? Very different objectives, each requiring a dedicated framework.

      • JJ,
        The names of the editors are not written in stone. I was just trying to pick two people from the camp of the proponents of climate catastrophe and two people from the camp of more reasonable established climate scientists. It could have been Trenberth and Mann on one side and Lindzen and Christy on the other. I should have made this more clear.

        Regarding Singer, he is writing his own Minority Report of sorts already and I don’t think he really fits the bill of being a practicing researcher at the moment. He has become an advocate for the skeptical camp and that will prevent his side from garnering votes.

        I think Pielke is a good choice because he is an ISI highly cited researcher who has many climate scientists standing in line to write papers with him. No doubt he could attract a number of careful scientists to become lead authors of different chapters. In the same way, Curry, Lindzen, Chylek, and Christy could do the same. I also think the this team would more likely listen to reviewers and more likely be in a position to attract votes from reviewers.

      • JJ,
        Regarding the objective – I see three benefits to this approach:

        First, it would tend to make the proponents more responsive to reviewers comments because they want their votes. Right now the proponents only goal seems to be to present a consistent narrative and so they leave out peer-reviewed research that does not fit the narrative. (Note the Briffa data deletions because they did not want to deal with the Divergence Problem). So the result would be that even if the report by Trenberth and Mann won the vote and was named the Majority Report, it would be more reasonable assessment of the science than AR4.

        Second, a Minority Report makes it clear than an alternative explanation of the peer-reviewed literature is possible.

        Third, there is a possibility the more reasonable report is actually voted the Majority Report.

      • Really, one must have an objective before one can design a system to meet that objective. What is the IPCC supposed to accomplish? Scientific clearing house? Scientific ‘consensus’ (contradiction in terms)? Political consensus? Very different objectives, each requiring a dedicated framework.

        This, actually, is the crux of the matter – everyone has assumed that the IPCC “science” is aimed at scientific truth. And it’s not.
        Never has been, never will be. It’s aimed at political power with a faux scientific justification.

        The IPCC objective/mission was clear from the beginning – to determine the extent of human influence on the climate. Not to determine whether there was any influence, but only the extent of the influence. IOW the basic assumption was that there IS an influence, that it is a LARGE influence and that it IS politically actionable. The political slant of the IPCC purpose has never been in question except to those who have failed to educate themselves. The IPCC purpose has NEVER been scientific.

        If you want a “scientific” purpose, then an entirely different organizaton is necessary.

      • Agree.

        And, the suggestion on how to “fix” the IPCC Report is like “fixing” the barn, and the barn door, and the corral gate, after the horse is out, gone, and already in the next county.

        Or, another way of looking at it, fixing a Chicken Coop to hold a horse after we put it in the Coop to hold it overnight, only to wake up the next morning to find to our great astonishment that the blankity blank horse got out and is no where in sight. Perhaps the following link might give the members of the UN some ideas –

        “Over 450 Chicken Coop Designs!”
        http://www.backyardchickens.com/coopdesigns.html

        The very best idea regarding the pathetic IPCC is to close and scatter it to the four winds ASAP.

  3. Even though I have in principle a very positive view of attempts at reconciliation, building bridges and finding common ground, a position such as this one from McKitrick makes it hard to find any common ground at all, and as a consequence makes reconciliation a very distant goal indeed.

    Agreeing to disagree is the probably the most successful outcome achievable.

    • Which parts of his analysis do you find difficult to agree with?

      • What analysis? What data was presented? What evidence marshaled? What methodologies employed? What arguments made? These are not a rhetorical questions- please point out to me where I have missed what you seem to believe is there.
         
        The only thing I see is a fact-free semi-sort-of oblique temper tantrum directed at the IPCC by way of inapt analogy (as I side note, is anyone surprised the IMF’s IPCC had to be made up of New Keynesians? Comical in the extreme. McKitrick is probably one of those ‘economists’ that believe that CRA and Fannie & Freddie engineered the financial crisis).
         
        Speaking of that analogy, there are more than two schools of economics. This contrasts with McKitrick’s would be formulation of the IPCC where the two schools in question represent on the one hand publishing scientists and on the other a handful of scientists and fewer (entirely debunked) contemporary papers, plus an awful lot of blog posts. Furthermore, there isn’t any agreement on established facts in economics. Is inflation a function of the quantity of money? Who knows? It certainly can’t be proven by any reasonable standard. 
         
