I am a skeptic.
Not a climate skeptic, not in the sense of the improperly commandeered word we use in the climate debates. In my experience they know little of real skepticism as a general rule. But me, I really do dislike taking assertions on their face if I don’t have all the facts and I really do try to form my own opinions, especially about people.
So I have tried very hard to reserve judgement on Judith Curry and her emerging role in the climate blogosphere despite reading some pretty damning reviews of her blog performances from voices in my own “camp”. My first awareness of her is from the hurricane wars a few years ago, around the time of Katrina. She struck me as a voice of calm and perspective in what was a quite passionate debate about very unsettled science. I watched her venture on to Climate Audit and try to reason with people who can be very… um, unreasonable.
So it is really with regret and even sadness that, faced with clear and incontrovertible evidence, my opinion of her has plumetted to rock bottom.
It really started a couple of month’s ago on Keith Kloor’s blog when among other eybrow raising things Judith defended the Wegman report against DeepClimate’s accusations of plagarism. Okay, I only have second hand information about Wegman and the underlying technical arguments of the underlying scientific issues are well beyond my personal grasp of statistics so who am I to dismiss the opinion of a working scientist? But she did not talk statistics, she said:
Deepclimate accuses Wegman of plaigarism. A very serious charge, that would constitute scientific misconduct. So what is the actual accusation? They accuse him of plaigarizing the definition of “social network” from the Wikipedia, and then complain that the word changes that Wegman made pervert the original meaning of the wikipedia definition.
Further down in the same comment she feels so strongly she writes this:
Let me say that this is one of the most reprehensible attacks on a reputable scientist that I have seen, and the so-called tsunami of accusations made in regards to climategate are nothing in compared to the attack on Wegman.
A lot of people jumped on this comment because on the matters of fact it is completely wrong (let’s just leave aside how divorced from reality the comment “nothing compared to climategate” is!) Deepclimate’s accusations are much more serious than her presentation of them and they are very well supported. Faced with a pile-on of objections chock full of specifics and supporting citations what does she do? She brushes it all off with a casual admission that she actually has no idea what she is talking about and suggests that no one mention it again.
To borrow her own rhetorical device: “huh“?!
Look again at what she said about the author of DeepClimate and ask yourself if you would ever use such strong language to describe something you “have not investigated in any detail (and don’t intend to)”?
I wasn’t impressed by that, but because I have not investigated Deepclimate’s work myself in any detail (and don’t intend to) I still wanted to reserve judgement on Dr Curry, unlike Dr. Curry herself. On top of that, she was facing a multitude of antagonists, and people in such situations tend to behave very, well, very tribally.
As I said, that was some three months ago. Fast forward to July 22 and an RC article written by tamino. This is a review of yet another attack on the infamous MBH Hockey stick, this time in book form. I thought tamino’s rebuttal was pretty convincing, but the technicalities are, as I have always admitted, beyond my statistical understanding. I was curious when Judy Curry popped in with this rather brusque critique:
JC’s grade for the review: C-
pros: well written, persuasive
cons: numerous factual errors and misrepresentations, failure to address many of the main points of the book
If anyone is seriously interested in a discussion on this book, I can see that RC isn’t the place, people elsewhere are already describing their posts not making it through moderation.
Hmmm. Surely this is not just that as-common-as-it-is-infuriating hand wave of a reference to “numerous” problems that will never be identified. You know, like what we get from the most common of trolls. Surely she will come back with at least one example? Page after page of comments goes by but no elaboration materializes. Too bad, she is a working climatologist and I am very interested in her considered opinion. I guess she is too busy (or as it turns out later, maybe she does not actually have one?).
Ah! Here she is, on page four, as I suspected she has been too busy and she is back to “clarify the weaknesses in Tamino’s review.”
What follows is jaw dropping in its vacuity. She presents a long list of what turns out to be simple restatements of many fallacies from Montford’s book with exactly zero references to anything tamino wrote. So nowhere is the promised “clarification” of any alledged weaknesses in tamino’s article, or anything about “numerous factual errors and misrepresentations”. Then, when soundly rebutted point by point by Gavin, (go read it, there is simply no contest) she has only this as her answer:
Gavin, the post I made in #167 was a summary of Montford’s book as closely as I can remember it, sort of a review. I did not particularly bring in my personal opinions into this, other than the framing of montford’s points. So asking me to retract a point made in a book in a review of that book is, well, pointless. your attempt to rebut my points are full of logical fallacies and arguing at points i didn’t make. As a result, Montford’s theses look even more convincing.
Here is the bald truth of the matter in her own words. She is simply parroting stuff she reads from denialists, plain and simple. Yet she presented it as her own opinion (just like before). That is not okay. I want to respect her opinions as a working climatologist but she is not even bothering to form her own opinions. She has no time to verify anything she says and she freely admits what she does say is motivated by knee-jerk reactions, not an independant assessment of the actual arguments and evidence. She did not like Gavin’s rebuttal so that must mean Montford is right, no need for any thought of her own. It is really shameful, really.
