Somewhat against my will, I find myself obliged to post about Hulme, if only to stop people arguing on other talk pages. Come and argue here, folks :-(.

Anyway, KK pointed me to two Hulme pieces, and I'll take those as my texts:


My immeadiate reaction is that these are both about science-n-politics. Which immeadiately says the the hacking incident has told us nothing interesting or new about the actual science. Which in turn is one in the eye for the septics, who insist it puts yet another stake through the heart of blah wibble.

Of the two, the Beeb one is a bit wanky I'd say - the philosophy-disappearing-up-its-own-posterior sort.

The classic virtues of scientific objectivity, universality and disinterestedness can no longer be claimed to be automatically effective as the essential properties of scientific knowledge. Instead, warranted knowledge - knowledge that is authoritative, reliable and guaranteed on the basis of how it has been acquired - has become more sought after than the ideal of some ultimately true and objective knowledge.

for example. Continuing The public may not be able to follow radiation physics, but they can follow an argument; they may not be able to describe fluid dynamics using mathematics, but they can recognise evasiveness when they see it. No, sorry, this is just pandering to the populace, as I said before. It is all very well, but in the end only a teensy tiny proportion of the public - well under, to pluck a figure out of the air, 1% - are ever going to have a meaningful appreciation of the real state of the science. The rest are going to have to trust to science mediated by the media, so to speak, and currently said media are doing a poor job (notably the Beeb, who are wont to "sex up" quotes from their interviewees when those interviewees don't say the exciting things the Beeb knows they really wanted to say. Alas, well-meaning people then copy the same junk onto wiki). There is no way the Public can come to a correct opinion based on their judging the scientific arguments, nor can this process be validly short-circuited by by some kind of "beauty parade" of the different views. This I think is one area where the septics have done well: "look", they say "you can judge for yourselves", they say, shamelessly pandering. Have I ranted about this enough now?

Where claims of scientific knowledge provide the basis of significant public policy, demands for what has been called "extended peer review" and "the democratisation of science" become overwhelming. - oh good grief. This is so stupid. Why press for this unworkable nonsense, and omit talking about something practical, and workable, that even exists in embryonic form today - open peer review? How well does the public understand professional peer review, for example, or the role of a workshop, a seminar and a conference in science? - my assumption would be, not at all. At this point I gave up on this piece by Hulme, considering it Unenlightening. Maybe we can blame his philosopher other half. If you think I gave up too early and missed the great stuff later on, put up a quote in the comments.

Lets move on to the WSJ piece.

Immeadiately, this looks better. I quibble it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for man-made climate change and the confidence placed in predictions of future change. I don't think that is true at all. If you're interested in the science then you ignore this hacking incident entirely, and people who try to mix them together. Unless he means, it is difficult based on the media reporting in which case I agree entirely, but point to any number of past posts where I've said it would be utterly hopeless to try to understand climate change based on the meeja.

One reaction to this "unreasonableness" is to get scientists to speak louder, more often, or more dramatically about climate change. Another reaction from government bodies and interest groups is to use ever-more-emotional campaigning. Agree; and both are bad. Too often, when we think we are arguing over scientific evidence for climate change, we are in fact disagreeing about our different political preferences, ethical principles and value systems. agree entirely; all too often the press mixes them up. sometimes deliberately, the septics certainly do. More often accidentally, though a lack of understanding.

If we build the foundations of our climate-change policies so confidently and so single-mindedly on scientific claims about what the future holds and what therefore "has to be done," then science will inevitably become the field on which political battles are waged. The mantra becomes: Get the science right, reduce the scientific uncertainties, compel everyone to believe it. . . and we will have won. Not only is this an unrealistic view about how policy gets made, it also places much too great a burden on science, certainly on climate science with all of its struggles with complexity, contingency and uncertainty. Yes, this is excellent. How can one man write this, and then the tosh of the Beeb piece? Weird.

Climate scientists, knowingly or not, become proxies for political battles. The consequence is that science, as a form of open and critical enquiry, deteriorates while the more appropriate forums for ideological battles are ignored. No, now he has gone off the rails again. The straight and narrow path is indeed narrow. Unless he is responding to the issues James has been raising, about the problems of getting critical responses to dodgy septic papers past the same editors who approved said dodgy papers in the first places? Somehow I don't think that is how the WSJ audience will be reading his words.

