At the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I ask:
Are climate skeptics less important and less influential than they “” and their counterparts in the climate-concerned community “” would have us believe?
A reader wonders if there are two different breeds of climate skeptic–the political/ideological variant in the U.S.–where the climate debate resembles a caged match, and the more rational-minded species in Europe:
From what I gather, there really are people in the U.S who don’t believe in the greenhouse concept or the radiative properties of Co2, or that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide would have some effect on the temperature of the atmosphere. Maybe now the over-use of the term “˜denier’ makes more sense”¦
I know this doesn’t apply to everybody, but I think sceptics in Europe are sceptical about the predictions of catastrophic rises, consequences, or the cost-effectiveness of mitigation. I.e. they are extremely sensible people
In other words, are American climate skeptics bat-shit crazy, and their European cousins the sane ones?
And extreme discomfort with the issue, judging by this story:
In an effort to survey Republicans on climate change, National Journal reporters reached out to every GOP senator and representative. Over the course of several weeks, reporters either attempted to interview lawmakers in person, or called or e-mailed their offices.
Most of them “rebuffed repeated inquiries,” according to the piece:
Some flatly refused to answer questions when approached in person, and their offices declined to respond to repeated phone calls and e-mail requests. “It’s not a conversation senators feel comfortable having,” a Republican staffer said.
Several aides initially said that their bosses would be happy to take part in interviews or answer written questions””only to follow up later with clipped refusals.
Meanwhile, there’s this nugget, which suggests the Tea Party stranglehold is loosening, just a little:
Despite the rhetoric on the campaign trail, a quiet but significant number of prominent Republican politicians and strategists accept the science of climate change and fear that rejecting it could not only tar the party as “antiscience” but also drive away the independent voters who are key to winning general elections. “There’s a pretty good-sized chunk of the Republican caucus that believes that global warming is happening, and it’s caused at least in part by mankind,” said Mike McKenna, a strategist with close ties to the GOP’s leadership. “You can tell these guys are uncomfortable when you start to talk about science.”
Would that be science in general, or just climate science?
Here are the questions NJ asked the Republican members of Congress: Do you think climate change is causing the Earth to become warmer? How much, if any, of global climate change do you think is attributable to human activity? What is the government’s most appropriate response to the issue of climate change?
In the end, 65 GOP lawmakers””40 House members and 25 senators across the ideological spectrum agreed to respond.
So what do numbers like that tell you?
As someone who’s long been interested in paleoenvironmental research–especially with respect to archaeology–I have a soft spot for tree ring researchers. The development of tree ring chronologies plays a major role (under-appreciated by the public) in the understanding of many ancient cultures and the prehistoric land use and climatic changes of their time
So it’s been a little frustrating that the extent of my recent twitter exchanges with one paleo researcher has focused on climategate 2, when I would prefer to be learning about what environmental reconstructions he’s currently at work on, and what new knowledge it is yielding. But Columbia University’s Kevin Anchukaitis has been exceptionally gracious and thoughtful in our bite-sized discussions, of which there has been much disagreement between us. Today, he’s given me something to think about it again, with this tweet:
Being in ‘The Middle’ has this almost mythic quality to some. In science, it’s often just halfway between a right and a wrong answer.
I think Kevin makes a fair point, that the proverbial middle ground might also be a no-mans land, where truth can never be found. But I also think it depends on where you define the middle. Climate change, as it is discussed and interpreted in the public sphere, does not reflect the full spectrum of perspectives. Rather, most debate is characterized by hyperbole and spin from opposite ends of the spectrum. In this world, which journalists must navigate, being in the middle is not such a bad place to be.
Some of the commentary about how the media covered last week’s big climate sensitivity study in Science prompted me to explore underlying issues that have already been identified by people much smarter than me. Have a read over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.
Andy Revkin must feel like
a wind dummy everyone’s punching bag. Last week, he had the temerity to say that “climategate” 2, like the 2009 episode, couldn’t be easily dismissed. So of course he got slapped around by all sorts of people in the climate concerned community, including some prominent scientists:
You are claiming that the emails ‘raise questions’ and that they are ‘disturbing’. This is not journalism, Andy, it’s tabloid journalism. It’s equivalent to the kind of thing the mainstream media did in the 1950s around communism, the kind of thing many outlets are doing now around muslims (remember how quickly everyone jumped on the assumption that it was some muslim or other, not Tim McVeigh, in Oklahoma?).
I’m disappointed and sad, and once again you should be ashamed.
This week he’s taking hits from frothy climate skeptics and conservative bloggers, who have charged him with being biased (against them), based on their reading of the new batch of emails, some of which contain communications between Revkin and climate scientists. One blogger at Commentary, now retrospectively assessing Revkin’s coverage of climategate 1 (when he was on NYT staff as a reporter) somehow concludes that he “ended up doing all he could to snuff it [the controversy] out.” Really? This must have been a funny way to go about it.
