So often you get folks who have some brilliant theory, but unaccountably lack the courage to write the thing up and submit it for publication. However, I’m pleased to report that Nicolas Nierenberg is not such a man, and he *has* written a paper: Early Climate Change Consensus at the National Academy: The Origins and Making of Changing Climate (blog post). Whether (like me) you think it is basically correct or (perhaps, I’m guessing, like Eli you don’t) you will, I’m sure, welcome the way this is being played out in scholarly debate.
What’s it all about? Broadly speaking, this is but a minor wrinkle on the great road of climate scholarship. To some extent this paper is a complement to (but, I think, less important than) my paper with Peterson and Fleck on the “global cooling” stuff. Not because it is directly related, but because, like PCF, it examines a period in the history of the developement of climate science, and actually uses real sources rather than careless broad-brush handwaving.
Getting a bit closer, this may have an impact on the wider debate because it impacts, negatively, on the reputation and credibility of Naomi Oreskes. Who (no doubt quite unfairly) is mainly known for her analysis showing that there are few if any proper paper disagreeing with the std.assessment of climate change. And before you call me a total apostate, let me point out that (apart from a slight carelessness with which she described her search terms) that paper is essentially correct, and valuable.
So, Oreskes decided to go a bit further back and published an article with an extremely stupid name which attempted to rip up [[William Nierenberg]]. Initially I was uncertain – for example, not really understanding the chronology, I was prepared to believe that Nierenberg was Evil because he was appointed by Reagan (he wasn’t (appointed by Reagan, that is. Whether he was Evil or not is another issue on which I have no strong opinions)).
[Update: looks like the PDF I've been reffing has been moved. Try http://www2.lse.ac.uk/CPNSS/projects/CoreResearchProjects/ContingencyDissentInScience/DP/DPOreskesetalChickenLittleOnlinev2.pdf - thanks SS -W]
Nicolas Nierenberg (son to William, in case you were uncertain, and so no doubt possibly swayed by the bonds of filial affection) also thought Oreskes was wrong, and has commented here and on his blog on the matter; leading now to the publication of his joint paper. Congratulations.
Where does this leave Oreskes? Looking a bit silly, and a bit shoddy too I think. Whilst the “Ivory Tower” paper was valid, and decent work, the “Chicken Itza” paper seems to have been written around pre-arranged conclusions, or perhaps even around its absurd title. As NN writes on his blog I was quite shocked to discover that much of the material [in Oreskes] had been paraphrased in ways that changed the meaning, or which misrepresented the original document. I can only assume that the authors didn’t think anyone would get access to the original material. Still, on the plus side, it is unlikely that anyone outside the incestuous field of climate history scholarship will notice or care.
One thing I did want to say is that I think NN is wrong, at least partialy, on the climate sensitivity issue. I recall having a discussion with him about this on his blog but can’t now find that. So I’ll just note the issue here as a placeholder.
Incidentally: note that the “Nierenberg report” is now available via google books. Hurrah for google!