Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry on Science Advocacy


Gavin gave a fantastic talk at this year’s AGU conference about science advocacy (good report on it by Yale CMForum and Dot Earth). The video is available via the AGU youtube channel:

He argued that it’s best to be explicit about one’s values and clearly distinguish when one is talking values (“ought”) and when one is talking science (“is”). I entirely agree. I would add that it’s important to distinguish recommending a generic (e.g. mitigation) vs a specific (e.g. CCS) course of action, especially when the latter is not one’s area of expertise. I wrote about the public role of scientists before, which touches on many of these same issues.

Judith Curry also chimed in, complimenting Gavin but also giving some criticism, much of which is rather off-base imho.

Both Gavin and Judith refer to this statement by Thomas Stocker at the end of the (well worth watching) IPCC AR5 video:

Continued greenhouse gas emissions cause further climate change and constitute a multicentury commitment in the future.  Therefore we conclude that limiting climate change requires substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this a normative statement (“ought”) or a factual statement (“is”)? Gavin claimed it’s the latter, Judith claimed it’s the former. It would be advocacy if the goal was left out, as in “we should reduce GHG emissions”. But that’s not what Stocker said. Instead, what he said comes down to “if this is the goal, then that is what needs to be done to achieve it”. Curry claims that adaptation, carbon sequestration or geoengineering would also be options to limit climate change. That’s only partly true. Adaptation doesn’t actually limit climate change, as the word says it means adapting to climate change. As such it helps in the short term (and is definitely important), but in the long term adaptation without mitigation is like mopping the floor while leaving the tap running (see also the Rabett). Carbon sequestration is a viable option to reduce atmospheric concentrations, but with current technologies it can only make a minor contribution. So it could limit climate change to a very limited extent one might say. Geoengineering is a more complicated story. Basically, it exchanges one type of climate change (temperature changes) with another type (hydrological changes), so it changes climate change.

Perhaps Stocker’s statement could have been made more specific by including e.g. something like “limiting climate change to what societies are adapted or can adapt to requires substantial and sustained reductions in GHG emissions” which I think is what he meant anyway.

Curry goes on to state ” And there is a missing element in this argument that warming is ‘bad’, which is a value judgment and has nothing to do with science.”

This is a strawman argument, as it’s not a (hidden) element in Stocker’s argument as given above. Again, it would be true if the goal was omitted or left implicit (but it wasn’t). If one feels that limiting climate change is not needed (because it’s not bad) than the needed cure (reducing emissions) is not needed, obviously. That is entirely consistent with what Stocker said.

Curry further offers the following list of “examples of potential hidden values that are rather inconvenient (because) these are why the public distrusts scientists as advocates”. I offer my comment with each (in italics). It’s not at all clear that these would all go in the direction of a bias in favor of the mainstream (as Curry seems to implicitly assume); to the contrary.

  • personal career advancement: Unclear in which direction this would most likely go.
  • research funding: idem, though this could cause a tendency to increase the apparent magnitude of uncertainties.
  • the value in terms of professional recognition (e.g. awards from professional societies) that supporting the scientific consensus can provide (recognizing the ostracism that con result from straying): No bigger reward for a scientist than to prove the scientific consensus wrong.
  • media attention: This goes in the direction of providing relatively more media attention to contrarian voices, Judith Curry herself being a good example (assuming that she wasn’t as prevalent in the media before her U-turn away from mainstream science). This got confirmed in the large survey amongst climate scientists that I conducted last year (not yet published).
  • influence within the scientific community: This hinges on using solid arguments, so usually provides the correct incentive.
  • influence at the power tables in terms public policy: Like with media attention, extreme voices seem to have disproportionate influence. Look at the regular line-up for US senate hearings for example. If you crave media attention and political influence, being loudly contrarian is a sure way to achieve that. In the Netherlands the same tendency is apparent.
  • broader political objectives that support any/all of the above: This goes more likely in the direction of downplaying rather than overplaying AGW I would argue.

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68 Responses to “Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry on Science Advocacy”

  1. andthentheresphysics Says:

    I also found what Judith presented a bit of a strawman-like argument, especially the end where Judith says

    So I remain with Tamsin Edwards on this one: climate scientists should avoid advocacy related to public policy related to climate science research findings.

    and then presents the responsible advocacy advice from the AAAS, none of which (I believe) are inconsistent with what Gavin was suggesting.

    Also, the list of potential hidden values simply seemed to be things that could apply to anyone. Nothing fundamentally wrong with them, but no real reason why they should apply to scientists in particular or, if they do (as you suggest) should apply especially to those who support mainstream ideas.

  2. johnrussell40 Says:

    Good post, Bart. I tried to post the following comment on the AGU website under Gavin’s talk but for some reason it wouldn’t accept it. But it’s relevant here, if you’ll allow me.