There is more, but I think that is enough. Conclusion: the WSJ piece is far better than the Beeb piece. Hulma has some valuable things to say and manages to say some of them, but needs to look a little more carefully at his phrasing, perhaps be a little harder-hitting in some of his examples (is he interested in Open Inquiry? Then lead by example: Name Names), and get better co-authors.


More like this

Looks like the Beeb got a fast reaction to that one, which is encouraging. First they amended the linked story a few hours after it was posted, and as I write this is their top news story.

Re Hulme, one obvious additional point to make is that a defense of the CRU is missing from both pieces. That's distinctly unhelpful and makes me wonder whether there's some sort of grudge involved. Hulme cannot have misunderstood how the absence of a defense would be interpreted.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

"...only a teensy tiny proportion of the public - well under, to pluck a figure out of the air, 1% - are ever going to have a meaningful appreciation of the real state of the science.
There is no way the Public can come to a correct opinion based on their judging the scientific arguments..."

That âeverâ part sounds awfully elitist to me. Maybe it is true right now with the woeful politicization of nearly all communication of the subject to the public. But what if we had completely honest and transparent (ââ¦open peer review?â would help) communication to the portion of the public with sufficient interest to take the time for understanding? Their âappreciation of the real state of the scienceâ would likely be passed on to a much larger portion of the public.

[No, not elitist, just a description of reality. What fraction of the public understand the equations of GR? Is that "elitist"? No, and you wouldn't think of describing it as such. It has nothing whatsoever to do with peer review -W]

By Steve Reynolds (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

From the other thread, Keith wrote in part:

'So here we have Hulme, a respected voice suggesting, especially in lieu of this controversy, that climate science not be the "central battleground." That idea seems worth taking up, no?

'Climate advocates like Bloom are not interested in taking it up, I suspect, because they believe that climate science should be the leading front in the political and policy battles. What seems worth debating, to me--at the very least--is the appropriate role for climate science with respect to the formation of public policy.'

It would certainly be worth taking up if it wasn't an impossibility. Given the political landscape in the U.S. (whence the problem arises, pretty clearly), the politics and science of climate change were doomed to be joined at the hip at an early stage. The question is how to protect the integrity of the science while advancing toward the political goal of a science-based climate policy, to rephrase your last sentence.

I think the answer boils down to relying on scientists to be clear on the distinction, and on the whole they're doing a pretty good job of that. Politicians and journalists are a different story. Ignoring the former for the moment, the Beeb story William linked above and the way Andy Revkin has handled the "scandal" indicate that all is not well even at the two institutions widely considered to be at the top of the profession.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

To follow up on what scientists should do, open peer review (a la the EGU as James recommends) and more thorough archiving of data/code are fine steps to take to eliminate current political targets, but the main thing is that scientists need to be a lot more pro-active with media. If there's a partial information vacuum, denialists, crackpots and opportunists are going to fill it some of the time. All of this takes time away from science, and most scientists aren't exactly natural material for the PR profession, but I'm afraid that's how it's going to have to be.

Of course plenty of people have already realized this and are working toward it in various ways, but a lot more scientists are going to need to get involved. There's a role for enviros as well; for example I monitor local media coverage of climate issues and make coverage suggestions where I can.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

Osmosis won't work very well, Steve R., especially as a large segment of the sufficiently interested are just interested in creating confusion since they dislike where the science is pointing.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 05 Dec 2009 #permalink

Well said. Time to move on, lessons learned. L'affaire du cru underscores that of all the reasons to as rapidly as possible replace carbon based energy, climate is absolutely the worst - the wrong word; all the reasons are good and probably of equal value - and should not be used as the basis for policy.

The people like Steve Bloom who comment on an astonishing array of blogs must be incredibly fast typists.


At some point you have to decide if you want to reach a goal or win an argument. It is very exciting that technology has advanced far enough that we can finally move away from carbon based energy. That goal is what is important, not whether some little piece of climate science - or even all of it - is right or wrong.

