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.
Six months ago, I would have said no.
Now, I’m thinking there’s a good chance it may. I lay out the rationale over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. Also appearing today at the Yale Forum is Sara Peach’s meaty piece on the GOP’s dramatically changed stance on global warming. A related story by Julie Halpert surveys the media’s fact-checking of Republican Presidential candidates.
All in all, a nice package on this election day (in the U.S.) for you political/climate junkies.
Michael Levi, a climate and energy analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, shoots down Joe Romm and Real Climate in one post. I sense that it pains him to do this, especially with regard to the latter. More on that in a minute.
First, I want to point out that Levi’s argument about the Canadian oil sands oil issue and the proposed pipeline make perfect sense. But there’s a reason why a main theme of the original Star Trek series was the tension between Dr. Spock’s clinical logic and Captain Kirk’s emotionally charged nature. These two essential human characteristics were brilliantly juxtaposed in every episode.
So I find it ironic that Levi titles his post, “Missing the Big Picture on Keystone XL,” because both he and the pipeline protesters are talking about two different big pictures. Yes, Levi is right that blocking the pipeline doesn’t change the demand equation of this problem. But Bill McKibben is a smart person. He recognizes that political action on global warming is severely constrained by the U.S. political landscape and the global dynamics of energy demand (Levi’s Big Picture).
McKibben also knows that the complexity of climate change offers few tangible symbols. So the Keystone pipeline has become an effective rallying point, with serendipitous tail winds coming from the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Keystone is now representative of McKibben’s Big Picture–which is about spotlighting the urgency of climate change and the need for action.
Levi seems not to grasp this, because he writes (my emphasis):
I’ve clearly failed in my previously stated goal of largely avoiding the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has somehow become one of the biggest energy issues in the United States.
It’s not an energy issue. It’s about climate change. And it has “somehow” become a focal point precisely because climate activists have nothing else to rally around. They are desperate. U.S. climate legislation has failed. Global climate treaty negotiations are Kabuki theater. President Obama is ramping up domestic drilling and Republicans spit when they mention climate change.
Yet Levi wants McKibben and his fellow pipeline protesters to understand that what they are doing does not make logical sense:
What is it about Keystone XL that will cement our oil addiction that nearly ten million barrels a day (and rising) of U.S. domestic production won’t? How will Keystone XL qualitatively alter U.S. dependence on the oil sands when other pipelines are already importing crude from there?
To McKibben and the protesters, though, that is irrelevant. Which perplexes Levi. As Spock has said:
Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.
Indeed. McKibben might respond that using cold logic to tackle climate change at this juncture is useless. Additionally, countries are behaving rationally by putting their self-interest ahead of the planet’s. So, as Spock might also say, an appeal to something other than reason (such as emotion) makes total sense.
Finally, Levi slaps down Real Climate here:
A few people have asked me whether I plan to respond to the anti-Keystone post that went up at RealClimate last Friday. I probably won’t. The post is a mix of correct arithmetic concerning oil sands emissions and some pretty awful economic and political analysis. The bad economics assumes that Canadian production won’t affect what happens elsewhere in the world; the bad political science implies that the Keystone XL decision will determine what happens to the oil sands over the next thousand or so years. None of that has any support in reality, but adopting it makes the careful arithmetic irrelevant. I’ve gone through these arguments before, and don’t see much value in going through them again. I’m a bit worried, though, that by straying from good climate science into bad economics and politics, RealClimate ““ which I normally love ““ will hurt its brand and credibility.
Now that’s what I call tough love.
Climate skeptics are all tingly over Matt Ridley’s recent speech (titled “Scientific Heresy”) to the Royal Scottish Academy. The reaction from Anthony Watts and Bishop Hill reminded me of these famous fanboys.
The speech itself is worth reading and has numerous legitimate points ripe for debate, which I’ll take up in a future post. Meanwhile, I’ll ask if Ridley and climate skeptics ever wonder if they too are afflicted with “confirmation bias”?
So it’s not surprising that lots of people got peeved with the way the BEST story played out in the media. People who feel strongly about climate issues are invariably disappointed with climate media coverage.
Hence the perpetual effort to shape the climate narrative. It was perceived by some that Muller overplayed the BEST results and that a dominant narrative flowed from that. Roger Pielke Sr. and Judith Curry have sought to dent that storyline. My analysis of their efforts can be read over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.
Either way, Watts, ever the dramatist, channels his inner Godfather with this faux exasperation:
I try to get away to work on my paper and the climate world explodes, pulling me back in.
Can the climate world please control itself, so Mr. Watts can get back to his serious work?
As for the Mail article, Curry is reportedly accusing Muller, as Rose puts it, “of trying to mislead the public” with selective release of data from the BEST study. I’ll leave it to Curry to explain which parts of her interview with Rose have been taken out of context or utterly misrepresented (if either is the case). She will likely feel compelled to respond (at her blog) to Rose’s article, which crows:
Her comments, in an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, seem certain to ignite a furious academic row. She said this affair had to be compared to the notorious “˜Climategate’ scandal two years ago.
I’d say a soap opera is what seems more certain.
UPDATE: Curry has responded at Climate Etc: She writes:
I did not say that “the affair had to be compared to the notorious Climategate scandal two years ago,” this is indirectly attributed to me. When asked specifically about the graph that apparently uses a 10 year running mean and ends in 2006, we discussed “hide the decline,” but I honestly can’t recall if Rose or I said it first. I agree that the way the data is presented in the graph “hides the decline.” There is NO comparison of this situation to Climategate.
1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, 5) Acceptance
Anthony Watts appears to be stuck at stage 2. Oh sure, he’s still very much in denial over this, but make no mistake, he’s also fuming and furiously spinning. It is highly doubtful that any amount of peer review–when that final threshold is crossed–will be enough to get him through the final three stages of grief.
This story can BEST be told in a series of headlines, tweets, and quotes.
Andy Revkin kicks it off:
Skeptic Talking Point Melts Away as an Inconvenient Physicist Confirms Warming
Pshaw, says Anthony Watts:
The Berkeley Earth Station Surface Temperature project puts PR before peer review
What a surprise: Anthony Watts is crying foul over Muller’s BEST results
Watts on the real inconvenience:
Today is a day I got not one thing done for myself due to the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature release sucking all the oxygen out of the climate debate with their pre-peer review release shenanigans.
Oh, and never mind about this:
I’m prepared to accept whatever result they [BEST] produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.
So why is this news even a story, wonders Michael Oppenheimer:
The whole episode is a bit like the continual re-measurement of the gravitational constant (assuming the BEST study stands up).
It’s all part of the man/bear/pig climate science hoax, bleats Marc Morano:
Of my, what a con this whole project was.
The reactions of Watts, Morano et al are instructive, says Stephen Sherwood:
Sociopolitically it shines a spotlight on the distinction between true skepticism and denialism. The way contrarians treat Muller now, compared to a year ago, is very revealing.
To be continued…