    Good presentation. My take on it…
    There’s a world of difference between saying, “we have a problem and
    we need to do something about it…“, and saying, “we have a problem and this is what we should do about it…“. Both are advocacy; but while the second enters the area of policy and is therefore political, the first retains the objectivity of science and is a logical extension of any climate scientist’s work. Why some scientists won’t go there baffles me; don’t they care about the future of life on our planet? Their silence is actually interpreted by the uninformed as tacit support for the climate denial position.

  3. Victor Venema Says:

    I could have written this post myself. The mistakes of Curry’s post were rather obvious.

    You also do not hear the ostriches complain about political advocacy if the like the message, as you can see in the comments below this post of Bengtsson at the Climate Onion.

  4. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Thanks for the nice feedback.

    I agree with John Russell that arguing for a generic action vs a specific action are very different. It’s an interesting question why many scientists even shy away from the generic type advocacy, which after all seems to stem from a presumably widely shared belief system that life as we know it is somehow valuable. It also stems from a perhaps less widely shared belief system that the consequence of our actions far into the future matter. I think that’s the key to the differences in opinion: Different valuations of the future relative to the present (which is a deeply ethical judgment, buried in the discount rate).

    Kevin Anderson has an interesting, if provocative take: I don’t agree to the full extent, but it’s an interesting argument.

  5. andthentheresphysics Says:


    I would even argue that some statements that are regarded as policy statements are often no such thing. For example “we should do …. if we want to avoid …..”. Such a statement could well be consistent with the science and adding the “if we want to” then implies that the choice still lies with society/policy makers.

  6. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Had Broker said:

    (1) Climate changes because of CO2.
    (2) There are risks coming from (1).
    (3) Reducing CO2 emissions would reduces risks caused by (1).

    he would be immune to Judy’s criticism. They all are factual claims. Yet it’s quite clear that we can hear what to infer from these factual claims.

    Why is that? Because we listen to a broker B with some action A in mind. This action has some relevance R to the topic T under discussion.

    The formula is therefore B x A x R x T.


  7. Bart Verheggen Says:


    That’s the same point that Gavin made so memorably via twitter:

    Big difference between saying “an apple pie requires apples” and “You should bake an apple pie”. Only latter stmt is advocacy.

    The argument then boils down to Curry claiming that Stocker’s statement was more akin to stating “a pie requires apples” (whereas one may choose to make blueberry pie instead). The blueberries that Curry mentions however (adaptation, CDR, SRM) all fall short for the pie in question is the argument I’m making. Though those other options are of course also options with each their own pros and cons and apart from the first one could indeed contribute to limiting climate change (though not nearly enough to warrant them being a sole solution instead of mitigation).

  8. johnrussell40 Says:

    I can understand why some scientists might not wish to advocate a specific policy, though it would be quite possible to avoid compromising scientific integrity by saying, “x,y, or z could achieve [the desired effect]”.

    I agree with Kevin Anderson, though, that those who stay silent silent and hide their concern are “are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists”. Basis morality indicates that scientists really should have no option but to tell the facts like they are and then extrapolate to possible outcomes.

  9. andthentheresphysics Says:

    A comment I made on Kevin Anderson’s post (that has yet to clear moderation) is that of more concern to me are those who choose to engage but don’t seem to put enough effort into challenging egregious scientific claims. It would seem that if one is to engage, one should be really careful that the manner in which one does so doesn’t end up giving undue credibility to those who are making scientific claims that aren’t consistent with the scientific evidence.

  10. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    I don’t think there’s any need to pussyfoot about normative or factual claims. It’s easy to convey “what needs to be done” with factual claims. Think tanks do it all the time.

    Let’s take a quasi-fictional example:

    There are N immigrants in our country.

    There are N citizens who are unemployed.

    What do you think we should do?

    (H/T Jörg Haider)

    There is no dichotomy between facts and values because for the simple reason that we always choose our facts. Brokers need to own their schtick, at least for honesty’s sake.

    More on the fact/value dichotomy:

    The only thing scientists can try to do is to reduce as much as possible the front from where think tanks will try to blitz.

  11. Rachel Says:

    I don’t really understand what the fuss is about to be honest. Scientists – I would hope – do have values and it seems unproductive to me to try to suppress these. What we need is diversity of values rather than an absence of them.

    I agree with what Kevin Anderson says. I am also inclined to take it a step further and say that scientists working in universities have a responsibility to critic aspects of society for the good of society. This is part of their job description.

    There is no loss of trust in scientists who advocate policy in my humble opinion. I don’t really understand why Judith Curry and others think this is the case unless it is wishful thinking on their part.

  12. johnrussell40 Says:

    We all know who you’re talking about, ATTP! I think there are at least two of them here in the SW UK. I get the impression they’re nice people who don’t like confrontation and try to be ‘all things to all men’. One of them stopped following me on Twitter immediately after I made a joke about spending the afternoon emptying my ‘sceptic’ tank as it was full of… well you get the idea.

  13. andthentheresphysics Says:

    Ooops, was I that transparent :-) To be fair, though, it is difficult and I’ve done poorly in the past and I’m sure will do poorly in the future again. When I wrote that comment I did wonder what would happen if the next time David Rose/Andrew Neil/Matt Ridley claimed that sea ice had recovered, they were inundated with challenges/corrections from all scientists on social media.

