A Few Things Ill Considered

Still back at Keith Kloor’s place, Judith Curry seems determined to dig in to her position that governments and the IPCC and consensus minded science bloggers need to take the climate skeptics more seriously. Personally I think she completely misses the boat, because most of these folks have in fact been soundly debunked, or at the very least thouroughly addressed in purely scientific manners. We are talking about Climate Audit and Watts Up With That, these are her candidates. As well as having had their more serious contentions seriously looked at, these sites bury any potentially interesting questions or issues they occasionaly do raise under mountains of personal slanders and crackpottery.

But I don’t want to pile on Dr. Curry, because I am certain her heart is in the right place, it is just her naiveté has led her into a corner that her pride will not let her back out of. We have all found ourselves in corners like that, and it is an emotionally difficult place, especially when the people delivering the message you don’t want to hear can be very antagonistic. But I digress…


Her latest questionable stance is that climate science needs a “Team B” to “balance” the IPCC and she actually suggests the Heartland Institute. Michael Tobis (yes, I have been channeling a lot of Tobis lately) quite rightly says:

I think the nomination of a Team B by the Heartland Instute makes exactly as much sense as the nomination of a Team 2 by Greenpeace and for exactly the same reasons. If the two teams were comparably funded, I would not oppose it. Who knows but that one or the other of them might stumble onto something useful.
The only constraint I would put on this proposal is this: I would insist that they be comparably funded and get comparable attention. This would place IPCC firmly where it belongs, in the center of the debate, and not at a fringe.

Quite right. Contrary to the framing du jour, the IPCC does not represent the extreme scientific case, it is by its very design conservative. Let us not forget that even Saudi Arabia had to sign off before its Summary for Policymakers could be delivered.

But Judy misses a much larger point, because we already have a Team B! The National Research Counsel of the National Academies. They have come to the same conclusions as did the IPCC, arguable even stronger conclusions.

Oh, we also have a “Team C”, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hmm. Here’s a “Team D”, the American Geophysical Union, and look, a “Team E”, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.

Actually, there are alot of “Teams” that have assesed the science and or the IPCC’s conclusions, and they all agree that the world is warming, the cause is anthropogenic and it represents a danger to human well being. Some more examples:

(How about that, I ran out of letters!)

And that list is not exhaustive.

To be fair as possible to Judith’s point, she may have been thinking of research teams, rather than research assessment teams, but I’m sorry that is an even less defensible position. It only makes sense if you buy in to the whole “climate science is a corrupted in-crowd” meme that deniers make great hay out of. It only makes sense if you don’t know that scientists survive by over turning old ideas and coming up with new and exciting conclusions(at least until they get tenure). If the peer reviewed literature has stablized for a decade on the acceptance of anthropogenic global warming, it is because that is where the evidence has lead it. There is no “team” that dominates the literature, there is no new “team” that will lead it elsewhere. There are tens of thousands of individual researchers building human knowledge piece by.

The real motive for nominating a “Team B” is dislike of the conclusion of “Team A”. I don’t accuse Judy of this motive, but it is absolutely the motive of those she is defending. Clear evidence of this is illustrated by the historical origin of the “Team B” concept, pointed out by Eli Rabbet.

I want to respect Dr. Curry and her voice in the climate wars, but I think she really needs to slow herself down and re-evaluate what she is saying and who she is defending. I think Judith Curry is suffering from all the same “tribal” pitfalls she is complaining about, even if she is a tribe of one.

Comments

  1. #1 Steve L
    May 23, 2010

    About five years ago, I used to think that the UN or the consensus scientists themselves should support a sort of skeptic group. The role of this skeptic organization would be to review the skeptic positions and arguments for things that made some sense, separating the wheat from the chaff. Problems with the science, identifying key uncertainties, and estimates of the potential effects of these upon consensus interpretations, etc, could then be summarized and prioritized every few years. The IPCC reports should then include some documentation regarding progress on these problems.

    My idea was that skeptics seemed to have a lot of energy and it would be best to try and derive some utility from that energy. I thought it would improve climate skepticism. The process would legitimize some skepticism, but by formalizing it a lot of the ‘septics’ and their distractions could be marginalized. (Eg. “Even the IPCC’s skeptical watchdog states that underwater volcanoes cannot explain loss of Arctic sea ice.”) Protection from giving the skeptic organization too much legitimacy could be derived from doing their job better than them in the regular ‘Team A’ process.

    This idea got very little response when I suggested it on Real Climate. I haven’t thought of it for a long time, probably because a more honest skeptic group would be subject to a conspiracy-related smear campaign by the dishonest ‘septics’.

  2. #2 coby
    May 23, 2010

    That’s actually a very interesting idea, and without thinking too hard, I think a good one. It would certainly get whatever good can be gotten from the skeptic ideas, and it would provide valuable positive PR, making it much harder to claim “they havn’t even thought about this: “.

    Of course, IMO absolutely nothing will ever satisfy the likes of the Heartland Institute and confirmation bias knows no limits. “Of course the IPCC “skeptic squad” dismissed my take-down of the GHE fantasy, they are part of the climate mafia after all”

    But…it is not done for that crowd, it is done for those legitimately questioning and those who do not want to believe but also do not want to look too unreasonable.

