by Judith Curry
The answer is the fruit of my labor, not the object of it. Because of that, you’ll look for anything to come up with the correct answer, not just a predetermined one where your self-esteem depends on it. – Joe Bastardi
The last two weekends, I have featured perspectives on the climate debate from:
I would love to debate Dr. Michael Mann. He’s a professor at Pennsylvania State University, and I’m a Penn. State Grad (Meteo. 1978). Enough people know me, as well as him, so we could charge a modest admission, fill Eisenhower Auditorium at PSU, and give all the money back to the PSU meteorology department whom I still love dearly in spite of my outcast status on the anthropogenic global warming issue.
But Dr. Mann would probably want no part of debating me on the main drivers of weather and climate given I have no higher degrees. C’mon, a BS in meteorology from PSU against this:
Education: A.B. applied mathematics and physics (1989)
MS physics (1991)
MPhil physics (1991)
MPhil geology (1993)
PhD geology & geophysics (1998)
Alma mater: University of California, Berkeley, Yale University
This would be a blow out. What chance would I have?
Let me be clear: Dr. Mann’s résumé, along with anyone who receives a PhD in the physical sciences, impresses me. I’ve read almost everything Dr. Mann has written and, because of that, I understand where he’s coming from. But there are things that are lacking if one is pursuing the right answer, and that’s the methodology one learns in putting together a forecast, as to how to weigh factors in determining what’s going to happen. One has to examine all of what his opponent has, not close his eyes to anything that might challenge his ideas.
For instance, while I’ve read almost everything Dr. Mann has written, how many times has he had hands on experience in making a forecast that has to verify? It’s laughable to think, as a private sector meteorologist whose livelihood depends on being right, that one can separate climate from weather. I realized a long time ago that being able to recognize current patterns from understanding the past (it was drilled into me by my father, a degreed meteorologist) was essential to making a good forecast. The fact many climatologists downplay the relationship, or say they’re different, shows me they don’t know what they’re talking about. In other words, I do what they do, but they don’t do what I do. I read what they write, but they won’t stop to look at the other side.
Perhaps it’s like something we sometimes see in sports – the curse of talent. Most of these people are very smart. I went to school with future PhDs and could see that in the classroom, they were like my wrestling coaches at PSU – guys that were great doing what came natural to them. However, my wrestling coach used to stress that when you’re used to having everything come to you, it’s very hard to change and step up your level. Consequently, you’ll get beat on your weakest point and what you don’t know, and that’s where the methodology in forecasting comes in to the climate debate.
You see, in what I do, one must weigh factors and decide which ones are most important. Additionally, one gets used to challenges that can never really be seen in research. How so? Suppose someone gives you a grant to study global warming. Can you come back and say, “My research says there’s no global warming”? You have been given a grant to produce a result; how can you possibly justify that result if it’s the result that would cost nothing to come up with in the first place?
In my line of work, getting paid (having clients) depends on the correct result. The client doesn’t say, “I want a cold winter, here’s the money, forecast it.” The client asks for a forecast that gives him an edge. If you are right, the client renews; if not, it’s bye bye. But there’s no up front money that looks for a set result. This means the forecaster does not care whether it’s warm or cold, just that he gets the right answer, whatever that may be. This is not the case in the AGW branch of academia. Research grants come with the cause du jour – just try getting a grant to disprove global warming (actually, you don’t need one; it’s easy to refute it just by understanding what’s happened before).
That said, regarding the climate debate, what factors am I looking at to come up with my conclusion? To me, this is a big forecast, and the simple answer is: It’s hard to fathom that CO2 can cause anything beyond its assigned “boxed in” value to temperatures because of all that’s around it. It comes down to the sun, the oceans and stochastic events over a long period of time with action and reaction, versus a compound comprising .04% of the atmosphere and 1/100th of greenhouse gasses.
But unless you work every day in a situation where you are reminded you can be wrong, you don’t have appreciation for the methodology of challenge and response you need to be right!
Then there’s another big problem: What if you have all this knowledge, you’ve taken a stand on this, and it’s your whole life – how can you possibly be objective? The climate debate and past weather events are needed building blocks for my product. That product involves a challenge each day. In the case of a PhD on the AGW side, they believe the idea is the product. Destroy the idea, you destroy the product; destroy the product, you destroy the person. Therefore, it’s personal. Your whole life – all the fawning students, the rock star status – is all gone. I would hate to be in that position. Each day I get up, and there it is – the weather challenging me. The answeris the fruit of my labor, not the object of it. Because of that, you’ll look for anything to come up with the correct answer, not just a predetermined one where your self-esteem depends on it.
So these giants of science have a fundamental problem, and it runs contrary to their nature. In the end, the very talent and brilliance of a lot of these people may be what blinds them to what it takes to truly pursue the truth.
JC comment: Bastardi raises a critical point, regarding the issue of forecasting as it relates to climate science. Until recently, the public and policy makers were content to consider projections of future climate that depended only on scenarios of future greenhouse emissions. Since the climate models and observations agreed during the last quarter of the 20th century as portrayed in highly confident attribution analyses, these scenario projections were treated by many as forecasts, including the IPCC, who expected a temperature increase of 0.2C/decade in the first few decades of the 21stcentury.
The growing divergence of climate model simulations and observations in the 21st century is leading to the growing realization among scientists, policy makers and the public that other factors are important in determining climate on decadal and multidecadal timescales. The IPCC dismisses this as unpredictable internal climate variability, unpredictable solar variability, unpredictable volcanic activity. Well, this is good enough only for scientists that are only interested in the CO2 impact on climate, but not for the public and policy makers (paying the bills for all this climate research) that want to know how the climate will actually evolve over the the 21st century.
Here is an analogy from my personal experience. My company CFAN started making hurricane forecasts in 2007 for a major oil company, who wanted advance knowledge (better than market and NOAA) of Gulf hurricane activity. We had devised a scheme that predicted the formation of hurricanes from African Easterly Waves, up to a week in advance. We had some major successes in our first season, notably our forecasts for Hurricane Dean and TS Erin (which I understand made them alot of money in natural gas trading), but we completely failed (along with everybody else) to predict the formation Hurricane Humberto. Humberto formed near the Texas coast and rapidly intensified. This was not picked up by our prediction scheme, since Humberto did not form from an African Easterly Wave. Well, telling our clients that this kind of hurricane just isn’t predictable wasn’t going to be good enough for our clients. So we embarked on a research project to figure out what kind of predictability there was for this type of storm, and developed a probabilistic warning scheme with different scenarios for this type of storm.
The point is this: climate modelling needs to move towards actually predicting future climate variability change. The initialized decadal forecasts are a step in the right direction, but we need scenarios of future volcanic and solar activity as well (not to mention more research needed to figure out the sun-climate connections). Having climate modelers work on the seasonal climate forecast problem, and watching their forecasts fail to verify, would be invaluable experience for climate modelers making the productions runs for CMIP/IPCC.
And finally, a remark about Bastardi’s invitation to Mann to debate, which is captured in these tweets: