A Few Things Ill Considered

Judith Curry plants her flag

Judith Curry has become quite a blog sensation, and did so long before starting her own. I have expressed my frustration with her in the past for a seemingly reckless affinity for “hit and run” postings. I will appreciatively grant that she comments alot, and engages many conversants extensively, but she has posted many very inflammatory or technically flawed diatribes in the past, the kind sorely needing defending or ammending, and left the clear and substantive rebuttals unanswered or inadequately answered. Frequently interested readers were left with only vague promises of “more on that later” or “I am working on an extensive post about that”. Fair enough, most of us have day jobs and most of us don’t get paid for our time blogging.

So I was actually interested and hopeful when I saw she got her own site, as she should have done!

However, I have to confess that rather than clearing up confusions, walking back demonstrable errors or picking up unfinished topics she merely provided what is in my opinion more of the same factually incorrect and logically flawed arguments, lengthy post after lengthy post.

I had planned (kidding myself that I would have the time) to do some detailed critiques of some of her points, made in various venues. For example in discussing the IPCC’s attribution of late 20th century climate change she has stated multiple times that she believes if we can not confidently attribute early 20th century climate change then we can not confidently attribute late 20th century climate change. I’m sorry to be blunt and with all due respect to her CV, this is grossly illogical and utterly simple to explain. The observations we have over the last decades are hugely better that those we have for pre-1950s, isn’t that obvious? The simple fact is we know more about the climate of the lastest decades than we do about any other past climate. And the idea that if you can’t explain an event you were not around for, you therefore can not explain a similar event you witnessed, is gradeschool reasoning (um, yes, it’s wrong too).

Other examples of the unreliability of Curry’s blog publications are illustrated by Michael Tobis and James Annan, who both showed basic flaws in her understanding of uncertainty and probability, or at least an irresponsible level of sloppiness in expressing herself. Arthur Smith pointed out an under-grad level misunderstanding in her own field’s basic terminology. In one comment some months ago she called the blogger Deep Climate‘s detailed and documented investigation into the Wegman Report “one of the most reprehensible attacks on a reputable scientist that I have seen” even as she revealed in her incorrect synopsis of the charges that she had not even read it for herself. (Something she admitted as part of a later plea to just forget the whole topic).

This last incident is really the most revealing as she shows herself ready to publically criticise someone else in the strongest terms based entirely on second hand information gleaned from places like Climate Audit and Watt’s Up With That. And I can not think of a clearer indication of a one-sided viewpoint with regards to the climate wars than saying (as she did in the same comment above) “the so-called tsunami of accusations made in regards to climategate are nothing in compared to the attack on Wegman”. Regardless of whomever you think is right or wrong, this is simply not in touch with reality.

So perhaps this recent post of hers should not be a surprise, but I confess it truly was one for me. Here we are treated to the absolute worst of the inflammatory language and over-the-top accusations, complete with the predictable absense of any concrete evidence and errors in matters of simple fact. It is pure conspiracy theory stuff. She begins:

The scientists provided the initial impulse for this feedback loop back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The enviro advocacy groups quickly saw the possibilities and ran with it, with the scientists’ blessing. The enviro advocacy groups saw the climate change issue as an opportunity to enlist scientific support for their preferred energy policy solution.

And eventually get to places like this:

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. Who are these priests of the IPCC? Some are mid to late career middle ranking scientists who have done ok in terms of the academic meritocracy. Others were still graduate students when they were appointed as lead authors for the IPCC. These scientists have used to IPCC to gain a seat at the “big tables” where they can play power politics with the collective expertise of the IPCC, to obtain personal publicity, and to advance their careers. This advancement of their careers is done with the complicity of the professional societies and the institutions that fund science. Eager for the publicity, high impact journals such as Nature, Science, and PNAS frequently publish sensational but dubious papers that support the climate alarm narrative.

And here:

While the IPCC priests loudly cry out against the heretical skeptical scientists and the dark influences of big oil and right wing ideology that are anti-science, we all join in bemoaning these dark forces that are fighting a war against science, and support the IPCC against its critics. The media also bought into this, by eliminating balance in favor of the IPCC dogma.

It all fits perfectly with the best of the tired climate conspiracy theories out there but it is stunning to hear from a well established expert in the field previously professing a desire to build bridges between warring camps.