Well, Revkin has ended up doing an interesting Q & A with that Commentary blogger, which is posted here at Dot Earth.
At this point, given the charged emotions and politicization associated with climate change, any mainstream media reporter or blogger writing about this latest “climategate” flare-up should expect to be put through the paces. Or, in Revkin’s case, a buzzsaw. And given his special talent for displeasing the polar ends of the climate spectrum, perhaps this song is appropriate.
If you’re following press coverage of the second wave of purloined email communications between climate scientists, you might have noticed that many in the media have turned their attention to the whodunit angle. This is very much a worthy story to pursue (which I’ll have more to say on in a few days), since the identity of the hacker/leaker remains unknown.
But before we move on, there is one notable observation shared by all sides, which deserves greater attention. And that is the healthy display of outright skepticism in many of the highlighted exchanges. As the BBC’s Richard Black noted,
what’s interesting is that some of the most frank and forthright wording comes from scientists telling their peers off – often, trying to calm them down and get them to be more grounded in accurate science, whatever the political implications.
This point was echoed by Guardian reporter Juliett Jowitt in a comment at Collide-a-Scape:
They do disagree, and sometimes rather bitchily (these were “˜private’), but if anything it is reassuring that even this supposedly close cabal of self-reinforcing climate change mongers (the views of others) were so critical of each other, and so frequently at pains to make sure that uncertainty was not just taken account of but clearly shown, to make sure they would not undermine their field by appearing to hide observations which did not appear to fit the story.
Similarly, Fred Moolten makes this assessment over at Climate Etc:
The new revelations remind us of the academic squabbling, pettiness, and biases that pervade many areas of science, and the existence of a siege mentality among some of the top echelons that works to paper over differences and uncertainties. Like Judith Curry, I also believe the revelations will have little impact on MSM reporting, and so I expect little influence on public opinion or climate policy.
At the same time, I’m troubled by what I see as a misconception underlying much blogosphere commentary here and elsewhere (particularly elsewhere) ““ a tendency to confuse the IPCC with climate science, and to impute sins of the former to the latter. As Jim D reminds us, there are gradations in the uncertainty within the science itself, ranging from a near certainty (never absolute but very substantial) about the basic strength of greenhouse gas warming potency within a range of estimates derived from multiple sources (not all dependent on GCMs), to a much less sure sense of how this will play out in terms of secondary consequences ““ for example, how hurricanes or regional flooding will behave. These conclusions can be derived from the thousands of reports in the literature and do not require a dependence on IPCC synthesis of the data. Equally important, though, uncertainty, even if belittled in some public comments by IPCC defenders, is clearly apparent in the literature itself, and so I don’t see the implication that it has been neglected as supportable.
What I state is a personal judgment. While others may disagree, I don’t think the disagreement would be well-informed unless expressed by individuals who are themselves familiar with the climate science literature first hand by reading it rather than second hand from what others are claiming.
Finally, although the use of the email revelations as a political weapon is unfortunate, I do hope the revelations will have a chastening effect on individuals such as Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and some of their colleagues, whose inflated sense of importance and entitlement led to the transgressions that have surfaced.
Along these lines, Jim D expands in that same Climate Etc thread:
Fred hits a point that I wanted to add to. The intersection of politics and science via the IPCC has led to some trying to put more certainty into public statements than they could in a scientific journal (on both sides), and some feel that without more certainty politicians won’t listen. This is an added distorting force that doesn’t exist in purely scientific debates (e.g. in fields of science with no political intersection), but this is the context that drives some scientists who are more involved with IPCC to push for certainty more than they otherwise would have.
Which brings us to Alexander Harvey’s observation on the frank back-and-forth between climate scientists:
You will find the unspoken middle ground on display, This is the ground that the science community left largely publically undefended and where many of the sceptics are camped out. I think it quite shocking that this territory was largely left publically unoccupied by the science community. It is where the debate seems to take place internally, yet externally, in the public domain, the existence of that debate is denied or downplayed.
Has this “middle ground” been adequately represented in the media? If not, why?
The reaction thus far to the latest release of climate science emails (“son of climategate”) has played out along two tracks. Each has separate storylines.
In the feverish precincts of the climate blogosphere, especially those in permanent battle mode, the response has been predictable. Anthony Watts is in full swoon and Marc Morano has turned on all his sirens and flashing lights. Meanwhile, grim faced hall monitors at message control sites have been waving their rulers at all journalists in the vicinity. Their message: Move along, nothing to see here (just like last time!).
Reporters, of course, paid no heed. But the stories have generally sounded the same theme, which is encapsulated in Richard Black’s BBC headline:
Climate Emails: Storm or Yawn?