  3. #3 M
    May 23, 2010

    For example, surfacestations.org is, in principle, a useful project. The only problem is that it is run by a loon, and overhyped up the wazoo. But having a set of station ratings to use for papers like Menne et al. 2010 is not without merit… what would have been really useful is to take station records for a few dozen to a couple hundred stations, attempt to determine manually what the best “corrections” would look like for those stations, and compare them to the automated procedures used by NCDC and GISS.

    The problem is that the kind of energy that made surfacestations.org possible is really based in conspiracy-theory-land. I’m not sure that it would have been nearly so successful if suggested by the climate orthodoxy. Though I do hear that some climate change academics have been trying to tap into communities like birders and other obsessive data-collectors in order to make really nice datasets… and there are a lot of obsessive weather-followers out there… so basically, a SETI@HOME but with more hands-on work. Heck, farm stuff out to elementary and high school groups, if you can break something into chunks that would be accessible to them…

    But as an example of what skeptics _should_ be doing but aren’t: Clear Climate Code. Skeptics whined for years about the impenetrability of the GISS code, and theorized that all sorts of dastardly things were happening, and if instead they had either turned GISS into real code or done what a few skeptics are doing now (eg JeffId and RomanM, with Lucia as hostess) there would actually be something of interest and/or usefulness there. Certainly, more accessible code is useful not only to the public because it gives them greater confidence, but also to fellow researchers who can (hypothetically) more easily compare their climate model output to GISTEMP by creating synthetic v2mean files…

    So I think, in an ideal world, this is what Judith Curry sees: the opportunity to tap into a large amateur community (the way that amateur stargazers still occasionally make discoveries, and certainly contribute to the sense of wonder in the stars). The problem is that there is so much junk and conspiracy stuff, and so little recognition of real science even when hit over the head with it (cf, Steve Goddard), that everyone who tries to engage the skeptic maelstrom ends up getting horrendously seasick.

    -M

  4. #4 Nils
    May 25, 2010

    Coby, great summary. The discussion reminds me of an old tv series – opening credits slightly changed here: “Twenty years ago, a crack research unit was sent to irrelevance by an intergovernmental science panel for knowledge they didn’t have. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security conference to the blogosphere underground. Today, still wanted by the National Academy of Science, they survive as scientists of fortune. If you have a problem, if no IPCC can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the B-Team.”

  5. #5 Nils
    May 25, 2010

    Just found something while looking around where the Team B meme comes from. Judith Curry says at collide-a-scape:

    At the House Select Committee on Energy and Global Warming hearing last week on Climate Science in the Political Arena, the testimony of William Happer provided an interesting point:

    “We need to establish a Team B of competent scientists, charged with questioning the party line. The DoD and the CIA do this, there was a devil’s advocate (promoter fidei) for sainthood, why not the same for climate change?”

    Well arguably the closest thing we have to a “Team B” is the Heartland Climate Conference on Climate Change, which was held last week in Chicago. The conference received almost no coverage by the MSM.

    Now look what I found in the first few sentences of the 2009 NIPCC report “Climate Change Reconsidered”:

    Before facing major surgery, wouldn’t you want a second opinion?
    When a nation faces an important decision that risks its economic future, or perhaps the fate of the ecology, it should do the same. It is a time-honored tradition in science to set up a “Team B,” which examines the same original evidence but may reach a different conclusion. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) was set up to examine the same climate data used by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [p. iii]

    And on page v:

    When new errors and outright falsehoods were observed in the initial drafts of AR4, SEPP set up a “Team B” to produce an independent evaluation of the available scientific evidence. While the initial organization took place at a meeting in Milan in 2003, Team B was activated after the AR4 SPM appeared in February 2007. It changed its name to the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) and organized an international climate workshop in Vienna in April 2007.

    Happer didn’t come up with “Team B” at his 2009 statement, so it appears that Heartland/NIPCC might really be the inventor of this stuff (with NIPCC claiming to be “Team B”, oh my).

    The Heartland Institute is proclaiming itself as Team B, calling for “second opinions” when there are already dozens, if not hundreds of other opinions available. It’s rather funny that we already have a Team A-Z and counting, yet since they all come to the same conclusions, the skeptics wouldn’t stop until they’ve got their own team claiming what they want to hear. Now Judy Curry simply copies that demand, including the wording. I really wonder where that’s going? To get a better opinion, she would need to elaborate upon what precisely she meant by using the term “Team B”. Yet since she explicitly referred to Heartland as the “closest thing” to it, I don’t think it’s going to be very useful after all.

    Yet maybe some process as envisioned by Steve L and Coby might just provide a decent outcome. Staff it with people like Curry, Hulme, von Storch, Pielke Jr. and the like, and let them have a go at it. I expect something like the Hartwell Paper, only that it wouldn’t predominantly aim at climate politics but rather at climate science. If they want to play the translator of the skeptic blogosphere and try to filter anything useful out of it, that’s a worthy cause. Let it be done in the way of an open, online-based review process, tapping into the energy of hundreds or thousands of people. Hopefully much of the nonsense that could be read in many Heartland Conference presentations would be filtered out before final publication, and then it might turn into a veritable source for future research questions.

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