  14. johnrussell40 Says:

    That’s my dream, ATTP! Scientists have such power. ‘All’ they need to do is act in unison.

  15. Victor Venema Says:

    andthentheresphysics Says: “A comment I made on Kevin Anderson’s post (that has yet to clear moderation) is that of more concern to me are those who choose to engage but don’t seem to put enough effort into challenging egregious scientific claims. ”

    You always communicate. People will interpret whatever you do. Whether you speak in public, or whether you do not. When oyu do speak whether you do or do not challenge the nonsense of the ostriches.

    Scientists have the right not to communicate in public. However, it is impossible not to communicate. Unfortunately.

    I think Kevin Anderson goes much too far.

    Kevin Anderson: “[Their] silence is an advocacy for the status quo.”

    In spoken language one should not put salt on every single line, however, you cannot claim that not communicating is supporting the climate ostriches. The rest of the claims are more moderate, I hope he just exaggerated a little.

    Kevin Anderson: “So by and large I think that those… who people are throwing political mud at the scientists by saying ‘you are no longer a scientist, you’re now engaged in politics’, actually I think they are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues.”

    I do not agree with Tamsin Edwards that advocacy is bad, but to call people like her “the most dangerous of the scientists” goes too far. That honour goes to “scientists” that publish, blog or write press statements about scientifically sounding nonsense. It is probably better not to speak in public as to be a public person that does not actively correct the nonsense of WUWT and Co.

  16. Shub Niggurath Says:

    The Stocker statement contains stealth advocacy. I am not convinced however that he fully intended it to be so. Stocker has made a number of other quasi-activist to activist statements, so giving him the benefit of the doubt here doesn’t change much.

    One could completely accept that CO2/GHG emissions ’cause further change’ and entail multicentury committements and still be left in a position where limiting emissions would not logically follow.

    “reduce emissions” – is a simplistic formulation. Does it adequately cover the full meaning of what needs to be done to achieve it? Clearly, it doesn’t.

    What if the strategy of development is rapid deployment of fossil fuel combustion for populations that lag behind in development, with a longer-range eye toward evolution to nuclear power and/or ‘carbon capture’ technologies?

    Would such a strategy be permissible under Stocker’s formulation? It wouldn’t, since Stocker does not allow for any growth in emissions. The correct point at which the putative damage from emissions balances growth is as yet unknown, the prognostications of Tol, or Stern or Worstall notwithstanding. Emissions would necessarily grow until that point. Present-day and future humanity will be benefited

    Unwittingly, this is the present course of action.

    Developing countries point out that the first world progressed to its current stage from exploitation of fossil fuel use. This is the only known, viable and proven path of rapid betterment of human material conditions. They want to proceed along the same path. Is telling them to “substantially reduce emissions” a reasonable option?

  17. andthentheresphysics Says:

    I saw your exchange on Twitter with Gavin and I largely agree with what I think you were trying to say. I also agree that what Kevin Anderson says about the most dangerous scientists is going too far.

    It is probably better not to speak in public as to be a public person that does not actively correct the nonsense of WUWT and Co.

    This is what I was trying to say in a nutshell.

  18. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    > The Stocker statement contains stealth advocacy.

    Is this a factual statement?

    If it is, does it count as advocacy or stealth advocacy?

    Is “being a stealth advocate” a descriptive predicate?

    To answer the last question, we might need to ask ourselves if being a stealth advocate is something bad.

    Would you put “stealth advocate” on your CV?


    How do we recognize stealth advocacy anyway?

    There’s not much stealth in an advocacy that other brokers can recognize as stealth advocacy.


    In fact, “there is evidence that” (H/T Judy) either a broker B is an advocate or a stealth advocate.

    If this is true, that means that Tamsin & Judy’s “brokers ought not advocate” (paraphrasing) might very well be stealth advocacy.

  19. johnrussell40 Says:

    On second thoughts I’d agree that there are more unforgivable stances for a scientist to take than stay silent in the face of misinformation. I guess it comes down to whether contrarian scientists knowingly misinform or genuinely believe what the write or say.

  20. andthentheresphysics Says:


    Indeed, and Victor’s WUWT comment has just caused a bit of a Twitter storm given that it was interpreted as telling climate scientists how to behave (Victor is one, so I guess he’s entitled to – I got it in the neck a little :-) ). If I understand what you’re saying, then I agree. Everyone should be free to decide how best to engage and should be allowed (obviously) to work it out for themselves, and to get it wrong at times (as I certainly do). If, however, what you say is then used by WUWT, BH, Climate Audit, etc. as support for their position, then I would suggest that you take a step back and considers if you are doing it as well as it possibly could be done.

