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.
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.
The Judith Curry story fascinates me. She has undergone such a major transformation in recent years that some now find her unrecognizable. As long-time readers know, I played a bit role in how some of this story played out.
But make no mistake, this is Curry’s story, and she’s still writing it over at Climate Etc, her successful, highly trafficked blog that is just over a year old. Today, riffing off this poignant SciAm post, Curry reflects on her changed status within her profession:
I guess being labeled a “heretic” and “turning on my colleagues” and taking to the blogosphere qualifies me for the title of “radical scholar.”
But is this how one qualifies radical? The Real Climate scientists took to the blogosphere years ago and nobody calls them radical. So is it the heresy part, then? Maybe. But that alone wouldn’t do it. Lots of people publicly take on their tribe and don’t get labeled radical. (In that link, I refer to Christopher Hitchens, David Frum and Christopher Buckley as some examples.) But departing from the mainstream and challenging core assumptions of one’s profession would seem to quality as radical. Is this what Curry means?
Also, taking a radical position tends to marginalize you with the majority group. Yet, Curry in her post writes:
I suspect that my personal impact on the field of climate science has been greater over the past year than the preceding 30 years (although my impact during the past year would be diminished without the previous 30 years). And even if traditional scholars in the field want to ignore me, I am happy with “inspiring lay scientists and future academics. That is its own kind of professional impact.”
I’m sure she knows there’s no way to quantify any of this. And even with a highly trafficked blog such as hers, important metrics to consider include who’s linking and tweeting and discussing you–beyond your domain.
Curry’s rumination about her impact on climate science leads me to believe she’s wondering what all her public efforts are amounting to. It’s a good question for discussion. What do you think Curry’s impact has been since she’s become a self-described radical?
Your humble host is attending the World Science Festival today (it’s running all week). I’ll be a bystander to some of the events, hoping that all the brilliant minds gathered together will stimulate my feeble brain. Probably not. But it should be fun.
Here’s an excerpt that I think captures her argument (my emphasis):
The trouble with looking at disasters this way is that tornadoes do not fit neatly into little, politically polarized ticky boxes. Science, in general, seldom works like that. In a May 23rd editorial for the Washington Post, environmentalist Bill McKibben took Americans to task for refusing to make a connection between environmental disasters””including the 2011 tornadoes””and climate change. His basic message: All these disasters must be connected and only willful ignorance allows us to ignore that.
I have a slightly different perspective. What we have here is not a failure to communicate and accept the obvious effects of climate change. Instead, it’s a failure to communicate and accept a critical point of how science works, without which scientific literacy is reduced to mere talking points. This is about nuance and uncertainty, and if the American public doesn’t get those things, then we’ll never get climate change.
This is quite relevant to some of the recent discussions (here and here) at this site last week. Is Maggie right? Is intelligent debate on climate change hopeless until more people gain an understanding of “nuance and uncertainty”?
Some regular readers of Collide-a-Scape are often critical of Judith Curry, but isn’t much of what she’s doing over at Climate Etc geared to making just these elements–nuance and uncertainty–a more integral (and better understood) part of the climate debate?
Dear readers, you have spoken.
Now I’m willing to eat my humble pie, but I’m also prompted to place this stinker of a comment generator in some larger perspective. This also gives me an excuse to shamelessly partake in that fine blogger tradition: the annual “most popular posts of the year” list. (I’m a few weeks late. Many have already tallied their 2010 lists.) For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to define my list by the posts that drew the most comments.
Topping the charts, of course, are the Judith Curry interviews. Nobody in the two year history of collide-a-scape has done more to elevate its profile than Judith. She is the reigning queen draw with this post, (763 comments), the first of our three Q & A’s in the course of a week in April. (These three threads are notable for Judith’s nearly the round the clock parrying with people from all sides of the climate debate.) Judith earns third place too, with this one from August (560 comments). Also, there are at least a half dozen other Curry related posts that triggered 200-plus comments, including this recent one that generated 338 comments. Indeed, in 2010, Curry was, as another science writer noted in his profile of her, “a phenomenon.”
There is also an indisputable king (I think you know who he is) at Collide-a-Scape and he came with the intention of knocking the queen off her pedestal (a different sort). Gavin Schmidt may have fallen short but he earned kudos and grudging respect from his opponents at this post and thread (569 comments), which was also good enough for a second place finish.