        Compare that with the physical sciences such as climate science where the basic foundations are all in their entirety demonstrable facts. Consequently, thoroughly discredited economic theories can persist undead ad infinitum in the ‘most prestigious schools and scholarly journals’- witness the neoclassical school. In other words, if there is one field whose exponents should not be throwing any stones under any circumstances, it is economics.

      • Boston Fed. Nyah, nyah, a Boston Fed.
        ================

      • Major- here is an economic analysis:

        A recent NASA-GISS paper in Env. Sci. Tech., co-authored by James E. Hansen calls for the shutting down of all coal-fired power plants in the USA by 2030, in order to avoid the global warming caused by the emitted CO2.

        http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2010/2010_Kharecha_etal.pdf

        What effect would this specific actionable step actually have on global warming?

        The paper tells us that 1,994 billion kWh/year were generated from coal in 2009 and that the average CO2 emission is 1,000 tons CO2 per GWh generated.

        So by 2030 Hansen’s plan would reduce CO2 emissions by roughly 2 GtCO2 per year. Roughly half of this “stays” in the atmosphere (with the rest disappearing into the ocean, the biosphere or outer space) so the annual reduction after 2030 will be around 1 GtCO2/year and over the period from today to year 2100 the cumulative reduction would be 80.5 GtCO2.
        The mass of the atmosphere is 5,140,000 Gt.

        So the net reduction in atmospheric CO2 would be around 16 ppm(mass) or 10 ppmv. If we assume (as IPCC does) that by year 2100 the atmospheric CO2 level (without Hansen’s plan) will be around 600 ppmv (“scenario B1”), this means that with Hansen’s plan it will be 590 ppmv.

        Today we have 390 ppmv.

        Using IPCC’s 2xCO2 climate sensitivity of 3.2C we have:

        Case 1 – no Hansen plan
        600 ppmv CO2
        ln(600/390) = 0.431
        ln(2) = 0.693
        dT (warming from today to 2100) = 3.2 * 0.431 / 0.693 = 1.99

        Case 2 – Hansen plan implemented
        590 ppmv CO2
        ln(590/390) = 0.414
        ln(2) = 0.693
        dT (warming from today to 2100) = 3.2 * 0.414 / 0.693 = 1.91C
        So Hansen’s plan will result in a total reduction of global temperature by year 2100 of 0.08C.

        But what will this non-measurable reduction of global temperature cost?
        The total, all-in capital cost investment to replace 1,994 billion kWh/year capacity with the least expensive alternate (current nuclear fission technology) is between $4,000 and $8,000 per installed kW (say $6,000 on average). [Note: If we replace it with wind or solar, it will cost several times this amount per generated kWh, due in part to the low on-line factor.]
        1,994 billion kWh/year at a 90% on-line factor represents an installed capacity of:
        1994 / 8760 * .9 = 0.251 billion kWh
        This equals an investment cost of 0.251 * 6,000 = $1.5 trillion
        Globally some 6,700 billion kWh/year are generated from coal (around 3.4 times as much as in the USA).

        So shutting down all the world’s coal-fired plants by 2030 would cost $5 trillion and result in 0.27C reduced warming by year 2100.
        I think it is pretty obvious why Hansen and his co-authors do not run us through this cost/benefit analysis.
        And that is the real dilemma. There are no viable actionable proposals to reduce global warming – because we are unable to do so.

      • That’s some analysis, even by the standards of economics. Apparently capital equipment doesn’t depreciate. Who knew?! And I especially like how you assert that nuclear was the most cost efficient alternative to coal. One might expect if that were the case that subsidies orders of magnitude larger than those which have resulted in robust growth of renewables (some of which I know personally is profitable before the subsidies, and of course without a price on carbon) wouldn’t be necessary. Alas, these have been features of all modern nuclear projects, to the extent these get off the ground at all.

        But hey, your analysis did manage to prove a whole lot of ostensibly profit maximizing capitalist economic units rong. Well done. In so doing you’ve also demonstrated just how infeasible mitigation is. Of course there are a lot of people that actually study such things for a living and not just on blogs whose work couldn’t disagree more profoundly with yours, not least at the level at which it was conducted, but as long as we’re debunking and overturning might as well give it the moon shot.

        As for Jim Hansen, well, I would just as soon take a single economist’s word on something like the surface temperature record as a single climate scientist’s on mitigation strategies… errr…. But yea, much as I hold my nose when anything by an economist passes the desk, it doesn’t get better as done by amateurs.

