I'm having another "Alice down the rabbit hole" moment, in response to the Scientific American article, the explication of the article by its author Michael Lemonick, Scientific American's survey on whether I am a dupe or a peacemaker, and the numerous discussions in blogosphere.
My first such moment was in 2005 in response to the media attention
associated with the hurricane wars, which was described in a Q&A
with Keith Kloor at collide-a-scape. While I really want to make
this blog about the science and not about personalities (and especially
not about me), this article deserves a response.
The title of the article itself is rather astonishing. The Wikipedia defines heresy as: "Heresy
is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a
religion, that conflicts with established dogma." The definition of dogma is "Dogma
is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or
any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed,
doubted, or diverged from." Use of the word "heretic" by
Lemonick implies general acceptance by the "insiders" of the IPCC as
dogma. If the IPCC is dogma, then count me in as a heretic.
The story should not be about me, but about how and why the IPCC became
And what exactly is the nature of my challenges to the dogma?
Lemonick made the following statement: ""What I found out is that
when [Curry] does raise valid points, they're often points the
climate-science community already agrees with — and many climate
scientists are scratching their heads at the implication that she's
uncovered some dark secret." This statement implies that I
am saying nothing new, nothing that climate scientists don't already
know. Well that is mostly true (an exception being my recent blog
series on uncertainty); I am mostly saying things that are blindingly
obvious to everyone. Sort of like in the story "The Emperor's New
Clothes." A colleague of mine at Georgia Tech, a Chair from a
different department, said something like this: "I've been
reading the media stories on the Georgia Tech Daily News Buzz that
mention your statements. Your statements seem really
sensible. But what I don't understand is why such statements are
regarded as news?"
Well that is a question that deserves an answer. I lack the
hubris to think that my statements should have any public
importance. The fact that they seem to be of some importance says a
lot more about the culture of climate science and its perception by the
public, than it says about me.
Why am I being singled out here? Richard Lindzen and Roger
Pielke Sr. have been making far more critical statements about the IPCC
and climate science for a longer period than I have. And both
score higher than me in the academic pecking order (in terms of
number of publications and citations and external peer recognition).
The answer must be in the narrative of my transition from a "high
priestess of global warming" to engagement with skeptics and a critic of
the IPCC. The "high priestess of global warming" narrative (I
used to see this term fairly frequently in the blogosphere, can't spot
it now) arose from my association with the hurricane and global warming
issue, which at the time was the most alarming issue associated with
The overall evolution of my thinking on global warming is described
in the Q&A at collide-a-scape (the relevant statements are appended
at the end of this post.) My thinking and evolution on this issue
since 11/19/09 deserves further clarification. When I first
started reading the CRU emails, my reaction was a visceral one.
While my colleagues seemed focused on protecting the reputations of the
scientists involved and assuring people that the "science hadn't
changed," I immediately realized that this could bring down the
IPCC. I became concerned about the integrity of our entire field:
both the actual integrity and its public perception. When I
saw how the IPCC was responding and began investigating the broader
allegations against the IPCC, I became critical of the IPCC and tried to
make suggestions for improving the IPCC. As glaring errors were
uncovered (especially the Himalayan glaciers) and the IPCC failed to
respond, I started to question whether it was possible to salvage the
IPCC and whether it should be salvaged. In the meantime, the
establishment institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere were mostly silent
on the topic.
In Autumn 2005, I had decided that the responsible thing to do in
making public statements on the subject of global warming was to adopt
the position of the IPCC. My decision was based on two reasons: 1)
the subject was very complex and I had personally investigated a
relatively small subset of the topic; 2) I bought into the meme of
"don't trust what one scientists says, trust what thousands of IPCC
scientists say." A big part of my visceral reaction to events
unfolding after 11/19 was concern that I had been duped into supporting
the IPCC, and substituting their judgment for my own in my public
statements on the subject. So that is the "dupe" part of all this,
perhaps not what Lemonick had in mind.
If, how, and why I had been duped by the IPCC became an issue of
overwhelming personal and professional concern. I decided
that there were two things that I could do: 1) speak out publicly and
try to restore integrity to climate science by increasing transparency
and engaging with skeptics; and 2) dig deeply into the broader aspects
of the science and the IPCC's arguments and try to assess the
uncertainty. The Royal Society Workshop on Handling Uncertainty in
Science last March motivated me to take on #2 in a serious way. I
spent all summer working on a paper entitled "Climate Science and the
Uncertainty Monster," which was submitted to a journal in
August. I have no idea what the eventual fate of this paper will
be, but it has seeded the uncertainty series on Climate Etc. and its
fate seems almost irrelevant at this point.
There are some parallels between the "McIntyre monster" and the
"Curry monster." The monster status derives from our challenges to the
IPCC science and the issue of uncertainty. While the McIntyre
monster is far more prominent in the public debate, the Curry monster
seems far more irksome to community insiders. The CRU emails
provide ample evidence of the McIntyre monster, and in the wake of the
CRU emails I saw a discussion at RealClimate about the unbridled power
of Steve McIntyre. Evidence of the Curry monster is provided by
this statement in Lemonick's article: "What scientists worry is that
such exposure means Curry has the power to do damage to a consensus on
climate change that has been building for the past 20 years." This
sense of McIntyre and myself as having "power" seems absurd to me (and
probably to Steve), but it seems real to some people.