    Although I agreed with what Victor said, on second thoughts I don’t actually think that everyone who engages should be actively debunking mis-information. However, if what you say doesn’t implicitly debunk mis-information (by communicating well and by presenting scientifically credible information) then maybe you aren’t doing a particularly good job. I don’t mean that everything that is presented has to act to debunk mis-information or that that is the only role, but done properly/well/effectively, it will provide that service as well as doing whatever else the communication is intended to be doing.

  21. johnrussell40 Says:

    One thing is certain: it’s great that this subject is being aired by scientists now. Let’s hope it spreads.

    For the many years I’ve been warning people about what I see as the dangers of climate change I’ve felt that most scientists (with the exception of a few like Mann and Hansen) were hiding in their ivory towers and keeping their heads down as if they were above the rough and tumble that occurs at the intersection of their findings and the dirty world of industry, commerce and the consumer.

    That would be fine except for the fact that when they walk out of the doors of their institutions they are actually part of society. Their children and grandchildren will be as affected by climate change as anyone else’s.

    How can anyone remain quiet if they realise this? And let’s face it, climate scientists must realise what the repercussions might be even more than lay people like I do.

    Sorry if the passion shows. My one and only 2-year-old grandchild is visiting over Christmas, so it tends to brings my concerns to a head.

  22. Victor Venema Says:

    The “twitter storm”, nothing like the one outside, is also interesting as a recursive example of the topic. I wonder whether the people that responded strongly to my: climate scientists ought to debunk, reacted just as strongly to Edward’s: climate scientists ought not to advocate. Whether there was a difference and the size of it sends a signal, which illustrates that it is impossible not to communicate, that even saying nothing sends a signal.

    Not debunking WUWT and Co. also sends a signal. It will depend on the person whether that is intended or not. The signal becomes stronger if you are a scientist, still stronger if you are a climate scientist (not sure whether I already count as one), even stronger if you are a public figure and still stronger the more you interact with climate ostriches and even more if you write a comment below an erroneous post.

    I cannot prescribe how people behave. Fortunately. However, people should be aware that whatever they do, they are communicating. In that respect, refraining from advocacy is impossible.

    I fully understand that people have to set priorities and that they will do so based on their skills the set priorities. The demands on scientists are so enormous that no single person can fulfill them all. That is so clear that the first response sounded to me a bit like a straw man, but maybe my short, by definition, tweet, also gave a wrong impression; I think people understand each other better by now.

  23. andthentheresphysics Says:

    Thanks for expanding on your comment here. I don’t think I’ve been more frustrated after a Twitter exchange than I was after the ones today, on a topic that I didn’t think was all the controversial, given those that participated. Twitter truly is rubbish for engaging with anyone. There are alternative interpretations, but I’ll stick with “Twitter is rubbish” for the moment.

  24. Victor Venema Says:

    Maybe redundant. As soon as WUWT and Co. are irrelevant, it no longer sends much of a signal to ignore them. Thus this discussion may soon be irrelevant itself.

  25. Victor Venema Says:

    Ah, our two comments crossed. Yes, twitter is pretty bad for discussions. Still even with more space, I am not sure whether everyone agreed (in the beginning).

  26. andthentheresphysics Says:

    Possibly not, but then – given the clarifications that more space provides – it would be interesting to know what they actually object to.

  27. Rachel Says:

    I think there was a bit of misunderstanding in that twitter exchange. I thought what you said sounded reasonable, Victor. People don’t like being told what to do though and I think it came across a bit that way. But I’m glad the discussion is being had because even when there are misunderstandings and disagreements like this, it makes people think about something they might not have otherwise thought about.

  28. Victor Venema Says:

    Like the ClimateNukes it is also a topic everyone can have his own opinion about. It is not science.

  29. Bernard J. Says:

    If scientists, who understand better than anyone else the consequences of human warming of the planet via the mechanism of fossil carbon emissions, should not advocate on the solution to the problem, then who should?

    Who is most appropriately qualified to comment? Who is most responsible for advocating? Who should point what needs to happen in order to solve the problem?


  30. Victor Venema Says:


  31. Bernard J. Says:

    Who? Me?


    The trouble is that this brings us to a classic Catch 22.

    When I comment on the mechanics of climate change I am often dismissed for not being a climatologist. When I comment on the biological consequences of climate change as an ecologist I’ve been castigated by denialists for using statistics and models, or for imposing my scientific prejudice on the will (whatever that is…) of the masses.

    And so it is generally. Non-professional analysis is dismissed as lacking veracity, and professional analysis would (in Currytopia) remain only analysis. Policy would be left to those who don’t work in the field, and instead have a political motivation that usually (in this matter) exhibits no concordance with the science.

    There’s something ‘schizophrenic’ about this. And hypocritical – I have seen much economic opinion splashed around when economic policy is being decided – shouldn’t economists be similarly prevented from participating in social consideration of their work?

    Or does the Curry rule apply only to disciplines that are based on experimentation, evidence, and the laws of nature? How ironic that would be – censor the empiricists and give free rein to the subjective and the partisan…

  32. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    > There’s something ‘schizophrenic’ about this.