      • Latimer Alder

        I just asked the question of Bart V what he disagreed with. For shorthand I called it ‘analysis’. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘discussion’.

        As an an analogy for the way in which preponderance of a single viewpoint can become self-reinforcing, I thought his description was quite good.

        And it certainly seems to have been at least partially true for the IPCC. Its structure and organisation are almost ideally suited to become so corrupted, so its hardly a surprise that it occurred.

        As to economics, I make no comment – not a field I know much about.,

      • is anyone surprised the IMF’s IPCC had to be made up of New Keynesians?

        Why does that matter to you? The analogy works regardless of what system you plug in. Pick your own – it’s still a valid analogy. And your objection lacks validity.

        As for the IPCC – try this –
        https://judithcurry.com/2011/02/08/lisbon-workshop-on-reconciliation-part-vii-mckitricks-comments/#comment-40109

      • Latimer,

        The reverse question -what parts of his story I would agree with- is easier to answer: Hardly anything. Its whole premise is that the IPCC is nefarious, stifling dissent, politically biased, evil, anti-scientific. It sounds like a thinly veiled conspiracy theory, warppaed up in a cute little story.

      • @Bart,

        Where does he use the word “evil” ?

      • Willis Eschenbach

        Bart | February 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm

        … [McKitrick’s] whole premise is that the IPCC is nefarious, stifling dissent, politically biased, evil, anti-scientific.

        He didn’t say it was evil. However, if you honestly think that the IPCC doesn’t stifle dissent and that it is not politically biased, you’re in desperate need of an optometrist.

        And (since Nature loves symmetry) your over-the-top statements make your claim into the exact kind of diatribe that you accuse McKitrick of … gotta love the irony.

        I also find it curious that you say you disagree with almost everything in what McKitrick says. This claim of wholesale rejection, and both of your posts in general, are far, far below the level of intellectual rigor, writing clarity. and scientific curiosity you generally display.

        You make wild claims, refuse to defend them, and in the process you make wilder claims … my question is, what have you done with the real Bart Verhaggen?

        w.

    • How would you feel if the IPCC were to be disbanded on 1 January 2012 and the UN Shop, Staff and Straphangers were to get out of the Climate Change business? (Or have to apply for positions elsewhere.) Would this significantly change the nature of “scientific” discussions and positions such that dissenting views by others became more valuable to your own investigations? What does the IPCC give you now that you would not have if it were totally disbanded?

  4. February 8, 2011

    To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:
    In reply to “The Importance of Science in Addressing Climate Change”

    “We, the undersigned, totally disagree with them and would like to take this opportunity to briefly state our side of the story.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/08/rebuttal-to-the-climate-rapid-response-team/

  5. Judy,

    I think you have two Part VII.

    McKitrick’s points re: the crushing weight of conformity are difficult to argure. I think there is a great deal of evidence to support his conclusion that the IPCC has fallen prey to these problems. While we expect alarmists to dispute his conclusion, we should note that a lot of non-skeptics have made the same points about the problems of the IPCC process.

    • thx for catching this, part VIII it is.

    • “the IPCC has fallen prey”

      Beg to differ. The IPCC hasn’t “fallen prey” to anything or anyone. “IT” is the problem with research funding and action of any kind. IT seeks a global solution and IT wants to be the ALPHA Male in the sandbox to pull off IT’s miracle for All Mankind. No, IT must go!

  6. Science (as an explanation of observations) may do best in the absence of philosophic restrictions. However, philosophic differences may sharpen debate. If conducted with respectful openness, understanding advances. If conducted under predefined dogma, it may result in a Tower of Babel. :-)

    For example:

    Inquisition versus Galileo. Philosophic differences. -> Opinions diametrically opposed. ->”And yet it moves” (attributed). ~~> Celestial Mechanics.

    Michelson-Morley versus aether. General assumption based upon wave characteristic of light -> null experiments ~~> special relativity.

    Hoyle versus Lemaître (and Gamow, Alpher, Herman et al). Fundamental philosophic differences. -> Scientific explanations diametrically opposed. -> (respectful openness lacking) -> Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. – ~> Win–win.

    I realize these are cherry-picked summaries of specific cases, but they may be worth considering.

    • One of the characteristics of the examples above is disclosure. ()The findings of Michelson-Morley were progressively refined.