Look at CO2 based cap and trade schemes(The Copenhagen approach) where governments sell or give away CO2 emission allowances, which are tax/penalty avoidance coupons. This approach is so wrong that Dr. James Hansen, recognized as the preeminent CO2 climate scientist, has vehemently condemned it.

Don't be so naive, Paul. It's obvious that James Hansen's opposition to cap and trade is political/philosophical, not scientific. Hansen doesn't want the market to set the carbon price, which is understandable, but just because he's a famous scientist doesn't mean he's got a clue about how economy works.

By Alan Woods (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

What fraction of the public understand the equations of GR? - W

Perhaps if more climate scientists understood them and how they were verified we wouldn't be in the mess we are today.

Imagine if Einstein had argued "I have these great new equations. There's a fudge factor to be sure, but if I choose that factor just so I can get the precession of the perihelion of Mercury exactly right. And then if I set the fudge factor to this different number, I get the right answer for gravitational lensing by the Sun."

This is precisely what climate scientists do with aerosols in their various GCM models.

[The funny thing, though, is that Einstein was so convinced he was right that he had very little interest in the observations. Read, for example, the 1905 SR paper. Einstein is a classic case of the viewpoint you're trying to argue against: he was so convinced of a few principles - the equivalence principle, the constancy of the speed of light - that he really wasn't at all worried by a few experiments that appeared to contradict him - early measurements of the relatavistic mass-increase of the electron (Kaufmann) disagreed with SR, for example. Had the CEI (and, presumably, you) existed at that time they should have run around saying "SR is wrong; these experiments prove it; we all believe in the primacy of observations over theory" -W]

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

@Jonathan Baxter: if you claim that climate scientists are constantly altering aerosol forcings in their GCM models, you'd be lying.

Oh, and we all know that Einstein DID introduce a fudge factor in an equation, to allow for a static universe. And then removed it. And then others put it back's called the cosmological constant.

Alan Woods,

So a man as brilliant as Dr. Hansen is incapable of knowledge and insight beyond his academic training and professional work. I assume your degree is in economics, otherwise, by your own logic, you are unqualified to assess how much of a clue Dr. H has.

@Marco - whatever the value of he cosmological constant, it's still a *constant* - it doesn't change to suit the experimental setup. In contrast, GCMs have aerosols tuned to offset their sensitivity - eg Kiehl

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

[Cut. Sorry folks - this isn't CA; posts doing nothing except disparage someone else will generally be removed, unless it was me that wrote them -W]

By Paul Middents (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Had the CEI (and, presumably, you) existed at that time they should have run around saying "SR is wrong; these experiments prove it; we all believe in the primacy of observations over theory" -W

But GR was your example, not SR. SR was far less in doubt. The Lorentz transformation had been around since at least 1887 - well before Einstein's 1905 paper. Einstein's SR was mainly Occam + Lorentz: "we don't need no stinkin' ether". Besides, as I pointed out, Einstein wasn't in the habit of manipulating fudge factors to fit his theory to the observational data.

[Errm, except as has already been pointed out to you, he did: the cosmological constant was inserted precisely to fit the theory to the obs. And that SR was less in doubt is simple revisionism -W]

I don't recall where I read it (maybe Pais' biography?), but AFAIK Einstein was very interested in the outcome of the eclipse lensing experiments.

[Who knows? He certainly said, when asked what if the obs hadn't supported his theory, "the I would have been sorry for the Lord - the theory is correct" -W]

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

@Jonathan Baxter:
Funny, here I was, thinking people are fudging with the cosmological constant trying to fit it with observations. coming with wildly different values depending on the methodology they use.
Regarding Kiehl et al: as I understand it, many (not all) GCMs *fit* aerosol forcings, and that this fit ultimately *determines* the climate sensitivity, not *offset* the climate sensitivity.

@Marco: GCMs use different values for aerosol forcing *and* exhibit different sensitivities. And as Kiehl shows, those two tend to offset one-another within an individual GCM. Even though it is unknown, Aerosol forcing over the last century had an objective value: it can't be whatever you choose it to be. So the oft-quoted claim that the GCMs all "fit" the instrumental record and therefore must be in some sense "correct" is baloney. Maybe one model uses the right aerosol forcing and therefore might have some claim to the correct sensitivity, but they all can't.

The cosmologists are measuring a single cosmological constant. Even if different techniques come up with different values, that value has to be consistent with all observations. The climate modelers apparently don't feel so constrained: provided their model fits the temperature record they claim to be modeling physical reality, even though one model might require the moon to be made of green cheese to get the numbers to work out.

[You're going a bit off the rails here. You're wrong to assert, if that is what you're doing, that the models have had their aerosol forcing tuned to fit the warming. You're right to say "GCMs use different values for aerosol forcing *and* exhibit different sensitivities." (and that you say exhibit rather than use means you're ahead of 99% of the skeptics) -W]

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

"Errm, except as has already been pointed out to you, he did: the cosmological constant was inserted precisely to fit the theory to the obs."

The cosmological constant was inserted to allow for a static universe. There was no evidence at the time one way or another.

You really believe GCM aerosols haven't at least been implicitly tuned to improve the fit with the instrumental record? I am not talking about someone doing a regression of aerosol values, just the normal model tweaking that happens in the general course of running multiple series of experiments. You know, "ooh that one looks good, let's keep that".

It would be an astronomical fluke for all these different groups to A) build models with different sensitivities; B) choose different aerosol values by some criteria *not* related to the model's fit to the instrumental record, nor its climate sensitivity, and then C) have the model magically fit the instrumental record.

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Paul, that's a straw man's logic you're attacking not mine. I didn't say he was incapable of insight, nor did I say he didn't have a clue.

James Hansen is not a god, nor is he a philosopher king. He is not infallible (ask our host about c.s. = 6 degs). He's made his own philosophical leanings pretty explicit in the past, so we should be taking these into account when assessing his opinions in areas that fall within his philosophies but outside his direct scientific expertise.

By Alan Woods (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Erm, the first paper on general relativity was published in 1915, so you got a bit of a time machine going there. Eli knows this is true because he read it in the wikipedia, but since this was written by Stoat, he will now change the reference.....

Unfortunately, a high proportion of those commenting on various climate related blogs are not actually interested in learning some climatology; they prefer to remain willfully ignorant.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Full disclosure: I'm a skeptic (I'm skeptical that we have the ability to untangle the anthropogenic signature from natural variability).

But here's what nearly everyone can agree on: we need to move away from carbon based fuels. I'm a venture capitalist by background. Cap and Trade is not the answer. The solution to the problem (carbon based fuel use) is innovation. The solution to the problem is not conservation, its not by creating tax penalties, its not by lowering standards of living, and its not by lowering the ratio of the private economy to the public economy.
Its through investment tax credits for investors in technology start-ups and Manhattan-Project style research by governments (followed by aggressive technology transfer). Create the right incentives for innovation and this problem gets solved in 20 to 30 years.

If someone invents a new kind of solar cell and makes a billion dollars as a result, every one wins and everyone gets to enjoy cheap, clean, plentiful energy.

In other words Paul, we can go business as usual in the hope that someone has a tax credit-funded EUREKA moment. To me that sounds like a much higher risk strategy than cap 'n trade.

By Alan Woods (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink


I used Dr. Hansen to illustrate that basing policy on "the science" is not a cut and dried endeavor. My point, and possibly Hulme's, is that even if the goal is to avoid climate catastrophe, climate science is not the best basis for measuring and driving policy.

Policy should be based on things that actually replace or eliminate the need for carbon energy. I would focus on bringing down the costs of alternatives rather than increasing the cost of carbon.

The sad fact is that emitters will not bear any of the costs of either cap/trade or a carbon tax. All these will be passed on to the consumer. In cap/trade, by changing the currency from government issued CO2 emission allowances to units of carbon free energy actually produced, alternatives deployment occurs and individual consumers can participate and profit in the market.

Hereâs some perfectly good reasons for the necessity of energy transformation: Environment; Energy independence; Climate; Economic survival; National/International security.