    Gavin had a related hashtag:

  33. Victor Venema Says:

    The blogger at Manchester Climate Monthly seems to have a really bad day. His replies to AndThenTheresPhysics are amazing and sad.

    My comment on calling AndThenTheresPhysics has not appeared yet, although the “discussion” has continued. I hope Bart does not mind when I publish it here.

    Personally I prefer not to use that term [denier], but I can imagine people being frustrated and using it after a long discussion where no evidence was able to move someone’s opinion.

    However, I feel it should never, ever be used as first reply. Very counter productive.

    And it also makes no sense whatsoever on a topic where there are no scientific facts, such as the public role of scientists. That is completely different from climate change itself.

    For what it is worth. AndThenThereIsPhysics has spend a lot of his/her free time on debunking the nonsense real “deniers” sprout. You completely and fully picked the wrong person.

    I would probably write something less diplomatic by now.

  34. Victor Venema Says:

    People interested in educating some naively climate “sceptical” libertarian economists in a civilised environment, have a look at the discussion at EconTalk below the podcast with Judith Curry.

  35. manchesterclimatemonthly Says:

    Hello Victor, Hello Bart,
    yes, a bad day – not covered myself in glory at all. Agreed that denier should “never, ever should be used as first reply.” Others, that were clear denialist stuff (c02 not a ghg etc) got deleted without reply. Bart’s post *should* have genuinely been given the benefit of the doubt, I should have done my research a bit better.

    Yes, picked the wrong person. Didn’t scroll down past the latest two or three posts, and should have.

    Merry Atheistmas

    Marc Hudson

  36. Pekka Pirilä Says:

    I was really surprised to see that Gavin told that Stocker’s words were not advocacy. Previously in his presentation he had emphasized that there’s advocacy in all kind of statements that scientists make. He did also argue that there’s nothing wrong in that, but that the advocacy should not be stealth advocacy.

    A statement can very well be both an expression of facts and advocacy at the same time. This is, how I see Stocker’s statement. The whole video is advocacy, that’s the whole purpose of the video as far as I can see. The concluding statement of Stocker is very much part of that.

    I have no problems with anything I write above. Advocacy in the form of the video is fully acceptable (while probably not particularly influential in this case).

    The only issue I have problems with is thinking that the statement is not advocacy at all, and by that making it impossible to think, whether it’s good and proper advocacy or not.

  37. Victor Venema Says:

    Pekka Pirilä, would you then also state that calling CO2 a greenhouse gas is advocacy? Or that showing a plot of the global mean temperature is advocacy?

    It does suggest that Stoker is not a climate ostrich. (Although he did not say anything about the consequences.) Thus it is surely a signal, but I would reserve the term advocacy for policy recommendations and not use if for scientific findings.

  38. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Tis the season where

    Merry Festivus to everyone!

  39. Victor Venema Says:

    Now the more difficult reply.

    Bernard J. wrote (my emphasis): “If scientists, who understand better than anyone else the consequences of human warming of the planet via the mechanism of fossil carbon emissions, should not advocate on the solution to the problem, then who should?”

    Many climate scientists are indeed well suite to inform on the consequences of human warming. Many will also just be able to tell you how much it warmed and have no clue about the consequences. Many only know how to efficiently and accurately model the dynamics of the ocean, atmosphere, vegetation or part of the cryosphere (ice), still others perform measurements of these and further climate components.

    When it comes to the consequences many climate scientists are not better informed as an interested layman.

    One step further, when it comes to solutions, climate scientists are not especially qualified. If they know something about it, then because the are interested and because people ask them about it. Other scientists may be more knowledgeable about solutions.

    Scientists are also typically not good in advocacy. Finding good solutions includes building coalitions. Biofuels made from food seem to be a bad idea, but may be necessary to get farmers and conservatives on board. Solutions are always have side effects, which means you have to add up apples and oranges. That is the job of politicians, not of scientists. Solution are questions where politicians (and activists) are most knowledgeable. They could probably the most effective advocates, if voters reward them for that. Also NGOs are important.

    Scientists are normally rather introverted and not good communicators. They are also accustomed to making a strong case and will thus understate the problems and only talk about the part they are sure of.
    They are used to communicate in a language that is so balanced as to be nearly incomprehensible. Unsuited in fast paced media. Many people are thus much better trained to communicate the problem and solutions.

    In summary, almost everyone is better suited and I would see as main role for scientists to keep the discussion honest, provide good information and debunk misinformation.

  40. Victor Venema Says:

    Bernard J. wrote: “When I comment on the mechanics of climate change I am often dismissed for not being a climatologist. When I comment on the biological consequences of climate change as an ecologist I’ve been castigated by denialists for using statistics and models, or for imposing my scientific prejudice on the will (whatever that is…) of the masses.”

    I guess all you can do is to point out that the unreasonable are unreasonable, state that they are playing the man, which suggests that they do not have good arguments. Keep on pointing to the weaknesses of their arguments. You get this response for not be a climatologist. The climatologists get to hear that they are just in it for the money and are brainwashed. The unreasonable will always complain.