All kidding aside, I’m grateful to Judith and Gavin for being so generous with their time at Collide-a-Scape in 2010. (Judith, of course, has since gone on to even bigger and more impressive blog heights at her site)
The top ten 2010 list also includes this post (540 comments) attempting to distinguish between a climate “skeptic” and “denier”; this post (428 comments) on the origins of the climate wars; and this one (409 comments) on a controversial PNAS study.
Honorable mentions go to this post (292 comments) on how two climate bloggers from opposite ends of the spectrum agree that climate journalism sucks, and to this post from earlier in the week (225 comments and counting), on what led AGW believers to become climate skeptics.
That’s a good segue into my three takeaway lessons for generating reader interest:
1) Focus on conflict (especially grudges), personalities, and contentious studies.
2) Insert the names Judith Curry and/or Gavin Schmidt into a post. (Even better: they stop by and insert themselves into a thread.)
3) Do not write about issues that A) discuss (74 comments) improving the climate dialogue and B) do not propose ideas (17 50 comments) that might lead people to stop yelling at each other from insular cocoons.
Did I miss anything?
I have been invited to present testimony for this hearing. I have been specifically asked by the minority (Republicans) to discuss how we can go about responding to the climate change issue in the face of uncertainty, dissent and disagreement.
The hearing is set for November 17 and is called “Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.” Let me be the first to say that in some quarters and public forums, the response to this latest Judith Curry news is not likely to be rational.
Let me also be the first to say that House Republicans are likely mistaken if they think they already know what Judith Curry is going to say.
The symmetry of Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry posting similar themed essays on the same day is too good to pass up. I found both posts fascinating and suggest that people read the pieces back to back. Then read them again.
Let’s start with the tags each chose for their posts, which, to me, signifies the message that Schmidt and Curry are trying to convey, in their respective essays. Tags, just to remind everyone, are a way of categorizing blog posts. Gavin chose “climate science” as his tag, which seems fitting, since his post argues that climate science takes a backseat to the primacy of narrative in journalism. Gavin’s secondary critique is aimed at certain scientists, such as Judith Curry, who have embraced the “heretic” badge, which he thinks is a convenient piece of armor she wears to deflect legitimate criticism thrown her way. More on Gavin’s essay in a minute.
Judith Curry’s tag is “ethics,” which is also fitting, for she is once again indicting the behavior of climate scientists–and in my reading, not just for the antics displayed in the hacked CRU emails or backroom IPCC deliberations, but also, broadly speaking, for “the silence of my colleagues, and more important from the institutions that support science.”
Judith then refers to her own renegade role, which took shape nearly a year ago:
I began trying to provide some constructive suggestions for the community to rebuild trust through greater transparency and greater attention to uncertainties. Not only did I receive virtually no support from my colleagues, but they started to view me as part of the problem.
Schmidt, as he writes in his post, isn’t buying this storyline (my emphasis):
Unfortunately, the narrative of the heretic is self-reinforcing. Once a scientist starts to perceive criticism as an attack on their values/ideas rather than embracing it in order to improve (or abandon) an approach, it is far more likely that they will in fact escalate the personalisation of the debate, leading to still further criticism of their conduct, which will be interpreted as a further attack on their values etc. This generally leads to increasing frustration and marginalisation, combined quite often with increasing media attention, at least temporarily. It very rarely leads to any improvement in public understanding.
Now I’m not going to make a judgment either way, but I did bold the above because I want to point out that the same has been said of Schmidt and some of his colleagues for the way they reacted to criticism directed at them in the months after “climategate.” So regardless of whether Curry is a true heretic or not (I’ve argued she is really an apostate), I think the “self-reinforcing” victimhood (which leads to “personalization of the debate”) cuts both ways.
Curry and Schmidt also make some broad generalizations in their essays that deserve attention. Gavin, for example, writes:
The fact remains that science is hugely open to new thinking and new approaches.
Practically speaking, this is true, as researchers publish papers all the time that challenge existing theories and tenets. But paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight, and sometimes that’s because scientists tend to construct their own narratives that are hard to let go of. For example, it’s only been in the last decade that a dominant anthropological narrative of the prehistoric Southwest has been overturned. So the fact remains that scientists have their own biases, which sometimes inhibits them from being “hugely open to new thinking and new approaches.”