Letâs look at how each might drive policy. Ethanol was originally favored by climate groups because it emits less CO2 than gasoline and by energy independence types and, of course, farmers. Environmentalists opposed ethanol, especially corn based. We now know we should have listened to the environmentalists.

Alan, first, I do think that technology will solve the problem. Cap and trade will discourage innovation and will be worse than 'business as usual'. You need to create incentives for investors. Investors invest based on an expected rate of return. If the government provided grants to green tech companies that function as paid-in-capital but do not dilute investors, then the probability of a big return on invested capital increases. For example, imagine that in the US we set up a government fund of $250B. This fund would make grants to private green tech companies of up to 3X the liquidation preference of the company. I can tell you that if this were to happen, the amount of private capital that would flow into these investments would be staggering. If you wanted the stampede to be even bigger, how about eliminating all capital gains taxes on gains from green tech investments?

Paul, so rather than private industries chasing improvements in technologies and alternatives due to an increasing price on carbon emissions making alternatives more economical, they do it to chase a $250B fund from government. Here in Australia those schemes tend to attract spivs like flies. As does elimination of captial gains - we call them ostrich farm schemes.

By Alan Woods (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

@Hank:18: see eg my Kiehl link in #12.

By Jonathan Baxter (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Alan, no you pursue grants as a means of building long term value for the company. Shareholders eventually make a ton of money based solely on a successful outcome for the company. The things works really well in the US. Australia has some quirky securities laws that make venture backed start-ups less effective. The structure of the companies needs to be carefully set up to avoid the ostrich problem. You need to have two classes of stock, common and preferred. Employees should own common and outside investors own preferred. Half of the members of the Board of Directors needs to be preferred holders.

Hulme writes: "it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for man-made climate change and the confidence placed in predictions of future change."

William writes: "I don't think that is true at all. If you're interested in the science then you ignore this hacking incident entirely, and people who try to mix them together."

Hulme is arguing overall (in the WSJ piece) that the political arguments for action are tangled up in the scientific arguments and this is not a good thing. And you say to this that if it's just about science, then the whole affair can be ignored. But that's plainly not the case here, because the emails show the scientists exhibiting a bunkerish mentality in the face of what they view as politically motivated attacks.

So the scientific and political are mixed together and thus the connection is impossible to ignore. That seems the larger lesson here.

Also, on a separate note, I believe it's rather hard to keep the scientific and political realms separate-- esp with respect to the issue of "climate sensitivity." To whit, David Biello, writing in Scientific American last week, says this:

"But how much heating and added CO2 is safe for human civilization remains a judgment call."…

Lots of varied judgment in that article from numerous climate scientists.

Then there are the predicted impacts to climate change--what shape they will take and when they will start really hitting in uniquivocal fashion.

Personally, I think it's futile to keep the science and political dimensions separate. I think it'll come down to how much uncertainty we as a society are willing to accept on these unsettled issues and how well climate advocates can take the focus off this uncertainty and instead make better arguments based on risk and values.

In that sense, I'm inclined to agree with Hulme main point-- that making climate science one of the central battlegrounds is a losing proposition. But that's the main strategy by advocates and "activist"s scientists, no?

I suggest that fellow readers don't get confused between "climate sensitivity" and the impacts of climate change. Double CO2 will warm the climate over the standard modelling interval by about about 3 C , and more than that over longer time periods. The human impact of climate change or the "economic sensitivity" isn't nearly as well known. Kkloor is talking about the second, not the first.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

Since Eli is not on the inside, were he to be suspicious he would wonder about Hulme's interactions with the CRU, both when he was there, before he became director of the Tyndall Center, and after, and the back and forth, were there any between Tyndall and the CRU.

Much of what is happening wrt people taking positions appears to be classic internal politics

Got any info?

Even better, got any dirt. . . :)

One more thought, a stylistic disagreement btw thee (and the Terminator) on one side and Eli on the other, is that at least in IEHO, you both appear to think of science in the mathematical sense. Hulme appears to sit on your side of the fence.

If Eli has been sufficiently obscure: Pure mathematics, may it never be of any use to anyone.