    If climatologists analyse the climate of the last century, the unreasonable will complain that they do not get out of the office. If the get out of the office and make measurements, they complain that the amount and duration of the data is insufficient.

    Whatever anyone says, the unreasonable will complain.

    (And Judith Curry made her career as a cloud scientist, just like I did. An ecologist with an interest in climate is just as qualified to talk about climate.)

  41. Joshua Says:

    “Or does the Curry rule apply only to disciplines that are based on experimentation, evidence, and the laws of nature? How ironic that would be – censor the empiricists and give free rein to the subjective and the partisan…”

    Curry’s rules apply only to those that she disagrees with about the science. Her distinction between advocacy and non-advocacy is arbitrary (not in the sense of being random, but in the sense of being subjective). Take for example, Roy Spencer:

    Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D. says:
    July 5, 2011 at 5:47 AM
    Nicholas, I would wager that my job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism.

    I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.

    If I and others are ultimately successful, it may well be that my job is no longer needed. Well then, that is progress. There are other things I can do.

    In Judith’s world, that is non-advacacy, or if it is advocacy it is not worthy of concern (as would be “irresponsible” advocacy or “stealth” advocacy) because in Judith’s world, criteria can be applied selectively without any worries.

    Take, as another example, how she pats herself on the back for identifying the “cause” for distrust of scientists – even though she has explicitly avoided making any kind of qualified supporting arguments based on validated data.

    I have long stated that scientists advocating for public policy can lead to distrust of scientists and their scientific findings.

    She draws longitudinal conclusions from cross-sectional data. Dhe draws conclusions about causality without any attempt to control for variables.

    I am in no position to question the qualify of Judith’s science w/r/t technical analysis of climate change. But she routinely displays advocacy not science when she ventures into debating about the climate debate. That is not science, it is just, advocacy. There is no other way to describe the selectivity or her reasoning.

  42. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) Says:

    Is not Judith Curry a very vocal advocate of doing nothing about climate change? Consequently it’s somewhat ironic that she criticises others for what she perceives as advocacy.

  43. Joshua Says:

    VV –

    “They are also accustomed to making a strong case and will thus understate the problems and only talk about the part they are sure of.
    They are used to communicate in a language that is so balanced as to be nearly incomprehensible.”

    I don’t understand. Those two statements seem to me to be in direct contrast.

    FWIW it seems to me that the whole debate about what is or isn’t advocacy, or what is or isn’t acceptable types of advocacy, is mostly just partisan wrangling. The question of “advocacy” is being exploited to advance tribal agendas: Both sides seem to object to “advocacy” from the other side and favor it on their own side.

    Trying to generalize about how scientists do or don’t communicate, or why scientists are somehow different than plumbers or priests vis a vis “advocacy,” seems also to me to be not particularly meaningful. Scientists communicate in all variety of ways. They are like plumbers and priests in more ways than they are different than plumbers or priests.

    IMO, what matters is the validity of one’s science, or the soundness of one’s reasoning, or the thoroughness of one’s analysis, one’s openness to examining and acknowledging their own errors and biases and to engaging discussion in good faith, etc. One can practice solid science-based advocacy. When the basis of solid science is missing, all that is left is the advocacy.

    Advocacy is not an inherently bad thing, IMO.

    In fact, all-in-all, we are better off as the result of important advocacy throughout history, IMO.

    Advocacy can and has lead to poor outcomes also, IMO, but the determination of whether the outcomes of advocacy are poor or desirable is largely subjective by nature.

    It is an illusion to think that science can exist in some pure form – without advocacy, IMO. Even if it could, I doubt it would be desirable.

  44. Victor Venema Says:

    Joshua, I think we mainly agree. I was not arguing that scientists should not advocate, but responding to an outcry that scientists should be the main advocates for solutions. The somewhat larger group of non-scientist is more important, I think.

    A well balanced statement is strong in that it is hard to claim that it is false. For the same reason, a scientist claiming to have found a relationship, will talk or study those effects that could remove or negate the relationship. Phenomena that could make it stronger can be postponed to later studies.

    For example, there has been much research into the influence of urbanization on the temperature trend. Because that could make the true trend smaller. The changes in measurement methods that have the potential to show that the temperature trends are larger as the raw data suggests have hardly been studied at all. Apparently people think that can be done later and that later has not come yet.

  45. Rachel Says:

    I think everyone should advocate. The greater the diversity of voices we have the better the solutions will be.

    Feliz Navidad!

  46. Eli Rabett Says:

    At the top John Russell wrote: There’s a world of difference between saying, “we have a problem and we need to do something about it…“, and saying, “we have a problem and this is what we should do about it…“. Both are advocacy; but while the second enters the area of policy and is therefore political, the first retains the objectivity

    Let Eli go further. It is perfectly fair to add something like, my science tells me there is a significant and threatening problem, and, yes, I have some opinions about what to do about it, which I want to discuss with the understanding that the problem exists. You cannot wish it away, and I want to know what you are prepared to do about it. Denial will only earn you contempt.