      I suggest an essential step is to recover the all the raw observations, together with the instrumental metadata (who, what, when, where, how). Compute variance. Document any massaging that needs to be done. Disclose publicly.

  7. Thank you, thank you, Professor Curry and Ross McKitrick, for keeping the issues that produced the global climate scandal “on the front burner.”

    I agree, “Official “society” statements put words in peoples’ mouths, imposing groupthink and conformity and fostering bitterness on the part of those who find themselves with no voice.

    Unfortunately the misuse of science as a tool of government propaganda goes much, much deeper than the current climate scandal and the IPCC.

    The root of the problem goes back several decades, and includes hiding or manipulating experimental data from meteorites, Apollo lunar samples, solar spacecraft, and the Galileo probe of Jupiter that falsified the SSM (Standard Solar Model) – the dogma that Earth’s heat source is a giant ball of Hydrogen (H) heated by H-fusion [“Earth’s Heat Source – The Sun,” Energy & Environment 20 (2009) 131-144.]

    Closing down the IPCC will not solve the problem.

    The NAS (National Academy of Sciences) will have to be held accountable for misusing the authority that Congress vested in that group to review budgets of federal research agencies.

    Actions by the IPCC government research agencies simply confirmed the foresight of former President Eisenhower when he warned us in 1961 about the dangers that a “scientific-technological elite” might one day take control of public policy.

    • Willis Eschenbach

      Oliver, I like you, you’re a good guy, but you are a true SIF (single issue fanatic). Could you please, just once, respond to a topic and leave the words “iron” and “sun” out of your post entirely?

      Yes, I know that Galileo and Copernicus showed that everything revolved around the sun. But NOT EVERYTHING REVOLVES AROUND YOUR SOLAR THEORIES. Your insistence on discussing every single issue based on how it affects your theory of an “iron sun” is getting really, really old.

      Look, I’m not saying you’re wrong about the sun, I have no opinion on that. I am simply saying that I (and I know others) have had it up to here with your solar monomania. Give it a rest, and join in the discussion by actually addressing the issues without any solar illumination at all. None. Not one word about the Sun or iron. Try that, and you may be surprised to find that you generate a lot more interest in what you have to say … I know I’d be more interested.

      Because now, I hate to say it, but usually I just skip over what you write — not because you aren’t a smart and interesting guy, but simply because my “iron sun” content is already way over the CDC recommended limit for iron intake.

      w.

  8. I find great value in the participation of the likes of McKitrick and McIntyre in the field of climate science. By that I mean experts from outside fields that have significant methodological overlap with climate science (such as the complex statistics that underpin much of climate science) but which have a different and broader focus that may also serve to inform and expand climate science methods.

    The basis of the field of Economics is the study of incentives and how incentives function to encourage or discourage certain behaviours – it would be useful to apply such principles to the problem of producing reliable climate science. McKitrick has made some interesting suggestions along these lines in the past.

    Consultants to industries such as mining are familiar with such incentive structures, as they operate in an environment where it matters whether or not the scientific claims you make are actually true. Screw up your assessment of an ore body one too many times, or provide false information in a prospectus, and that sets you up for job loss and/or criminal prosecution.

    Climate science currently operates in a realm where shoddy and/or fraudulent work may have as much or more value to those paying for the science as does good science. This must change, and the ways in which it must change are the academic purview of fields outside of climate science.

    More interdisciplinary assistance for climate science must be sought, both for the nuts and bolts methodologies (such as statistics) as well as for the bigger picture issue of returning climate science to conformity with the scienctific method.

  9. I would kinda hope that economics societies didn’t issue statements beyond “incentives generally work”, because beyond that they can’t say much.

    “Economics is a social science, and as such, you can be fairly precisely say why it is different from the physical sciences. First, there are no conservation laws in economics. Second, there are no true experiments, at least in macroeconomics. Third, there are no unchanging underlying relationships between economic quantities. Economic relationships evolve in (largely) unpredictable ways.

    Given that — no conservation laws, no experiments, and a constantly moving target — the real wonder is that economists can sometimes say something useful…”

    It’s largely a field of competing ideas and there is little in the way of fundamental “truths” that can be authoritatively stated.

    Whereas it is entirely reasonable for the physical sciences societies to make definitive statements on things like evolution and other fundamental scientific findings. It is an enormously flawed analogy McKitrick is making here.

    signed, econ grad…

    • The other thing that is rather odd about McKitrick’s example is the focus on the IPCC. Versus, say, the IMF.

