Curry: The Finale

By Keith Kloor | April 30, 2010 7:40 am

UPDATE: After further reflection, Judith Curry lays out a way forward in comment 51 that I encourage people to read and discuss.

And you thought it was over. Ha.

Admit it. You thought Judith Curry had finally collapsed at the finish line, that after one week of taking on all comers, she was spent. Wrung out to dry. Kaput.

Have you learned nothing? I think this woman can chew bullets.

Did you think I was going to let her go without surveying the wreckage, without participating in a postmortem? (Okay, I’m done with the mixed metaphors.) Let’s get down to it, in which I ask Curry to respond to the main criticisms hurled back at her this past week:

Q: In the exchange, you’ve spoken highly of some well-known climate skeptic blogs, such as Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit. That seems to be one of the things that has most infuriated the AGW wing. There’s this growing perception, fed, for example, by Joe Romm, that you’re now siding with anti-science forces. Given that you are a research scientist, how does that make you feel?

JC: Joe Romm is bearing the fruits of tribalism, and reminds us of why this is such a bad thing.  With regards to my engagement with skeptics, I need to clarify a few things. I am listening to what the skeptics have to say; this does not mean that I agree with anything (let alone everything) that they have to say. I am trying to be open-minded and am considering their arguments. This is not the same as endorsing their arguments. If McIntyre (or another blogger, or someone from a libertarian think tank) has said incorrect or otherwise inappropriate things at one point, this does not imply that everything they have said or will say is incorrect or inappropriate.

But unless we listen and engage across “tribes”, we will continue to fight these silly wars, particularly the war with McIntyre that ended up getting Jones and Mann in such hot water.

With regards to what is anti-science, here is a quiz.  Read blog thread A and blog thread B.  Which thread is anti-science?

In the climateaudit thread,  I learned a lot not only from the diverse knowledge base of the participants, but also by having to dig into some literature that I wasn’t too familiar with, and to work hard to make strong arguments in the face of some sophisticated challenges.  In a follow up email some months later from Dan Hughes (he has a blog link at climateaudit), he suggested that I read the following book:  “Fundamentals of Verification and Validation“ by Patrick Roache.  I ordered the book, it sits on my desk, I pick it up periodically to glance through, I hope to have more time this summer to go through it (it is heavy going, but it is already influencing some of my thinking).

I do not side with skeptical bloggers (I don’t side with anybody, rather I support or disagree with arguments), but I will absolutely defend them against any disrespect or personal attacks they receive that is unwarranted in my opinion.  McIntyre has made important contributions in terms of pushing for transparency in science and public availability of data (a battle cry that is being taken up by almost everybody), pointing out that there are deficiencies in statistical analysis in the climate field (a point made by the North NRC Report and even the Oxburgh report), concerns about using tree rings in paleo temperature reconstructions (a concern that many paleoclimatologists now share), and raising concerns about inappropriate behavior by some climate scientists (well, the CRU emails speak for themselves).  Watts’ surface stations.org deserves credit.  Credit where it is due, anyone?

Let’s make our discussion about the scientific arguments, not about the individuals.

Q: You say you want to help restore trust in climate science. But even before Climategate, people like Senator James Inhofe, Marc Morano, and Rush Limbaugh were ridiculing climate scientists and calling global warming a scientific hoax. I don’t see them changing their tune anytime soon. Nor can their rhetoric be helpful to your  bridge-building efforts. Shouldn’t someone in the skeptic community emulate you and denounce the distortions of climate science and the badmouthing of climate scientists by Inhofe et al?

JC: Senator Inhofe, Marc Morano, and Rush Limbaugh are politically motivated. Their rhetoric doesn’t help at all, and I think pretty much everyone badmouths what they have to say. My point is that it is incorrect to lump the skeptical bloggers with Limbaugh etc., and their rhetoric detracts from the case that the scientific skeptics (including the bloggers are trying to make).

Q: You’ve also taken a lot of flak this week for saying nice things about a few think tanks that seem to approach the climate change issue from an ideological bent. Yesterday, science journalist James Hrynyshyn wrote:

If Curry is implying that CATO and CEI are sincere, intellectually honest skeptics who understand and respect the scientific process instead of disingenuous propaganda machines, then I beg to differ. And I question whether she has bothered to examine their positions all that well.

Do you maintain that these institutions are acting in good faith when discussing climate science? Isn’t there a big difference between a Steve McIntyre and CEI, and if you agree, what would that difference be?

JC: The difference between Steve McIntyre and CEI is that McIntyre is interested in auditing the science, whereas CEI is interested in policy. I have examined CEI positions in some detail and I am aware of their history with regards to the climate issue.  Just because I am listening to what they have to say does not imply any agreement on my part.

CEI is concerned about bad policies that will damage economic development. They are particularly skeptical of the catastrophic impacts of climate change, and believe that economic development will make everyone more resilient to adverse impacts.  I have exchanged 30 long emails with Fred Smith, President of CEI.  I have hammered him over the behavior of Myron Ebell.  I have told him that his harassment of Gavin Schmidt re his blogging is inappropriate.  I have listened to what he has to say.  He has listened to what I have to say.  I even visited CEI the last time I was in D.C. We have settled into a civil dialogue.  He is prepared to listen to me if I think they are committing a “foul” in any of their actions. Fred Smith has proven his good faith to me by his willingness to participate in a civil dialogue on this subject.