As Black noted, “what’s interesting” about the emails
is that some of the most frank and forthright wording comes from scientists telling their peers off – often, trying to calm them down and get them to be more grounded in accurate science, whatever the political implications.
Yes, Black says, there is additional evidence of scientists not complying with Freedom of Information requests, but all in all, he writes, no plot to deceive the world about climate change.
Well, maybe just a teensy little, according to this AP article:
Excerpts quoted on climate skeptic websites appeared to show climate scientists talking in conspiratorial tones about ways to promote their agenda and freeze out those they disagree with.
But the main point I noticed being emphasized in most of the mainstream stories I read is that nothing in the emails released this week or two years ago undermines the science showing greenhouse gases as a main contributor to climate change. Darren Samuelsohn at Politico underscores this in his piece, as does Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post, and Andy Revkin at the NYT’s Dot Earth, who writes that,
as was soon clear following the last release, on Nov. 21, 2009, this has little bearing on the overall thrust of decades of research revealing a rising human influence on the global climate system, and the logic in wise policies to limit both the pace of change and its impacts.
But here’s something to consider about all this business: I don’t think the perpetrator (whoever has stolen and distributed these emails) believes he has provided evidence that calls into question an accumulated body of science that shows the earth is warming. What he’s done is somewhat akin to pulling back the curtain on the legislative sausage-making in Washington D.C. To the uninitiated, it’s ugly stuff. But power plays, insults, shouting matches, back-scratching, etc, are a way of life, whether it happens on The Office, Capitol Hill, in newsrooms, or among climate researchers in a university setting.
But because there are major policy implications and intense politics associated with climate science, what should be considered normal human tendencies–such as infighting and attempts to shape an outcome–are instead viewed in a harsh light, at best, or as an indictment of a profession, at worst.
Climate science will survive this latest viewing of its dirty laundry, because it is a highly reputable field with a proven track record. And because climate scientists are doing work that sheds light on issues important to us. That said, the perpetrator of “climategate” (and its sequel) has succeeded in focusing attention on the behavior and actions of a small group of scientists, who, for better or worse, are seen as representative of the climate science community.
In politics, perception counts as much as reality. The same rule now applies to climate science.
The report issued this week by the International Energy Agency (IEA) made a splash in the climate blogosphere and in some big-time media outlets like the Guardian, which ran a story with this headline:
World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns
That got me thinking of James Hansen’s warning in 2006 and how it pretty much lined up with the IEA’s. Add a pinch of Richard Betts and here’s what I ended up writing over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.
Speaking of Hansen, he’s just put up a new paper on his website, titled “Climate Variability and Climate Change: The New Climate Dice.” He writes:
The greatest barrier to public recognition of human-made climate change is the natural variability of climate. How can a person discern long-term climate change, given the notorious variability of local weather and climate from day to day and year to year?
This question assumes great practical importance, because of the need for the public to appreciate the significance of human-made global warming. Actions to stem emissions of the gases that cause global warming, mainly CO2, are unlikely to approach what is needed until the public perceives that human-made climate change is underway and will have disastrous consequences if effective actions are not taken to short-circuit the climate change.
Hansen goes on to argue, “with a high degree of confidence,” that the severe weather in Texas this summer and the 2010 heat waves in Moscow “were a consequence of global warming.” He continues:
People who deny the global warming cause of these extreme events usually offer instead a meteorological “explanation”. For example, it is said that the Moscow heat wave was caused by an atmospheric “blocking” situation, or the Texas heat wave was caused by La Nina ocean temperature patterns. Of course the locations of the extreme anomalies in any given season are determined by the specific weather patterns. However, blocking patterns and La Ninas have always been common, yet the large areas of extreme warming have come into existence only with large global warming. Today’s extreme anomalies occur because of simultaneous contributions of specific weather patterns and global warming. For example, places experiencing an extended period of high atmospheric pressure will tend to develop drought conditions that are amplified by the ubiquitous warming effect of elevated greenhouse gas amounts.
If the oil & gas industry maintains its stranglehold, which the IEA in its report says is all but assured, then climate doom is also assured, Hansen (unsurprisingly) concludes:
Science does show that business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions will cause atmospheric CO2 to continue to increase rapidly. The increasing greenhouse gases will cause the rapid global warming of the past three decades to continue, and this warming will cause the climate dice to become more and more loaded with greater and greater extreme events. The probability that this conclusion is wrong is about as close to zero as one can get.
There are two different scenarios forecast by both Hansen and the IEA, which threaten to collide very shortly. The first is that we are a few years away from irreversible global warming being locked in. The second is that we are a few years away from the fossil fuel economy being irreversibly locked in for the foreseeable future.
And some people wonder why geoengineering is taken seriously.
In recent days, Richard Tol, an economist and “climate polymath,” has been battling Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry. It started when Curry spotlighted some questionable research (two journal papers) on her blog, which contained statistical analysis that Tol initially called “sloppy.” He said the work was “published in minor journals, so that these papers had best been ignored.”