Curry, for her part, uses some pretty loaded language to fire away at the IPCC and unnamed scientists:
When I refer to the IPCC dogma, it is the religious importance that the IPCC holds for this cadre of scientists; they will tolerate no dissent, and seek to trample and discredit anyone who challenges the IPCC.
Many of your readers will no doubt ignore this because of my association with RC, but my personal experience as a relatively young person in this game just doesn’t jive with what you are saying. I was highly critical of IPCC AR4 Chapter 6, so much so that the Heartland Institute repeatedly quotes me as evidence that the IPCC is flawed. Indeed, I have been unable to find any other review as critical as mine. I know “” because they told me “” that my reviews annoyed many of my colleagues, including some of my RC colleagues, but I have felt no pressure or backlash whatsover from it. Indeed, one of the Chapter 6 lead authors said “Eric, your criticism was really harsh, but helpful “” thank you!”
So who are these brilliant young scientists whose careers have been destroyed by the supposed tyranny of the IPCC? Examples?
These are harsh words/accusations that need strong evidence to back them up, which is severely lacking IMO. This kind of baseless accusatory framing is also the main reason that you get a lot of flack. It increases, rather than decreases the polarization, and it starts to overshadow those issues where you do make valid points.
Both Gavin’s and Judith’s essays, in the end, are making an argument for why climate science is not treated with more respect. To Gavin, it’s because journalists “favor compelling narratives over substance.” To Judith, it’s because “the integrity of climate science” has been called into question. One blames the messenger, the other blames pretty much the whole climate science community.
Each of them, it would seem, have no cause to examine whether their own actions or words deserve any blame.
David Roberts must not have received the memo that he was supposed to ignore Judith Curry.
Climate scientists have no particular expertise on politics, economics or social ethics. A scientist’s personal sense of values and morality has no more legitimacy in this debate than any other individual’s personal sense. There’s an additional reason for climate scientists to stay out of the public debate on this topic: they are biased because of their personal research interests and results, with professional egos and other factors likely weighing into their policy preferences.
That is the thrust of Curry’s case for climate science remaining separate from politics, of which Roberts counters:
First, as a general matter, I agree with Curry’s sentiment. There’s no reason to think a physical scientist’s moral, ethical, or economic opinions should carry particular weight in policy deliberations. On those matters, they are but citizens among other citizens. Curry’s blunt candor on the matter is refreshing, an improvement on James Hansen telling us that science dictates one carbon-pricing policy over another.
However, I don’t think scientists can be “removed from the political debate” that easily, certainly not by any decree of mine! It’s very difficult in practice to separate out Things Scientists Do (“future scenarios, characterizing uncertainties, and analyzing policy options”) from Things Scientists Don’t Do (“politics, economics or social ethics”), even in the best of circumstances. However, even if scientists entirely confine their involvement to dispassionate, unbiased fact and analysis, climate science will still be politicized.
To understand why requires a clear view of the current political dynamic in the U.S., which is what’s often lacking in pieces like Curry’s.
Roberts goes on to discuss why Curry (and others, such as Roger Pielke Jr.) seem averse to mixing politics and science–he chalks it up to a “characterological centrist” (CE) temperament. But that temperament, he argues, is at odds with the current hyperpartisan political landscape, which of course frames the public debate on climate change.
Here’s how Roberts sees the big picture:
I’m not talking about climate sensitivities or hurricane frequency or sea-level projections or other areas of active scientific disputation. I’m talking about whether human beings are driving changes in the climate. That question is simply not in serious dispute in the relevant scientific disciplines. It has been confirmed by multiple lines of evidence, empirical and model-based, over many years. Curry and virtually every other credible climate scientist would no doubt agree. Yet Republicans have now made rejection of that root scientific consensus a litmus test, in keeping with their decades-long assault on America’s institutions. Virtually every Republican candidate for Congress has denied the most rudimentary facts about climate change.
Yes, Democrats mangle climate science sometimes too. Activists can exaggerate the degree of certainty behind model projections. Scientists can be unduly dismissive of critics. Nobody is blameless. But there is simply nothing on the left (or in the center, or in professional science) remotely equivalent to the anti-intellectualism that reaches to the very top of the Republican Party.