    Oh yeah, Merry Christmas to all and a wonderful 2014.

  47. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

  48. Rachel Says:

    I’m not certain I completely understood your comment at Judy’s but I agree with your “pox in both houses”. I think the discussion about Stocker’s statement is trivial and should only warrant a minor remark rather than the many blog postings and comment threads it has attracted.

  49. Joshua Says:

    V. V. –

    “but responding to an outcry that scientists should be the main advocates for solutions. The somewhat larger group of non-scientist is more important, I think.”

    I would certainly agree. The influence of scientists’ statements should be viewed in full context. One of the amusing facets of the climate change wars is seeing how “skeptics” ascribe tremendous powers to scientists that they disagree with, while failing to ascribe those same powers to scientists they agree with. The same selective view of the influence of “the mainstream media” is pervasive. “Skeptics” ignore some mainstream media (such as Fox News, the WSJ, Hannity, O’Reily, Beck, Ingraham, Bennet, Savage, Miller, etc.), and also over-interpret the influence of media.

    There is a similar pattern, IMO, on the other side of the climate wars. It all falls in line with the over-riding character of the climate wars whereby combatants seek to vindicate a view of themselves as victims of “the other.”

    “The changes in measurement methods that have the potential to show that the temperature trends are larger as the raw data suggests have hardly been studied at all.”

    Which effects are you referring to there?

  50. Victor Venema Says:

    Joshua, that could be a long essay. Let’s just mention a few effects. I hope to write posts and articles on this in future. Stay tuned.

    These are effects that could artificially lower the current raw observed temperature data values. (There are also more effects that could case higher raw temperature readings as just urbanization, intuitively I would expect them to be small, like some of the effects mentioned below, they should also be studied.) Except for urbanization and the transition to Stevenson screens in North-West Europe, I cannot give numbers on the importance of these effects. And it is a travesty that we can’t.

    1. Relocation of stations: Cities to airport (this blog post suggests that this effect is about 0.1°C, that is 10%, that is a lot and should be studied in the literature) and to suburbs
    2. Change of average height of instruments
    3. Deurbanisation of network
    4. Not only urbanization, but also more irrigation (especially around cities)
    5. Improvements in shelters (exposure; radiation errors) from relatively open to Stevenson screens to automatic weather stations
    6. Natural or forced ventilation
    7. Snow cover on the ground

  51. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    > I think the discussion about Stocker’s statement is trivial and should only warrant a minor remark rather than the many blog postings and comment threads it has attracted.

    There ought to be ways to discuss all this constructively using basic tools.

    For instance, Judy’s argument rests on the claim that it’s possible to geoengineer our way out of our predicament, i.e.

    [Judy’s Pixie-Dust] Mitigation is unnecessary because it’s possible to imagine that CO2-sucking trees or equivalents would suffice.

    So not only Judy must show that mitigation is unnecessary, but that geoengineering would suffice. In other words, the state of our current engineering knowledge could substantiate the claim that mitigation is required. At least for now.


    This leads me to hold, as I tried to show in my latest comment at Judy’s, that Judy’s Pixie-Dust argument runs against our honest Broker’s Iron law. If some kind of pragmatic principle prevents him from taking cap-and-trade into account, the same principle ought to prevent Judy’s pixie-dust. Between the honest Broker’s Iron Law and Judy’s Pixie-Dust, something has to give.

    This conclusion is more important than classifying statement as factual or normative, don’t you think?

  52. Rachel Says:

    This conclusion is more important than classifying statement as factual or normative, don’t you think?

    Yes, absolutely. Let me get this straight. The honest Broker is Stoker? He’s not allowed to talk mitigation strategies because they fail the “iron law” test – that is they exceed the maximum price that people are willing to pay for them – yet Judy’s pixie-dust – which as yet is an unsubstantiated claim that geoengineering can save the day – also fails the “iron law” test. Why should Stoker be prevented from discussing policy because of the iron law while Judy is not?

  53. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    > The honest Broker is Stoker?

    No. Our honest Broker is Roger Pielke Jr. He wrote a book called **The Honest Broker**. Sometimes I call him Junior.

    Stoker is only one broker among many.

  54. Rachel Says:

    Oh dear. I don’t think I’ll try to interpret anymore of your comments then :-) Lucky for me I haven’t read the Honest Broker’s book.

  55. Victor Venema Says:

    Rachel, I think no one understands Willard. Maybe not even Willard. Except when he comments on the structure of the “debate”.

    But he seems to be very good in annoying ostriches. As I sometimes have the impression, that the main aim of the ostriches is to annoy the greenies, I think he is doing a good job.

    Honest broker is by now a synonym for sceptic and means the opposite.

  56. willard (@nevaudit) Says:


    The argument I try to put forward is this one.

    First, I showed that Judy’s argument against Gavin’s reading of Stoker rests on pixie dust.