As an insider, we should sit up and listen to her, right? Well, the problem is, she has by now established her track record and it is not encouraging if you are looking for a reliable source (see above examples). She has also just planted her own flag many metres beyond the line seperating the “tribal camps” she is supposedly bemoaning. Look at her approach to the charges against Wegman, so reprehensible she did not even need to read what they were! Now it’s the IPCC with behaviour so anti-scientific we don’t even need to see the evidence of it. I’m afraid I need more than her opinion, sincere or not. Let’s not forget the wise old addage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

She should be able to come up with some, now shouldn’t she? What are some of the “sensational but dubious papers” wrongly published by Nature or Science? If it was “frequent” it should be easy to come up with a few dozen (outside of the field of paleoclimate, please). She must have some in mind, many I would assume. Who are these “cadre” of scientist controling the IPCC for decades now? Maybe I am seeing things, but when I review the lead authors of the various reports, I see the names changing over the years, and many people involved. Groups that “tolerate no dissent” and “trample” challengers are usually pretty tight-knit. Where are the trampled victims, careers destroyed, names ruined? There are thousands upon thousands of working scientists in climate related fields, do they all tremble in terror before their IPCC Gods, not daring to complain or argue?

I do not deny that funding sources can influence science, both in its direction and even sometimes in its results, but she is positing an example of this on an enourmous scale. Research on a particular new drug can be supressed or corrupted by Big Pharma, no question, but she wants us to believe that an entire field of science, in every country around the world has sold out or otherwise drunk the kool-aide. Make no mistake, she may talk about the IPCC’s conclusions but they are not just the IPCC’s conclusions. Surveys have shown that 97% of climate experts agree with those same conclusions. She needs us to believe that they are all stupid, cowardly or corrupt or her narrative falls apart. How did this “cadre” of “high priests” twist the arms of national science academies from all over the world?

Here is one concrete fact she provides us:

International efforts to deal with the climate change problem were launched in 1992 with the UNFCCC treaty.

Here’s what she uses it for:

Wait a minute, what climate change problem? In 1992, we had just completed the first IPCC assessment report, here was their conclusion: “The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability. . . The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more.”

This is evidence of “cart before the horse”, right? There was no problem when the UNFCCC was signed. Sorry, this is both illogical and a selective rewriting of history. Anthropogenic climate change concerns date back to the 1950’s and in fact anthropogenic climate change was first hypothesized 150 years ago. Even if this were an entirely new issue in the 1990’s, it is perfectly reasonable, and entirely prudent, to look for something you are expecting may happen before it is in fact obviously happening. If I feel fine after a car collision but the doctors at the hospital are insisting I need to stay 24 hours for observation. Are they are putting the cart before the horse? No, they have reasonable expectations of a problem and they want to identify it as early as possible if it happens.

The rest of her case is circumstantial. Things happened in this way, so this must be why. But there is another plausible explanation for the formation of the IPCC, the rise in funding of climate science and the emergence of the very strong consensus that climate change is happening, human caused and going to get worse. That explanation is this: science revealed a potential problem for human society, society used its institutions to watch for and investigate this problem, honest research has found strong evidence that the problem is real and serious, and virtually all experts, using their best and sincere judgment, have advised the world that the problem is deadly serious.

No conspiracies, no alterior motives, no malfeasonce, just geeks doing science. I know it is not Hollywood material, but sometimes reality is just that dull.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott A Mandia
    November 5, 2010

    She appears to have her certainties backwards. Where there is a high level of certainty regarding AGW she thinks there are many uncertainties. However, she is certain about the IPCC priesthood where there is little to no evidence for even the least certainty.

  2. #2 pough
    November 5, 2010

    Judith “the Projectionist” Curry. I suspect everything she complains about would be true, if only she had the authority she so richly deserves.

  3. #3 Steve L
    November 5, 2010

    If a conspiracy, George H. W. Bush was in on it also. I can’t find very much about what he said, but I’ve seen it before. Stuff about emissions creating risks to climate and fighting the greenhouse effect with “the Whitehouse effect”. Strange that I have a hard time finding it at present (the other george bush is polluting my search).

  4. #4 Anna Haynes
    November 5, 2010

    Nice – hope you don’t mind that I quoted a chunk of it on Curry’s SourceWatch page.

    pough, not helpful. Stick to the science, don’t dump on the person. Especially not this one.

  5. #5 pough
    November 6, 2010

    I’ll choose my own definition of helpful, thank you very much. In this case, I suspect that the science more helpful is psychology, so that’s what I’m mentioning. I think there is a point where you have to address the underlying problem, since what’s coming out is so far from reasonable that it can’t be fought on familiar ground. Besides, I’m not a climate scientist and the people who are are talking about her quality of science.

