Many people lament the sulfurous climate change discourse, myself included. At this point, the well is so poisoned that I find myself increasingly avoiding the topic. Most of those who read this post already have a strong opinion on climate science. Anything I write is automatically viewed through a skewed lens.
True, none of us are blank slates; we all have predispositions and biases. And yes, other highly charged topics, such as GMOs, are also filtered through a political or ideological lens. But climate change has become a sport where the most passionate followers belong to one of two opposing teams that really, really hate each other. If you want to participate without joining either team you will always find yourself being harangued or yelled at by affiliated members of one team, because anything you say on climate change will be viewed as ammunition for the other team. Even something as innocuous as the name of a blog gets caught in the maw. There is no neutral ground. You are either an ally or an enemy.
The dynamics that contribute to this sorry state of affairs were on exhibit with a recent NPR piece on Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry–and the response to it by outspoken climate science gatekeepers.
Here’s how the NPR piece opens:
While the Obama administration presses forward with plans to deal with climate change, Congress remains steadfast against taking action. It’s not easy to find a scientist who will agree with that point of view. But Republicans have found an ally in a climate scientist by the name of Judith Curry.
Notice the framing, how Curry is associated with Republicans who have in recent years made dismissal of climate change a litmus test for GOP membership. Since Republicans have painted themselves as Team Climate Denial and Curry is viewed as their ally, what does that make her?
Now, those familiar with Curry know that she doesn’t belong on Team Climate Denial. She just doesn’t want be on Team Climate Doom. She doesn’t want to be on any team, it seems. In fact, she’s made a name for herself by criticizing tribal behavior in the climate science community. See, for example, this 2010 profile of her in Scientific American, which of course some climate science gatekeepers took issue with at the time.
Since then, Curry has regularly probed and highlighted aspects of climate science that remain uncertain, such as the role natural variation plays in climate change. Curry sees this as part of the larger scientific discussion, but plenty others, including many of her peers, see it as aiding Team Denial (and their evil offshoot, Team Inaction). This has put Curry outside the mainstream of the climate science community. Indeed, as the NPR piece notes,
she focuses on uncertainties and unknown unknowns far more than on the consensus of climate scientists, who say we know enough to be deeply worried.
Though NPR didn’t bother to quote any critics of Curry (there are plenty of them), it did make clear several times that her views were at odds with the stated position of numerous professional societies (such as the American Geophysical Union) and many climate scientists. (At her blog, Curry has an interesting backstory on the NPR piece.) Still, that NPR profiled her at all seemed to rankle outspoken guardians of climate science. Penn State’s Michael Mann tweeted that the piece was a “pathetic puffpiece” and “glorifies” Curry “for purveying climate change distraction & confusion.”
I didn’t see it that way, but others seem to have. After fellow climate science defender Dana Nuccitelli responded to some of Curry’s statements to NPR at his Guardian blog, he tweeted:
— Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) August 23, 2013
Perhaps, but I also see some folks puffing themselves up as they fan the partisan flames of the climate debate.