      When you look at the vast array of scientific organizations offering supporting statements for the consensus opinion regarding climate change science, it hardly makes sense – if his point truly is “The Key to Intellectual Freedom…: No Society Statements” – that he wants to shut down the IPCC. It’s not like all the other societies would reverse themselves.

      And even the idea of getting all the freshwater and saltwater and austrian and libertarian and various other economic schools of thoughts together on a consensus document akin to those cited above is somewhat ludricous. Since there is no objective physical reality around which to coalesce, it’s rightfully just a bunch of differing opinions.

    • Richard S Courtney

      rustneversleeps:

      Please state the flaw which you think exists in McKitrick’s analysis because it is not obvious and I fail to see it.

      The AGW-hypothesis is not a scientific law but is a subject of evolving investigation. It has yet to be supported by any empirical data and some of its details are refuted by empirical data (i.e. the missing ‘hot spot, Trenberth’s nissing heat, etc.). But proper investigation of that hypothesis is hindered, and investigations of possible alternative hypotheses are being stymied.

      The problems McKitrick elucidates are clear for all to see. His analogy points out that similar problems could be expected to occur in another discipline (i.e. economics) if it were to have imposed upon it an overarching organisation like the IPCC.

      Richard

    • re RustNeverSleeps February 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      It’s largely a field of competing ideas and there is little in the way of fundamental “truths” that can be authoritatively stated.

      Since I have absolutely no authority, permit me to state an observed “truth”:
      Once people understand an economic system, they will game the system. :-)

  10. Rustneversleeps: There are conservation laws in economics, namely that budgets have to balance. This is known as Walras’ law, that the value of excess demands has to be identically zero across the economy. It is an important identification constraint in general equilibrium models. And while there is such a thing as experimental economics, much of our empirical work is done by studying non-experimental data. That is why the field of econometrics has spent so much time and effort developing techniques for dealing with multivariate data sets with non-independent explanatory variables, otherwise known as the simultaneous equations problem (which is not the same thing as multicollinearity). And there are some predictable relationships in economics, namely that demand curves slope down and supply curves slope up. These may not give very precise guidance about the particular size of an effect in a particular market, but econometric estimation can sometimes yield parameter magnitudes, if you can deal with the simultaneity and identification challenges. Nobody would propose building an economic model on the assumption that demand goes up when price rises (otoh, nobody would object if you want to try, but good luck making forecasts).

    This is not to overstate the precision of economics, just to point out that there’s more to it than an aimless “field of competing ideas”. You could probably get just as high a percentage of economists to agree to a statement on the benefits of trade liberalization as climatologists who would agree to the claim that most of the warming in the past 50 years is attributable to GHG’s. But it would still be foolish for the AEA to issue a statement on its members’ behalf, especially during a national debate on something contentious like NAFTA. Individual economists can speak for themselves, and they do. Groups of economists can circulate statements and petitions for signature, and they do. But once the Association issues a statement they are creating a party line, and that ought to bother any independent-minded researcher.

    • There are many markets where the demand curve slope down for substantial price ranges – any situation in which the primary information about quality is signaled by the price and no other sources of information are readily available. For instance, demand for tutoring services goes up with price (because parents like to feel they are paying for the good stuff, not a cut-price graduate student). Similar effects are likely to be seen with wine, jewelry or high end couture. i.e.
      http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/11/09/when-demand-slopes-upwards/

      But it’s not just for luxury goods, works for the stock market and housing markets too – people rush to buy stocks and houses whose prices have been rising (in the anticipation of future rises). It might explain why economics models are singularly unable to predict recessions or the latest crash if they assume these things cannot happen by some ‘law’ of economics.

  11. The IMF’s view of economics is the standard capitalist model, indeed their bias toward free markets is sometimes known as the “Washington Consensus”. The views of Maoists, Luddites and Sharia economists appear to be under-represented in IMF publications and we should feel some sympathy for the proponents of these repressed minority viewpoints as they struggle to find positions in business schools and get their research papers published in mainstream peer-reviewed journals.