And she is clearly just blustering about Gavin’s responses. Just like “tamino’s numerous errors”, Gavin’s “logical fallacies” will never be identified. He dignified her comment with a thorough point by point response, a response she did not even have the common courtesy to address.
Here is a sample of the points she said she finds convincing in Montford’s book. She said:
1. The high level of confidence ascribed to the hockey stick inferences in the IPCC TAR, based upon two very recent papers (MBH) that, while provocative and innovative, used new methods and found results that were counter to the prevailing views. Plus the iconic status that the hockey stick achieved in the TAR and Al Gore’s movie.
But the TAR only ever said the findings of this century and the 1990′s being higher were “likely”, that is hardly a “high level of confidence”, I looked. And An Inconvenient Truth barely mentions this part of paleoclimatology, I looked. And what bearing does it have on the paper how one of its graph’s is subsequently used? Sorry, wrong on the non-substantive points and completely lacking on substantive ones. Okay for your average anonymous blog commenter but where is her responsibility to her field of expertise?
2. The extreme difficulties that Steve McIntyre had in reproducing the MBH results. Any argument that defends these difficulties by saying that Steve McIntyre is incompetent or lacking in persistence is just plain counter to the evidence that Montford provides. Science needs to be reproducible. Period. And authors need to provide all of the data and metadata needed to reproduce the results, not just draft or incomplete datasets
I think at this point it is pretty safe to assume she has not bothered to examine the “evidence that Montford provides”, she has admitted as much, so her reliance on it is hardly compelling though it is baffling. And as for reproducible science, study after study in the 12 years since MBH was published has come up with hockey stick after hockey stick. Get over it, it is simply reality.
3. The NAS North et al. report found that the MBH conclusions and “likely” and “very likely” conclusions in the IPCC TAR report were unsupported at that those confidence levels.
Another fail on matters of verifiable fact: MBH and the IPCC TAR never presented “very likely” conclusions. Facts matter! Gavin covers nicely what the NAS report did say.
4. A direct consequence of the North NAS report is that the conclusions in the IPCC AR4 essentially retracted much of what was in the IPCC TAR regarding the paleo reconstructions.
Well, she got wrong what the report said, so how can we expect her to know its consequences? I hardly know which is the more charitable explanation here, that she is bluffing to cover her weak position or she is as uninformed as she is vocal. The TAR says this:
New analyses of proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicate that the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely7 to have been the largest of any century during the past 1,000 years. It is also likely7 that, in the Northern Hemisphere, the 1990s was the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year (Figure 1b). Because less data are available, less is known about annual averages prior to 1,000 years before present and for conditions prevailing in most of the Southern Hemisphere prior to 1861.
The AR4 says this:
Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1,300 years. Some recent studies indicate greater variability in Northern Hemisphere temperatures than suggested in the TAR, particularly finding that cooler periods existed in the 12th to 14th, 17th and 19th centuries. Warmer periods prior to the 20th century are within the uncertainty range given in the TAR.
Where is the retraction of much of what the TAR said? There is only some change in nuance, more confidence in one aspect, less in another. Facts matter.
7. The Mann et al. 2008, which purports to address all the issues raised by MM and produce a range of different reconstructions using different methodologies, still do not include a single reconstruction that is free of questioned tree rings and centered PCA.
This is nothing more than an unthinkingly repeation of false accusations from denialist blogs. The third instance we have examined today. If she arrived on this lowly blog with such a comment we would all tell her to go read a real research paper for a change and be careful about believing everything she reads on he internet. No one would believe for a second that she is an actual researcher herself. Gavin’s inline response is actually pretty restrained considering such an insulting lack of effort or integrity on Judith’s part.
As I said, I am no expert in statistics so these are the non-technical points only. Gavin does not dodge, dissemble or digress in his responses to the technical points so it is a little difficult to come up with any reason for trusting Judith Curry’s arguments. Or Montford’s arguments rather, or I guess those are Steve McIntyre’s points… whatever. If she can’t be bothered to think for herself, I sure as hell can’t be bothered to place an ounce of credibility on what she writes.
This is the first RC thread I’ve read through completely in a long time and it is worth doing, not only for the sad spectacle I am covering here but for interesting exchanges with seemingly knowledgable people. Gavin and tamino have provided a great number of inline responses so there is much education and entertainment. Judy gets beat up quite a bit but she sorely deserves it, I am embarassed for her.
[Oh, I also see there are two more pages I have to catch up on. Good grief, now she refers to her listing of Montford's points as "the points i made in my review of Montford's book". So when asked to defend them, they are someone else's, 100 comments later they are her's again! My head is spinning.]]
I’m sorry, but I really did expect more from her. Unless and until she owns up to this shameful display why should anyone ever take her seriously again? There are many sources of information out there, deciding which to trust is an important and time consuming task.
The list of reliabile sources in climatology just got a bit shorter.