A lot of the issues Hulme brings up a present in many branches of science. Both Feyman and Jaynes wrote about how grants end up preverting science. Oh well.

The media is totally falling the public when it comes, to well, explanation in general.

CRU emails is a great case in point. You have Fox News saying that scientists were trying to hide a decline in weather, and then you have NY times explaining that it was merely the "divergence problem," like that means anything to a lay person.

I agree that the CRU emails haven't changed the first moment, but you've got to admit that they've changed second moment.

By Jonathan Fischoff (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

Personally, I think it's futile to keep the science and political dimensions separate. -kkloor.

Well, actually, mr. kloor, the most important job of a science journalist is to keep the science and political dimensions completely separate. It's really easy, in practice.

You start a new paragraph.

Hulme writes: "it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for man-made climate change and the confidence placed in predictions of future change."

Substitute "gravity" or "plate tectonics" for climate in the above sentence.

Douglas (34),

Ah, depends on the story. I've written stories where you can easily keep the science separate from the politics. My statement should be read in the context of this thread.

part of me seems to think there's a lot of schadenfreude & knife-twisting from "inside the community" on the whole CRU "scandal"; well I guess that's really evident in the Zorita stuff. But there has been precedent for science giving good advice to politicos and getting something done, most notably the ozone hole.

It seems hard to imagine if that was shifted up 30 years or so to modern times - would we have McI's and Inhofe's and others claiming i was all a waste of money and a liberal ploy for world government etc? and we wouldn't do anything so we'd all have skins like lobsters now? I know compared to AGW the ozone hole problem was a lot smaller; but it was still a pretty big deal and on a fairly long (well years) before we were confident the science & solution was working.

Kkloor -- I find it quite easy to keep science and politics separate. Science here. Politics over there. It's the reporter's job to keep them separate. As a science journalist for two decades, I've never found this to be a challenge. If you understand the science, separating out the non-science (ie. politics) is very easy. And if you don't understand the science, I've found it helpful to call up the scientists who did the research and ask them to explain it. George Denton, George Jacobson and Detmar Schnitker at UMaine were very patient and helpful to me in this respect when I did my first climate story in 1990. I learned a lot from them. Detmar told me, talking about sediment cores, "When you have no data, you can speculate all you want."


Are you saying there are no legitimate stories where both the politics and science of climate change can be discussed? It's either one or the other? Perhaps I'm not getting your point.

Does this rule apply to all science-related stories, where the politics and science of a given subject are reported in separate spheres? I mean, I did a piece a few years ago about the cloning of endangered species and the conservation implications. Should I have written two separate stories, one just about cloning and the other about the political/policy concerns?

Stem cell research, to take another hot button issue a few years back, would seem to put science journalists in a similar predicament. Just write separate stories about the science of stem cells and others about the ethical questions?

Again, maybe I'm being daft, so please clarify.

Are you saying there are no legitimate stories where both the politics and science of climate change can be discussed? It's either one or the other?

Keith, thanks for your patience. What I'm saying is that if you are a journalist your first priority when covering a story is to clearly separate the disputes about the science from disputes about the political ramifications of the science. These are two completely separate animals. If I'm doing a dam removal story, and the dam owner questions whether fish X will actually benefit from removal of the dam, that's a purely scientific question. If the dam owner questions whether the cost to society from removing the dam exceeds the benefit of allowing fish X to be able to go upstream and spawn, that's a purely political question. Do we care if fish go extinct or not? How much are we willing to "pay" to not let them slide into extinction?

Unfortunately, science journalism is dumb -- in the sense that you have editors who demand that in order to get page space you must conjure up some controversy or "hook" just to get the information printed. But lots of times, like the Viking Mars Lander, the simple fact of the scientific event is reason enough to give it space. I shudder to think of an editor saying that Viking landing on Mars is only "news" if I can find some crackpot who says it's all a hoax, or there are vast civilizations on Mars that NASA is trying to hide.

I say this as someone who likes to write stories about freshwater mussels. For their own sake.


Thanks for clarifying. I'm now clear on what you mean. I also enjoy writing science-only stories on, say, the latest paleo history of tree islands in the Everglades, or the findings of a new archaeological ruin.