  12. Perhaps the IPCC should be held at least partly accountable for any negative consequences of their recommendations.

    • LOL sorry, but the IPCC does not generate earnings, it only spends everything that has been allocated to it. If we followed the IPCC’s recomendations and dismantled all the CO2 producing power plants in the USA, ….and determine 40 years from now that a warmer world is actually better for humans; they won’t have the ability to repay the US taxpayer the $1.5 Trillion we would have spent.

      • And that’s just the USA, let alone the rest of the world.
        But that’s the point – they can basically do what they like, bankrupt the world as a consequence, and get away with it scot-free.
        It’s their fault, not ours, so why shouldn’t they have to pay? I would think that would make them a lotmore careful about getting the science right.

      • Conversely, the potential costs of delay will never be charged to those who cultivated the delay.

        This is all very much like my father’s WW2 task force, which paid a terrible price over data and decisions and actions. All in about 10 minutes.

      • There are no potential costs of “delay”!

        Who are you to say that?

        I can define some “potential” costs of whatever delay and than say that you are cultivating that delay.

  13. I tend to agree with Ross. Statements by Societies as they are written do not make sense in an adult society. In any case it’s of limited value, if not vain, to argue whether there is an ‘absolute’ climate threat ; it would be more interesting to discuss what are the different threats and plagues science is in a position to discuss , and how they rank (probability and severity) from different points of view (China, Brasil as well as the opulent western countries).

    Another amazing point is the fact that the entire argument throughout the scientific opinion does not stand on robust data as to the history of global.local temperature data : scientific discussions on such data is a huge waste of time, even if the work to be done on temperature data lacks any sex appeal.

    As long as Science will not put this work on actual temperature data as a top priority, Climate Science’s credibility will remain poor and public opinions will tend to put emphasis on higher priorities.

  14. Economics and climate science are not really comparable. With all its complexities and with all the limitations in sufficiency of reliable data, climate science is a physical science, while economics is a social science. The level of understanding atmosphere is very much better than the understanding of economics.

    In climate change we are trying to find about a relatively weak effect. This brings the uncertainties closer, as estimating small changes in a rather well understood system may be as difficult as understanding such major effects in economics as the present international economic crisis represents.

    When we move from the climate science to climate policy, the difference to economics starts to disappear further. For climate policy, we must take into account much more than the understanding of the atmosphere. For that we must understand, how well societies can adapt to changes. We must also have estimates on future technology development – and finally we must go deep into the social sciences to compare the risks of climate change to other risks and priorities of people in different parts of the world. And we must also be able to estimate, how world economy will react to our actions.

    Thus even the economics will be a subproblem in deciding on climate policies.

    • Pekka,

      I think you make some very nice points. As we begin to incorporate the sides of the climate change issue that involve society, our ability to predict specific outcomes begins to mirror an economist’s ability to predict outcomes.

      Not good.

      But that begs the question of McKitrick’s analysis, which portions of the IPCC assessment reports are comparable to a similar document for, say, economics?

      I think other contributors have correctly pointed out that Working Group I’s assessment is not likely comparable. The physical insight used to frame that portion of the assessment report is much better rooted in reality than is economic theory at this point.

      That is not to say that WG I’s conclusions are 100% correct…or even 50%. Prediction in any field is pretty hard, especially when we don’t know what we don’t know. Prediction with high precision in such situations might not be possible in fact. But the physical foundation of WG I is fundamentally different from anything that economic theory has to offer. So my take is that no, McKintrick’s analysis does not work.

      Now I, as a physical scientist, read the comparison above between climate science (as a physical science) to economics. That may not have been Ross’s intention. If this were his intention, however, I think he’s barking up the wrong tree on this one.

      Then again, economists pretty much always have ‘physics envy’…

      • Pekka is bang on there; McKitrick’s analogy is easy to refute on that basis.

        The object of study, methods of study, and space for interpretation in drawing conclusions are substantively different between economics and the physical sciences.

        Scientific societies can reasonably make position statements in respect of certain knowledge claims – let’s call them scientific ‘facts’. However, they may encounter trouble when they move beyond that into the policy sphere.

      • Put another way, it seems to me that a position statement from an economics society would almost inevitably be a policy statement. A position statement from a scientific society might reasonably be to establish a scientific ‘fact’. Scientific societies would probably do well to avoid policy statements.

  15. The analogy is badly flawed. Climate science drove the formation of the IPCC, not the other way around.

    Climate science might now be a post-normal science, but it didn’t used to be and what were the people studying climate then mostly worry about- CO2 induced climate change.

  16. Jeffrey Davis

    Amazing.