    Second, I claim that Junior’s Iron Law presumes a pragmatic principle according to which one should not invoke pixie-dust-like solutions.

    My conclusion is that Judy’s argument and Junior’s pragmatism are incompatible.

    This conclusion might justify Victor’s impression.

    Hope this helps,


  57. Rachel Says:

    Victor, mostly I do not understand Willard’s comments but when I do it is very beautiful.

    Thank you, Willard, for the explanation.

    Someone needs to compile a list of terms: climateball – definition of terms, for newcomers to the game.

  58. Rachel Says:

    I meant to say a “dictionary of terms”. I’m going to bed early tonight. I’m clearly not thinking clearly at the moment.

  59. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Thank you for the kind words. For those who’d wish to preserve Junior’s pragmatism, here’s a quandary I just thought while washing dishes:

    First, let it be noted that Junior already conceded being an advocate [1]:

    > I always seek to describe what I see as the policy implications of my work in the context of presenting an analysis. If you catch me claiming that I am focused only on the science, call me on it and I’ll buy you a beer ;-)


    Second, let it be noted that by Junior’s pragmatism I am alluding to this conception:

    > A new climate strategy should take a page from one of America’s greatest homegrown traditions — pragmatism1— which values pluralism over universalism, flexibility over rigidity, and practical results over utopian ideals. Where the UNFCCC imagined it could motivate nations to cooperatively enforce top-down emissions reductions with mathematical precision, US policymakers should acknowledge that today’s global, social, and ecological systems are too messy, open, and complicated to be governed in this way.

    This pragmatism underpins to his Iron Law, at least if we accept that pragmatism amounts to the claim that one ought to focus on what works. One could even go so far as to exclude what is known as not to work, if we accept as evidence Junior’s refusal to discuss cap-and-trade as going against his Iron Law, except perhaps to say that it goes against his Iron Law, of course.


    Third, let it be noted that Junior’s Iron Law has policy implications, and therefore counts as part and parcel of his advocacy. That suggesting a “climate fix” counts as advocacy should be a no-brainer.

    We could wonder if Junior’s own Iron Law satisfy his pragmatism, but that will be another time.


    Fourth, we can derive from the three first points that if we accept Junior’s pragmatism and his views on advocacy, we are left to conclude that we ought only advocate what we have evidence of being feasible, according to polls or else.


    Fifth, we will observe that the fourth point could easily be reduced to absurdity by reminding ourselves that Luther King, Ghandhi, and Mandela were activists.

    We therefore conclude that there’s something wrong with at least one of the four first points.


    Sixth, I will admit that I thought my demonstration was shorter than that.



    [1] Victor might appreciate this comment where it is claimed that Junior and Richard Tol can’t both be right about stealth advocacy:

  60. Victor Venema Says:

    Willard, simply lovely. Thanks.

    That possibility is not implausible, actually, as reality has a well-known liberal bias.

  61. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    The line comes from Stephen Colbert, Victor:

  62. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

    Sou has a post on Judy’s analysis of Gavin’s presentation which confirms Bart’s reading:

    > We cannot limit climate change by adapting to climate change. That’s just silly. Our choices are (a) to limit climate change OR (b) to adapt to climate change OR (c) a bit of both.

  63. John Russell (Twitter@JohnRussell40) Says:

    There’s one thing of which I’m convinced. If climate change turns out to be as bad as some say—heatwaves/fires/droughts/floods/ocean acidification/sea level rise—the cost of adaptation could turn out to be many times the short-term economic gains from continuing to drill, dig and burn fossil fuels.

    Taking such risks without knowing the costs is stupidity.

  64. Sou Bundanga Says:

    The holidays got in the way of my keeping up with this discussion. Bart has covered everything more succinctly than I.

    Thing is that if the work of scientists has value for society then it’s important that at least some of them speak up and are strong advocates pointing out the implications of their findings, as well as the pros and cons of various policy options from a scientific (if not broader) standpoint. It’s not whether a scientist advocates, it’s how.

    Gavin’s lecture was really very, very good in working through the various issues.

  65. willard (@nevaudit) Says:

  66. Eli Rabett Says:

    Willard, Stoker is only one brad among many. A collection of brads is a box of nails.

  67. Chris F. Says:

    In the twitter exchange, Judith Curry commented:
    “And there is a missing element in this argument that warming is ‘bad’, which is a value judgment and has nothing to do with science.”

    This is from a department chair at a major US research university. Seriously? Forcing every ecosystem and human society on the planet to adapt to intentional, rapid changes is madness, and it is science that helps us identify the myriad reasons why.

    Here’s a value judgement for you: it’s nuts to feed antibiotics to animals in large quantities for no good reason. Nuts! Everyone involved in medical and biological research has known this for 20+ years, but I guess it wasn’t real science until antibiotic resistance started running rampant through our hospitals.

    Science needs a *much* stronger voice in public policy in this country, not scolding like some Victorian-era child who should be seen but not heard.

  68. Paul Kelly Says:

    Michael Mann presents one side of this argument in a NY Times op-ed.

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