  6. #6 mandas
    November 7, 2010

    “…..The media also bought into this, by eliminating balance in favor of the IPCC dogma….”

    This has to be one of the most disengenuous pieces of crap I have ever heard from anyone! The media favouring the IPCC and ‘eliminating’ balance? What bullshit!

    Judith, you are supposed to be a scientist. How about you act like it and produce some evidence for your statements? In this case, its pretty clear why you haven’t – because all the evidence points in exactly the other direction.

    Maybe you should actually read a few science papers on the subject – you know, do the same sort of science that enabled you to be awarded a PhD. There are dozens of them out there which have examined how the media is reporting the issue. And not one of them find that the ‘skeptical’ side of the debate is under-reported. In fact, there is universal condemnation of the media for giving too much air-time to idiots like Monckton, and far too little to real science.

    So go on Judith – act like a scientist. Stop putting forward ill-informed opinion and start contributing properly to the debate by producing evidence where you think problems exist. Don’t be a denier of facts!

  7. #7 Rob
    November 11, 2010

    Why do you think the Republicans would pick Dr Curry to testify?

    The question is not easily answered because Republicans, like Democrats are not of a unified mind set. IMO, the “mood” of voters in the United States is moving towards frustration and anger over the degree of pointless, meaningless rhetoric from both parties that does not offer real potential solutions to the real problems facing the United States.

    1. Is human created additional atmospheric CO2 a real concern or threat to the United States?
    –Answer- potentially, but to what specifically degree we really do not know yet.

    2. Are there steps that the US Congress could be taking today that would greatly mitigate this issue, and at the same time not damage/slow an already stalled US economy?
    –Answer- potentially yes. If Congress was to pass legislation promote the standardization of the designs or nuclear power plants (3rd, 4th generation, or thorium reactors), vastly reduce the bureaucratic regulatory processes that currently make construction slow and expensive, and immediately begin design and construction of said plants, it would both reduce CO2 emissions and help the US economy. It would help the economy in the short term by creating jobs across the full spectrum of the work force for the design and construction of these plants. Over the long term it would greatly reduce the outflow of US capital to purchase petrochemicals from international sources.

    I am bewildered at why this obvious solution is not being discussed and immediately implemented. The only reason I can think of is that the “environmental lobby” is misinformed about the modern nuclear plants and how safe and clean they really have become.

    Please, someone respond back to me on this if it is possible. BTW, I am not a “climate scientist”, but am an engineer with a a masters in economics that has tried to read on the subject and I have absolutely zero ties to the nuclear industry or anyone else.

  8. #8 Argusfreak
    November 11, 2010

    mandas – I wonder do you regard the Hockey Stick as one of the facts?

  9. #9 Chris S.
    November 11, 2010

    Argusfreak which one?

  10. #10 mandas
    November 11, 2010

    Argusfreak

    Of course I don’t regard the ‘hockey stick’ as one of the facts. The ‘hockey stick’ is a graphical representation of a set of data – that’s all.

    ‘Facts’ are things like ‘the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing as a result of human activity’, or ‘the annual mean volume and extent of Arctic sea ice is reducing’, or ‘the mean global temperature has been increasing over the past 50 years’. You know – facts. In the case we are discussing here, a ‘fact’ would be ‘the ratio of opinion pieces in the media which reject AGW compared to opinion pieces which support AGW is substantially different to the equivalent ratio of scientific opinion on the same issue’.

  11. #11 DreamQuestor
    November 16, 2010

    “In one comment some months ago she called the blogger Deep Climate’s detailed and documented investigation into the Wegman Report “one of the most reprehensible attacks on a reputable scientist that I have seen” even as she revealed in her incorrect synopsis of the charges that she had not even read it for herself. (Something she admitted as part of a later plea to just forget the whole topic).”

    In a just world, this admission would mark the complete loss of Curry’s credibility with all concerned (including journalists and politicians.) Why would any sane person think that her opinion is valid when she has effectively acknowledged that she has not even done the basic research? What we really need is someone willing to discredit her on public television as effectively as Welch discredited Joe McCarthy. Whatever her former status in the field may have been, Curry has transformed herself into the Sarah Palin of climate science.

  12. #12 Marco
    November 16, 2010

    I wonder what Judith Curry thinks of DC’s latest:
    http://deepclimate.org/2010/11/16/replication-and-due-diligence-wegman-style/

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