But as much public debate on climate change revolves around issues related to mitigation, it seems only natural that many stories would necessarily have political angles, since the measures would stem from political action. After all, let's remember why tens of thousands of people have just flooded into Copenhagen from around the world. They didn't come to chew over computer models or paleo data.

Pretty hard to separate science from policy and politics in this case. Give praise to all the hard working climate scientists, but their work would be of little note were it not being used and abused to promote the whole range of policy positions.

CRU's charter gives it the specific mission to inform public policy. One of the emails talks about balancing the needs of science and the needs of the IPCC. Prominent climate scientists make policy pronouncements all the time, even justifying vandalism against "the enemy". Mann and Schmidt do a press conference set up by the hyper political Center for American Progress.

Carl C,

McI and Inhofe are not in the same tribe. Even a casual reading of CA shows that his only criticism of the science is in the narrow area of paleo and dendro proxies. He eschews policy discussions, but has said that were he a policymaker he would rely on the IPCC.

I think you're being a bit too generous on McI. I think McI probably started with some good ideas & criticisms, but has morphed over the years to be the sort of attention-grabbing wonk that he criticizes climate scientists over. And his bragging awhile ago of hanging out and smoking cigars & drinking port with the likes of Inhofe & Singer et al hasn't really made me think much of his objectivity. And then when you see his partner McK signing on to bizarre stuff like that petition "Jesus would not like us to do anything about global warming - it will make poor people poorer!" - you really have to wonder what the hell these Canadians are drinking.

Plus McI's site ended up being this hilarious daily screeching he's found yet another phony study or scandal. It's not just MBH & Jones he flips over, you'd think 80% of climate scientists (Hunter et al) are in on some big conspiracy. And he's been bitching about far more than dendro; he's quick to jump on the Watt temperature reading BS, climate model bashing etc. My own run in with him was when my old project (, the BBC experiment) had a faulty ancil file from the MO that crashed the models in year 2013. So he was all over it screeching that invalidated everything we did since the start of the project etc. A lot of bullshit & lies basically. So I guess when an "actual big scandal" such as CRUgate came around, his head exploded as much as his website - since he's been "the boy who cried wolf" for years.

but anyway, to sort of try to tie this all up to the topic at hand -- I think the McI becoming a really pissed-off wonk, and the stuff from von S & Zorita and Hulme and god knows who else is "et tu Brute" in the field over the CRUgate emails, basically points to that unfortunately scientists are all too human. There are a lot of jealous & pompous windbags and frankly assholes in this field; perhaps because EVERYBODY thinks they can weigh in and be an export on the topic (lawyers, economists, born-again politicians etc). And also many (esp in the climate field) have the abrasive personalities & defiinitely the huge egos and the zeal to get on the telly that make many sick of 'em (i.e. the initially curious McI types who end up hating all the scientists; the other scientists who are jealous etc). My favorite example is when Gavin Schmidt "lost" a debate on global warming with now deceased writer Michael Crichton (and Gavin was in front of a "friendly" NY audience).

Anyway, I sort of think these personal issues or lack of social graces or whatever, is what Judith Curry meant in her post but was probably too shy to really spell it out. I guess it's almost as bad as if top computer geeks (my field) were to somehow have to talk to the general public about important issues etc (just go to slashdot and see the socially repressed/living in their parents' basement stereotypes in action ;-)

I guess we need a Carl Sagan today, and there isn't any? I mean he was a geek and people loved making up that "billions & billions" stuff but he was sort of the Walter Cronkite or David Attenborough of the public face of science (although come to think of it right-wingers hate Cronkite & Attenborough don't they, so perhaps not a great example). Or hell, maybe if there was a "Carl Sagan of climate" (Gore doesn't count what with all his political baggage) - it would just end up like that absurd video of Joe Barton trying to grill Energy Secretary Chu in 30 seconds because he didn't understand plate tectonics:

"No one expects the Tectonics Inquisition."

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

Carl C

Carl Sagan is exactly the guy we don't need. His wildly trumped up nuclear winter was far off the mark. Remember?