Conservatives are politicizing climate science. Curry is uncomfortable saying that; it sounds like “getting involved in politics.” Most CCs [characterological centrists] are averse to saying it for fear of appearing partisan (rather than, uh, “post-partisan”). But the fact remains: Even if climate scientists confine their comments purely to what’s known with a high degree of probability, with all the uncertainties baked right in, staying scrupulously clear of policy or ethical judgments, they will still find themselves aligned against the conservative movement and they will be attacked. Republicans slander peer review, science funding, scientific institutions, and scientists themselves. “Both sides” don’t do that. Just the right side.
(Of course I’m aware that there are conservatives and even some climate scientists with good-faith doubts about certain aspects of the science. But we’re talking about politics — not conservative intellectuals, the conservative movement.)
This echoes, in part, a criticism of Curry that was made often when I was doing my Q & A’s with her last year: that she’s not acknowledging, much less calling out, the outright dishonesty of the propagandist arm of the organized climate skeptic movement, which many climate advocates, like Roberts, contend is the predominant force in the climate debate. And, as Roberts reminds us, the climate change is bogus meme became an article of faith for many Republican candidates this year.
Taken together, all this makes it hard to avoid at least addressing the politicization of climate science, which is what I think is the point of Roberts’ post. (The subhead is “It takes two to depoliticize.”) As to why Curry might want to avoid this messiness, Roberts seems willing to give her the benefit of doubt, but her participation in the debate automatically gets politicized, with or without her consent:
Curry may be able to remain scrupulously apolitical, if that’s her inclination. But climate science in general cannot escape politics. Not because scientists — or the advocates and politicians who take it seriously — did anything to bring it on themselves. It’s just that an alliance of energy incumbents and far-right ideologues has chosen to lie relentlessly about it. In the milieu of current climate and energy politics, speaking the truth is a political act. The only way to escape politics is to lapse into silence.
In her post, Curry argues otherwise:
Taking the politics out of the science would help clarify both the scientific disagreements and the political disagreements. Neither the scientific or political disagreements are going to go away. But by separating them we stand to make much more progress on each.
Am I being naive and optimistic about how this might work?
Roberts, in his rebuttal, makes a strong case that she is definitely being naive. The larger, related issue he seems less inclined to consider is whether climate science should remain the focal point for political action on climate change.
This is priceless.
Hello again Dr. Curry -
People who know climate science are having trouble making sense of your critiques, and I am having trouble making sense of your classifying my community’s most blatant global warming denier as “not an identified “skeptic” (as far as i can tell)”.
So I have additional Qs to you ““ and yes, I realize they’re obnoxious and I apologize for that, but IMO we need to get at the truth.
Has your handwriting been getting shaky lately, or your balance worsening, or your (verbal, etc) self-restraint just vaporizing? (I ask since these did noticeably happen to me, & not all at the same time; fortunately they didn’t persist.)
Are you being threatened or blackmailed; either on behalf of you, or on behalf of others (e.g. family members) close to you, including the younger generation(s)?
Would you take the enhanced [Jeffrey] Dubner oath? (“I swear that I have never taken money or received services ““
whether directly or indirectly “” from any political campaign or political group or government agency or think tank “” whether federal, state, or local “” or from anyone else “” in exchange for any service performed in my climate communication endeavors.”) (“directly or indirectly” would include carrots/sticks for friends and family members)
I’m sorry to ask you so directly, and you’re certainly free not to answer any of these Qs; but they are the questions I have.
I especially loved the bit about the handwriting.
Coincidentally, I was rummaging through the thread of a free (and publicly aired) climate therapy session yesterday and came across what appears to be the lone contributor to Judith Curry’s SourceWatch page. There she was, Anna Haynes, “journalist by avocation,” in action, getting the goods on Judith Curry.
In case you were wondering, SourceWatch is
a collaborative specialized encyclopedia of the corporate front groups, PR teams, “experts,” industry-friendly groups, and think thanks trying to influence public opinion on behalf of corporations or government agencies.
an independent, non-profit, non-partisan media and consumer watchdog group
You know the opposite of Fox News, which is “fair and balanced.”