    The IMF implements actual policy. The IPCC advises policy makers.

    And that’s too much for Ross McKitrick.

    That has to be the worst analogy ever.

    Let’s turn that sucker around. Let’s get an IPCC with some teeth it it. Just like the IMF.

    • Amazing indeed. The IMF doesn’t implement fiscal policy. The willing debtor nation agrees to the IMF T&C (or not). Those Damn Bankers!

      If you want to be an IPCC contributer then you abide by IPPC rules
      (such as they are). If you are not looking for a loan or grant or prestige from the IMF or IPCC then you can do what you want.

      McKitrick’s analogy lacks the subtlety and wiggle room for “Yeah, but..” It says a lot about climate science when you need an economist to explain the obvious.

  17. JJ;

    Your top post makes lotsa sense. Beyond that, there is the basic issue of who gets to define WTF Climate Science is. It has no academic creds, or even history to speak of, as a specialty. It cobbles together bits of a dozen other fields. Badly. When a modeler tells the DIY Hokey Team that their protocols and designs don’t measure up to basic professional standards, he’s blown off as an “outsider”.

    Jackasses of All Sciences, Masters of None.

  18. Observation – McKitrick’s “example” is more than appropriate for the IPCC. Those arguing that he’s just an Economist would do well to remember that they are just who they are as well, and their area of expertise is “just” as relavent to the IPCC issue. Beware of tangents, they tend to tangle the web we weave. There is, in point of fact, no solution to the IPCC problem (or any other UN level organization with a similiar open charter). There is no fix except that it be terminated.

  19. “Oh Why Can’t a Climatologist Be More like an Economist?”
    Sorry, but you’ll just have to imagine this being sung by Rex Harrison to the tune of “Oh Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”

    Quoting Ross McKitrick: “Economists believe that freedom of discussion requires a prohibition on our major societies issuing position statements. There is wisdom in this!”

    It seems to me this is making a virtue out of necessity, since there is in fact such a lack of consensus among economics at least on any topic beyond Economics 101 that all Hell would break out if such associations issued synopses of the findings of the economics community. More remarkably, he adds:

    Suppose the International Monetary Fund (IMF) created an economics version of the IPCC, which proceeded to issue an Assessment Report and Summary for Policymakers every five years that was promoted as the consensus view of what “every mainstream economist believes.” Suppose further that the IMF was committed to one particular school of economic thought, such as New Keynesianism, that they ensured that all the lead authors of the IMF report were dedicated New Keynesians, and that the report inevitably concluded the New Keynesians are right and their critics are wrong (or do not even exist). And finally, suppose that the IMF report was sponsored and endorsed by government departments who benefited by promotion of New Keynesian ideas, and that major funding agencies and university oversight agencies also began to endorse, support and promulgate the views in the IMF report.

    It should be obvious that all of this would, over time, degrade the intellectual climate in the economics profession. It would do so even if New Keynesianism is true—and moreso otherwise. Members of the research community would be forced to respond to the warped incentives created by such a dominant institution by embracing, or at least paying lip service to, New Keynesianism. Over time it would be costlier and costlier to be publicly identified as a critic of New Keynesianism, and as critics became marginalized by political forces the IMF’s declaration of a “consensus” would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    This almost made me lose my breakfast. The IMF is famous or infamous for its stong-armed promotion of what has been called the “Washington Consensus”, the author of which describes as “motherhood and apple pie” and “not worth debating”.

    This author of the Washington Consensus, John Williamson, might find some real consensus (at least among non-Marxists) w.r.t. his original statement, but in actuality, “Washington Consensus” has come to stand for a far more extreme set of principals which (sometimes misapplied) by the IMF and World Bank have dictated to various countries in economic distress, sometimes heavy modification of their very constitutions. Moreover, there is now much questioning of these principals, including by Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank president and Nobel Laureate, who sees the two organizations (IMF and WB) as having done much to wreck the economies of those countries.

    Economists as models for not trying to impose dubious theories on the world? Reeeally!?

  20. Willis Eschenbach

    Ross, thanks for an interesting paper. A number of people have said that your example (IMF vs IPCC) is not exact, which is true but meaningless in an analogy. All analogies break down at some point.

    But your analogy is certainly exact enough to support and elucidate your point, which is the destabilizing effect that an organization such as the IPCC is having on climate science.

    Well done, well written, my thanks,

    w.