Re Chu and Barton, Barton is a petroleum engineer and understood very well how the oil came to be in Alaska. Chu was wrong.

Tom C:

I checked out Barton's Wikipedia page and although he "consulted" for Atlantic Richfield, this was after he worked in the Secretary of Energy's office under Reagan. Sounds more like a lobbyist to me.

He never studied petroleum engineering.

By Rattus Norvegicus (not verified) on 08 Dec 2009 #permalink

well Tom, thankfully Sagan's "nuclear winter" never happened because, even with the Rethugs best/worst efforts, we didn't go into nuclear war decades ago to try it out. You're not confusing "nuclear winter" with the few guys in the 70's touting "global cooling" are you (which stoat has blogged a lot on)? If you are confusing the two, then William will really have a field day with you!

Matt Taibbi has documented quite well the horrible Joe Barton. The best (worst) is trying to repeal the Clean Air Act in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Hi. Been reading the blog over the last few days (I know I know - why not before? :D )

Anyhow, over at Cosmic Variance someone posted in the comments a link to this:

It seems to make some specious points about models, and there are no references to the scientific literature, but I'm not qualified to criticize it beyond that. Can you help me assess it?

[Broadly, its yet more septic junk, but politely wrapped up. It could easily be ripped to shreds, if anyone cared enough to bother. "The blue line corresponds to the IPCC no-feedback formula that I think originally goes back to Michael Mann" strikes me as obviously weird -W]

L'affaire du CRU, part deux:

The Harry read me file looks like a programmer trying to reassemble data from an existing value adding program that adjusts temperature data to use in a newer one. He doesn't seem to be constructing the new program itself which I think is called CRUtemp3.1. Do you have any expertise in this type of data mining and how does it affect climate modeling?

Re Chu and Barton, Barton is a petroleum engineer and understood very well how the oil came to be in Alaska. Chu was wrong.

Did Jesus put it there?

But as much public debate on climate change revolves around issues related to mitigation, it seems only natural that many stories would necessarily have political angles, since the measures would stem from political action

Thanks Keith. I agree. Which is why it is critical for science journalists to maintain a clear demarcation in their text between issues of pure science (what does the data actually say?) and the political/economic ramifications of the data (what should society do in response to the data?).

Of course, responsible news coverage of proposed mitigation must go through the same process of demarcation. Many issues surrounding mitigation are purely scientific (will the mitigation will work as predicted? Will the mitigation have disastrous and/or asymmetrical side effects?). The accompanying question of who has to pay is a political/societal/cultural question.

This is how I approach it.

Barton? he mocks continental drift in the video his office put up on YouTube, and says that he thinks the petroleum around the North Pole is there because the North Pole was a lot warmer.

Sagan -- not bad for the computers at the time. Any model you can name that requires significant computation has benefited from the past few decades of better computers.

Remember what kind of computers we had available when the atomic bombs were first built?

Our ability to build technology has _always_ anticipated our ability to forsee the consequences of using it.

A message from the 1930s or even earlier
-- still devastatingly timely:
J.W. Mauchly, advertisement for tutoring services

What do we know now from improvements on Sagan's work? Much of great interest:…

And now the dark side of "journalism" - the infamous Bali open letter to the U.N., organized by Tom Harris (Canada's Marc Morano).

The National Post's coverage of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chamge) Bali conference two years ago ... did feature one particularly disturbing instance of contrarian boosterism, the infamous Bali open letter.

The full story, told here for the first time, shows how editor and skeptic cheerleader Terence Corcoran crossed the line from opinionated commentary to active participation in a shadowy public relations stunt aimed at scuttling the Bali negotiations. And complaisant editor-in-chief Douglas Kelly went along with the charade, not even bothering to force Corcoran to reveal the key involvement of longtime disinformation specialist Tom Harris and his "astroturf" Natural Resources Stewardship Project.

Miffed at not being invited to Copenhagen, the Tectonics Inquisition has asked Halliburton to bid on running invar manacle chains from anchor points in Africa and North America to a comfy chair in the Azores.

With Sarah Palin having taken over from Michael, it was only to be expected.

By Dacron Mather (not verified) on 10 Dec 2009 #permalink