The Island of Doubt

There aren’t too many working climate scientists out there arguing that the release of the University of East Anglia emails may end up being a good thing. But that seems to be what Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology is arguing. Over at Collide-a-scape, Keith Kloor has posted an email exchange with Curry, who lays out her problems with the state of climate science, the IPCC and a few individuals, ostensibly in hopes of generating some sincere soul-searching and reflection that results in improvements to both the climatology community and the way it communicates with the public.


All well and good. In fact, both the exchange and the comments it provokes are fascinating. Go read it. Most of what Curry has to say — and make sure you read her comments as well as her responses to Keith’s questions — are straightforward, though not always uncontroversial. WIlliam Connelley takes issue with much of what Curry has to say, for example. I’m not going to weigh in on much of the debate as I have little to add in most cases. But one of Curry’s comments deserves to be highlighted:

Gavin Schmidt and Richard Lindzen are saying, well, what you would expect them to say

Schmidt is a NASA climatologist and one of the driving forces behind Real Climate. Like Curry, he accepts the basic premise and most of the science that inform anthropogenic global warming. He’s a respected and hard-working scientist whose competence and integrity have never been questioned by his peers.

Lindzen is an MIT meterologist who does not enjoy the same degree of credibility. His most recent op-ed, which appears in the denial-happy Australian and Wall Street Journal, doesn’t do much to salvage his reputation. Making claims about “unambiguous evidence of the unethical suppression of information and opposing viewpoints, and even data manipulation” despite the contrary conclusions of at least three independent reviews (two in the UK, one at Penn State) of the allegations arising from the UEA emails is just plain bizarre. As Tim Lambert puts it, “It seems that Lindzen simply does not care whether what he writes is true or not.”

To imply some kind of equivalency between Schmidt and Lindzen is perhaps not what Curry meant, but that’s the way it comes off, and it does Schmidt a great disservice.

In the end, the window into Curry’s perspective is refreshing. Right or wrong about the IPCC process or the state of uncertainty analyses, she’s a complex character who is doing some serious thinking about the way scientists interact with society large, and she’s hard to predict. For example, she shares James Hansen’s distrust of cap-and-trade mechanisms because of the inevitable corruption of such markets by Wall Street. On the other hand, she says Steven McIntyre has made “an important contribution” through his critical analysis of the “hockey stick,” a statement that won’t endear her to those who are tired of hearing the nonsensical claim that the stick has been discredited.

By the way, both Schmidt and Curry have generously granted interviews and assisted me in my work as a journalist in the past. It’s not particularly gratifying to see two good scientists sniping at each other. But they’re both adults and I’m sure they’ll both be able to laugh at it all in 30 years … assuming we’re still in a laughing mood, what with the specter of 4 or 5 °C of warming hanging over us.