After Curry and some of her readers objected, Tol became more direct:
Judith: Statistics is a branch of mathematics. Right and wrong are strictly defined. These papers are wrong in the mathematical sense of the word. I think you have done a disservice by lending your credibility to these papers.
He also tweeted:
Skepticism is healthy, disinformation is not
I started following the exchanges with interest, tweeting some of the highlights. Curry challenged the “disinformation” charges here, and the back-and-forth between her and Tol (which got more specific) continued in that thread.
For example, Tol argued:
1. You do not post everything here. You make a selection. You therefore cannot claim that you are innocent. You made a conscious choice to publish that guest post.
2. If you know anything about statistics, you would have recognized that these papers are methodologically flawed. Using “detrended” fluctuation analysis to study “trends” was a dead giveaway that something is not quite right with these papers.
3. If you don’t know anything about statistics, you should not have published the guest post. The flip side of your academic freedom is your academic duty to keep your mouth shut about things you don’t know about.
4. This blog is widely read. You plucked two papers out of obscurity and put them in the limelight.
5. You have build up a reputation of someone who is willing to speak and listen to anyone. That is great. Climate research is complicated and uncertain and climate policy is polarized so we need people in the middle who talk to both sides.
6. At the same time, you should not be in the middle for the sake of being in the middle.
7. There is a substantial body of climate research that is credible “” even if it reaches opposite conclusions “” but there are also papers (left, right, and center) that are just flawed.
8. If flawed papers reach a certain prominence, they should be debunked. Prominent but flawed research does damage as it misinforms people about climate change. Publicly criticizing such research hardens the existing polarization.
9. If flawed papers linger in obscurity, they should be ignored. The papers are wrong but do no damage. Lifting a flawed paper out of obscurity only to debunk it, is no good to anybody.
10. So, by giving air time to two papers that you should have known are flawed, you deliberately spread inaccurate information.
Richard, your argument is deeply flawed, but I will not accuse you of spreading “disinformation’ about me amongst the twitterati.
You give yourself away with this statement “Prominent but flawed research does damage as it misinforms people about climate change. Publicly criticizing such research hardens the existing polarization.” Yours isn’t a statement about science, but about playing politics with science, and reinforces the gatekeeping mentality in climate science that was embarassingly revealed by the CRU emails. Of course there are flawed papers that get published. Few papers are published that don’t have any flaws and stand the test of time as an authoritative and unimproved upon statement about scientific truth. I am seeing palpable frustration about not being able to control what gets published and what gets discussed. Attacking me is an interesting (but probably futile) vent for your frustration.
Most people don’t come to climate etc. to reinforce their prejudices (there are far too many echo chambers where this is much more satisfyingly accomplished). The come here to learn something by considering the various arguments.
The most interesting thing about this exchange is that I have seen little actual debunking of the Ludecke papers, mostly complaints about their EIKE affiliation. Go check what you have done these last two days against the list of 25 in the main post. You effectively hijacked the thread with the disinformation accusation, which resulted in little serious analysis of the papers.
As for me, I explore all the time things I know little about, that is why I like being a scientist.
He shot back:
Gatekeeping is a bad thing when it is used to block papers for ideological reasons. Gatekeeping is a good thing when it comes to separating methodologically flawed from methodologically sound papers.
I did not remark on the conclusions of the papers. I did not remark on the motivations of the authors.
I did remark that the papers incorrectly apply inappropriate statistical methods to uninformative data.
It is unfortunate that these papers were published. It is unfortunate that you chose to draw attention to them.
Open-minded curiosity should be tempered by critical judgement, and yours lapsed in this case.
Of course I was “playing politics with science”. Don’t pretend you are not.
…incisive demolition of these two papers. I note the absence of any credible defense of the papers and a high incidence of topic changing.. look at the sunshine.. for example.
A bad paper neatly dispatched as you did is a good teaching tool.
However, some wont learn and they use the bad paper as an occasion to thread jack
There’s just one problem with that logic. What if Tol (or someone else with his chops and reputation) had not taken the time to comment at Curry’s blog, much less followed up with a thorough critique? It’s not reasonable to expect every bad paper spotlighted on a popular climate blog to be debunked. (For instance, hardly anyone of repute bothers doing this at WUWT.) So the larger question is whether Curry, who has standing in the climate science community, should be more discriminating in the research she chooses to highlight at her blog?
Finally, there is amongst all this something Curry stated which strikes me as curious:
Most people don’t come to climate etc. to reinforce their prejudices (there are far too many echo chambers where this is much more satisfyingly accomplished). They come here to learn something by considering the various arguments.
I beg to differ. Judging by the voluminous comments, it appears that most Climate Etc. readers are very much having their prejudices reinforced.