Q: When I posted the initial Q & A last Friday, I had no idea that you were going to be so engaged with readers. Since then, Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth has called the ongoing exchange “remarkable.” (There are two threads, both still active, which have combined for over 700 comments.) Much of this owes to your frank and frequent responses to readers. This is a rather unconventional means of communication for a scientist. Why did you participate in this way? And did you learn anything from it?

JC: I’ve honed my blogging skills over at climateaudit, off and on since 2006, in a very challenging and often hostile environment (hostile particularly in the earlier days). I’ve learned a lot from this experience, not only in terms of sharpening my communication and rhetorical skills, but also in terms of what people care regarding trying to understand climate science and what their concerns are.  There has been a growing distrust of climate science (which became acute following November 19).  I am trying to help restore public credibility in climate science and of climate scientists, by answering questions about the scientific process, scientific institutions, and engaging with the public. I wrote about my ideas on this in my “building trust“ essay.

I’ve learned a lot from my latest two blogospheric experiments (this one plus the “building trust” experiment where I issued a blogospheric press release). First and foremost, I’ve received a lot of “evidence” to support my tribalism hypothesis.  I was hoping to breach some of these barriers with my previous strategy of submitting the blogospheric press release to a broad range of blogs; this didn’t work too well.  I am delighted (and surprised really) that at collide-a-scape we had an actual “cross tribe” dialogue. We attracted  some “big guns” in the climate blogosphere (e.g. Connolley, Eschenbach, Mosher). And I became acquainted with some interesting new voices that I hadn’t previously encountered. This blogosheric engagement across the climate spectrum is unique in some ways. As to the effectiveness of the actual exchange in developing and refining arguments, well there were too many topics on the table to have a truly productive discussion given that there were so many diverse viewpoints present.

I would like to thank everyone who participated in this exchange of ideas.

Q: There were many times this past week when you were responding almost in rapid-fire fashion, while fielding multiple queries. Is there anything you said that you wish you could take back?

JC: My personal rules for blogging are: respond to the argument not the person, don’t take criticisms personally, use the questions as a springboard to make a point that I want to make, don’t get distracted from my main points, don’t rise to “bait” and be careful of getting my “buttons” pushed, don’t talk on subjects where I am inadequately informed, if I make a mistake quickly acknowledge it, keep my responses measured and calm and proportional and polite.

In the rapid responses, I was attempting to be responsive to the unexpected deluge of comments. I was grabbing short blocks of time in the midst of my “day job” responsibilities this week, which included annual faculty evaluations, hiring of two new faculty large number of letters of recommendation for graduating student job seekers.

In the midst of the rapid replies, I didn’t take time to go through my blogging rules checklist on each reply. The one response that I wish I could push the “do over” button on is the response related to Edward Wegman. Wegman’s name came up in the context of alleged process violations of the IPCC.  I should have left it at that. But I rose to the bait provided, regarding plagiarism accusations of Wegman.  This pushed one of my “buttons”, which is the relentless attacks on persons that are in any way favorable to the skeptics, rather than on the arguments they are making.  So I rose to Wegman’s defense, without being anywhere near adequately informed to get involved in a discussion on this.  It proved to be a big red herring in the discussion, I admitted my inadequate knowledge on this, and people eventually moved on.

Looking back, given the number of replies I made on such a diverse range of issues over a short time period, I guess I feel ok that I have only one “do over” wish.  There were a lot of potential landmines that I think I mostly navigated through.

Q: So where do you go from here? Will you continue raising the issue of climate science integrity? It seems many of your peers are reluctant to have this discussion, for whatever reason. [RealClimate, for example, has not mentioned Curry’s name in any post since she published her first critical essay on climate science on November 22, 2009.]

JC: I will continue my attempts to open up the dialogue and challenge people to think about some of these issues that I think are important for the future of climate research and the assessment processes.  I continue to worry that we are not learning the lessons we need to from Climategate.

However,  I vow to stay away from the blogosphere for at least a week. There were many unfinished interesting discussions that were started here. I hope we can pursue some of these collectively in the coming weeks.

I don’t blame my peers at all for staying out of the public discussion on this issue (particularly in the blogosphere, it is pretty rough sport), but I hope they are at least thinking about some of these issues. Even if individual scientists don’t want to deal with these issues, the institutions that support science in U.S. are grappling with them.

***ENDNOTE***

Sometime over the weekend, I will put up a short post on the blogosphere’s varied reaction to the extended dialogue Curry engaged in at this site. More than a dozen blogs took note; many of these posts also triggered their own lively comment threads, which I enjoyed reading and which informed my questions in this last Q & A.

Once again, special thanks to Judith Curry for her full participation here this past week.

UPDATE: As of 5/2, here are the blogs that joined the fray:

Climate Audit (Steve McIntyre); Bishop Hill (Andrew Montford); Stoat (William Connolley, who also wrote a second and third and fourth post); Dot Earth (Andrew Revkin); The Blackboard (Lucia Liljegrin); The Island of Doubt (James Hrynshyn, who also wrote a second and third post; Roger Pielke, Jr.; A Few Things Illconsidered (Coby Beck); Ourchangingclimate (Bart Verheggen); Climate Progress (Joe Romm, who also wrote a second post); James Annan; Only In It For The Gold (Michael Tobis)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate science, Judith Curry
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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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