UPDATE: I emailed Ann Landman, the managing editor at the Center for Media and Democracy, to let her know about this post. In her response, (which is reproduced below with her permission), she provides useful context that elaborates on the quality control aspect of SourceWatch and the site’s journalistic function:
The Center for Media and Democracy asks that all information contributed to Sourcewatch be backed up by authoritative references, which helps the site maintain credibility. Unfortunately, since SW is a wiki, it is sometimes hard to adequately police this. The site is continuously a work in progress. We do our best to monitor contributions, but sometimes we simply have to address deficiencies as they are brought to our attention. We also do not claim to have a neutral point of view. The points of view expressed on SW could potentially be as numerous as our contributors (thus the requirement for authoritative references), thus we do not claim to be strictly a journalistic enterprise. We are a crowd-sourced enterprise.Journalists do consider SW to be a resource, as the site is occasionally mentioned as a source by media outlets, including the New York Times, for example.
To fully understand the enduring Judith Curry Phenomenon, you have to appreciate the power of a storyline that is not much discussed: Curry as climate apostate.
I realized this last year, after seeing some of the incredulous response to my first Q &A with Curry, which is why I immediately followed up in a second Q & A, asking her to explain why people such as Joe Romm felt like she was no longer the Judith Curry he thought he knew. (A third and final Q & A, trying to make sense of all the criticism of her prompted by the first two interviews, shortly followed.)
The latest blogstorm involving Curry is triggered by this Scientific American article by Michael Lemonick, who explores “two competing” storylines: whether Curry is a well-intentioned peacemaker in the climate wars or a “dupe” of climate skeptics. Understandably, the focus was on climate science issues; after all, the piece appeared in Scientific American. And this emphasis is reinforced by Lemonick’s ending:
It is perhaps unreasonable to expect everyone to stop sniping at one another, but given the high stakes, it is crucial to focus on the science itself and not the noise.
But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, because there is a compelling human angle to this Judith Curry story, one which can only be truly grasped in a New Yorker or New York Times magazine type of piece. After Judith wrote her response to the SciAm article, one reader correctly identifies this third, enduring storyline:
IMO the heat you are feeling from the establishment, and its intensity compared with that directed at other “heretics” such as Dick Lindzen, is mainly due to your being seen as an apostate, rather than merely a heretic. Some in the mainstream camp clearly feel betrayed.
How so? Well, as Judith acknowledges in her latest post, she has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years, from”high priestess of global warming” to “critic of the IPCC” and respectful sparring partner of skeptics. I think that the sense of betrayal felt by some of Judith’s colleagues would not have turned so bitter had she not continued to vocally criticize the climate science community since “Climategate.” The anger might have been fleeting, akin to what British journalist George Monbiat experienced after writing this column and several others that were also critical of climate scientists last November. But Monbiot let the issue go after a few months, and besides, his larger worldview on the severity of the threat of climate change remains fundamentally unchanged.
Judith’s case, in contrast, strikes me as having more in common with the kind of political apostasy ascribed to Christopher Hitchens earlier this decade and more recently to David Frum and Christopher Buckley. (To understand the power of the apostasy storyline, look no further than this 2006 New Yorker profile on Hitchens.) All these guys have come down with a serious case of buyers remorse, to varying degrees. And they haven’t been shy about taking on the side they were formerly aligned with. Hence the blowback. As Buckley quipped after he came out for Obama:
the only thing the Right can’t quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.
Fortunately, I don’t think Judith is engendering quite that level of rage. But the thinly veiled disgust some of her colleagues express towards her is palpable, and I’m not sure she is coming to grips with why. For example, in her current post, in which she tries to understand what is causing all this fuss over what she says in the media or the blogosphere, she seems not to recognize her own apostasy (my emphasis):
So the Judith Curry ca 2010 is the same scientist as she was in 2003, but sadder and wiser as a result of the hurricane wars, a public spokesperson on the global warming issue owing to the media attention from the hurricane wars, more broadly knowledgeable about the global warming issue, much more concerned about the integrity of climate science, listening to skeptics, and a blogger (for better or for worse). . .
Judith, you may be the same scientist, but some of your core assumptions of climate science and the IPCC have changed. That has changed you. Five years ago you were characterized as the “high priestess of global warming.” In the public arena that is inhabited by people who care passionately about climate change, that would put you on the side of the angels. But now that you’ve become the climate science community’s resident in-house critic, you’ve been cast over to the “dark side.”
It is this metamorphosis that is infuriating to your detractors and enthralling to your admirers.