Climate scientist Judith Curry has regularly spoken up about the rumblings in climate science, especially in light of the CRU emails and the alleged IPCC errors. And when she speaks, people listen. She’s a respected academic, and subscribes to the consensus view that climate is changing in (large) part due to human activity (so supporters of the consensus take her seriously). But she’s also increasingly critical of mainstream science, especially the way in which the consensus has been achieved and the way certain individuals have acted (so those disagreeing with the consensus listen as well; even more so, they love her as someone from within the establishment who’s openly critical).
Journalist-blogger Keith Kloor has a good Q&A with Judith Curry which is well worth reading. As I also wrote over there, I appreciate Prof Curry’s constructive criticisms and calls for introspection. However, I find it disconcerting that she doesn’t call out the many baseless and exaggerated attacks on climate science for what they are.
In the comments, Judith Curry writes:
“To see such a respected academic accused in this way (with the accusations so obviously baseless) is absolutely reprehensible.”
With “respected academic” she means Wegman (one of the main hockey players of the ‘skeptics’). I have no opinion about him, but I do note that many respected academics, pretty much a whole profession even, have been accused in often baseless, and if not entirely baseless, surely exaggerated ways. I’d say, reprehensible is the right word to describe it.
Actually, Curry has been the target of ‘skeptics’ herself. In a newer post, she recites from what she calls ‘the hurricane wars’ that were the result of a paper of hers that was (coincidentally) released a few weeks after Kathrina hit New Orleans:
“While global warming was mentioned only obliquely in the paper, the press focused on the global warming angle and a media furor followed. We were targeted as global warming alarmists, capitalizing on this tragedy to increase research funding and for personal publicity, a threat to capitalism and the American way of life, etc.”
These are similar charges as are now levelled against the whole field, together with baseless charges of misconduct, fraud and data manipulation (*). What puzzles me is the apparent disconnect between her own experiences (of being viciously attacked on her science, clearly for extra-scientific reasons such as an appeal to the ‘American way of life’ etc.) and how she judges (or doesn’t judge at all) the current wave of attacks on climate science.
Perhaps the explanation is in the following:
“I learned several important lessons from this experience: Just because the other guy commits the first “foul” doesn’t give you the moral high ground in protracted academic guerilla warfare. Nothing in this crazy environment is worth sacrificing your personal or professional integrity. After all, no one remembers who fired the first shot, all they see is unprofessional behavior.”
That is very true. But it doesn’t quite explain why not to call out reprehensible behavior for what it is. Something she isn’t shy of doing, clearly (e.g. regarding Wegman in the comments following the Q&A, and in a more subtle manner regarding the CRU emails).
Apparently she doesn’t find the way climate science is being attacked in the blogosphere and the mainstream media problematic, or if she does, she choses to focus on ‘cleaning up our own house’, while not letting the fringe talk get to her (she’s ‘been there, done that’). A commendable position actually. But I do sense a lack of critically assessing the criticism. ‘Corruption of the IPCC process’ is way too string of a statement in my mind. It’s not a very constructive start at ‘cleaning up our own house’ either, as it feels more like yet another attack on our house. The consequence, of course, is that the shutters will be closed, again.
Because that’s something where I do agree with Curry: There is a tendency of ‘circling the wagons’ within the scientific community, in response to the continuous attacks on the science. Attacks that are mostly based on smear and insinuation rather than solid arguments. It in no way resembles a scientific argument, and shouldn’t be treated as such. So while I have no straight answer to the obvious question of ‘what else than cicling the wagons could we possibly do?’, Curry’s own part- answer is a good start: Do not engage in the guerilla warfare that you feel being drawn into. But that again states what not to do. What do you do instead? is the difficult part. Engaging with skeptics is only useful insofar as they are interested in constructive knowledge building. No doubt some are. But no doubt many aren’t. E.g. a commenter at climateaudit writes:
“It only takes one honest (wo)man to bring the whole rotten edifice crashing down.”
I’d wager that people referring to climate science as a ‘rotten edifice’ are not interested in constructive dialogue or in serious scientific inquiry.
Curry is much more positive about McIntyre than most climate scientists. While indeed he’s done quite a lof of analysis of climate related data himself, he also often engage in ‘dog whistle’ politics; making subtle insinuations of data manipulation, bias and misconduct. Sometimes it’s less subtle (e.g. a headline under an image of Mike Mann saying “try not to puke”). That behavior doesn’t invalidate the occasional good point he may or may not have (I’m not opining on that), but it does cause a near-continuous stream of messages that lowershe credibility of climate science. McIntyre’s influence on the latter (lowering science’s credibility) is much larger than his constructive influence on knowledge building. Even if McIntyre may have a point on details, most of his audience and the mainstream press gets away with a totally exaggerated and erroneous impression that the science is abysmal.
It is slightly ironic that back in 2002, Phil Jones provided McIntyre with data no problem. It’s only after he found out what McIntyre is all about that he stopped being helpful. Which leads McIntyre to ask the rhetorical question: “What has changed since 2002?” At WUWT, Steve Mosher takes issue with this change in Jones’ attitude as well. Looks like the scientific community is not the only place that could do with some more introspection.
Curry finds preaching to the converted not very interesting. But preaching to people who won’t listen (except when you criticize what they dislike) is even less useful. The challenge is to distinguish those who have genuine concerns from those who are merely slinging mud and will never accept anything, no matter the strenght of the evidence. And I think a similar tendency (a defensive attitude or ‘circling the wagons’) is happening at the ‘skeptical’ side of the fence: Also those with genuine concerns regarding the science or data analysis sling around accusations of misconduct, corruption, manipulation, etc. That’s a sure way of not getting heard by the scientific community. Which adds to the defensive attitude, and the circle is round.
I think both ‘skeptics’ and scientists feel they deserve more respect than they’re getting, and as a result adopt a defensive us-versus-them attitude. If anything, I applaud Judith Curry for highlighting this in the scientific consensus ‘camp’ and calling for more introspection and a critical look at ourselves. Perhaps someone could also step up to the plate at the ‘skeptical’ camp?
(*) CRU’s data handling has not inflated the warming trend, see e.g. here and here. The HadCRU temperature reconstruction agrees with those of other institutes, with those currently undertaken by bloggers (some ’skeptical’; some ‘consensus’), and also with satellite reconstructions.
Partly based on my comment at Kloor’s.
See also William Connolley’s rather critical comments. His main point is that Curry’s allegations (towards individual scientists and the IPCC) are vague and unsubstantiated.