Well, who created these "monsters?" Big oil and the right-wing
ideologues? Wrong. It was the media, climate activists, and
the RealClimate wing of the blogosphere (note, the relative importance
of each is different for McIntyre versus myself). I
wonder if the climate activists will ever learn, or if they will follow
the pied piper of the merchants of doubt meme into oblivion.
A note to my critics in the climate science community
Let me preface my statement by saying that at this point, I am
pretty much immune to criticisms from my peers regarding my behavior and
public outreach on this topic (I respond to any and all criticisms of
my arguments that are specifically addressed to me.) If you think
that I am a big part of the cause of the problems you are facing, I
suggest that you think about this more carefully. I am doing my
best to return some sanity to this situation and restore science to a
higher position than the dogma of consensus. You may not like it,
and my actions may turn out to be ineffective, futile, or
counterproductive in the short or long run, by whatever standards this
whole episode ends up getting judged. But this is my carefully
considered choice on what it means to be a scientist and to behave with
personal and professional integrity.
Let me ask you this. So how are things going for you lately?
A year ago, the climate establishment was on top of the world,
masters of the universe. Now we have a situation where there have
been major challenges to the reputations of a number of a number of
scientists, the IPCC, professional societies, and other institutions of
science. The spillover has been a loss of public trust in climate
science and some have argued, even more broadly in science. The
IPCC and the UNFCCC are regarded by many as impediments to sane and
politically viable energy policies. The enviro advocacy groups are
abandoning the climate change issue for more promising narratives.
In the U.S., the prospect of the Republicans winning the House of
Representatives raises the specter of hearings on the integrity of
climate science and reductions in federal funding for climate research.
What happened? Did the skeptics and the oil companies and the
libertarian think tanks win? No, you lost. All in the name
of supporting policies that I don't think many of you fully understand.
What I want is for the climate science community to shift gears
and get back to doing science, and return to an environment where debate
over the science is the spice of academic life. And because of
the high relevance of our field, we need to figure out how to provide
the best possible scientific information and assessment of
uncertainties. This means abandoning this religious adherence to
Addendum: reproduced from my Q&A at collide-a-scape
"Circa 2003, I was concerned about the way climate research was treating uncertainty (see my little essay presented to the NRC Climate Research Committee).
I was considered somewhat quixotic but not really outside of the
mainstream (p.s. the CRC didn't pay any attention to my essay, they went
off in a different direction that focused on communicating uncertainty
and decisionmaking under uncertainty). During this period, I
was comfortably ensconced in the ivory tower of academia, writing
research papers, going to conferences, submitting grant proposals.
I was 80% oblivious to what was going on in terms of the public debate
surrounding climate change.
This all changed on September 14, 2005, when I participated in a press conference on our forthcoming paper
that described a substantial increase in the global number of category 4
and 5 hurricanes. The unplanned and uncanny timing of publication of
this paper was three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New
Orleans. While global warming was mentioned only obliquely in the
paper, the press focused on the global warming angle and a media furor
followed. We were targeted as global warming alarmists, capitalizing on
this tragedy to increase research funding and for personal publicity, a
threat to capitalism and the American way of life, etc.
At the same time, we were treated like rock stars by the
environmental movement. Our 15 minutes stretched into days, weeks
and months. Hurricane Katrina became a national focusing event for
the global warming debate. We were particularly stung by criticisms
from fellow research scientists who claimed that we were doing this "for
the money" and attacked our personal and scientific integrity. We
felt that one scientist in particular had crossed the line and
committed a series of fouls, and this turned the scientific debate into
academic guerrilla warfare between our team and the skeptics that was
played out in the glare of the media. This "war" culminated
in an article
published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, "Debate
shatters the civility of weather science" on Feb 2, 2006 . .
. This article became a catharsis for the hurricane research
community, that engendered extensive email discussion among scientists
on both sides of the public debate. We did an email version of a "group
hug" and vowed to stop the guerilla warfare.
I had lost my bearings in all of this, and the Wall Street Journal
article had the effect of a bucket of cold water being poured over my
head. I learned several important lessons from this experience:
just because the other guy commits the first "foul" doesn't give you the
moral high ground in protracted academic guerilla warfare. Nothing in
this crazy environment is worth sacrificing your personal or
professional integrity. After all, no one remembers who fired the
first shot, all they see is unprofessional behavior.
I took a step back and tried to understand all this craziness and learn from it. I even wrote a journal article
on this, "Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis that
Greenhouse Warming is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane
Intensity." This paper got quite a bit of play in the blogosphere
upon its publication in Aug 2006, and at this time I made my first major
foray into the blogosphere, checking in at all the blogs where the
paper was being discussed. See esp realclimate and climateaudit (but I can no longer find the original thread on climateaudit).
At climateaudit, the posters had some questions about statistics and
wanted to see the raw data. I was pretty impressed by the level of
discussion, and wondered why I had not come across this blog before
over at the realclimate blogroll. Then I realized that I was on
Steve McIntyre's blog (I had sort of heard of his tiff with Mann, but
wasn't really up on all this at the time). I was actually having
much more fun over at climateaudit than at realclimate, and I thought it
made much more sense to spend time at climateaudit rather than to
preach to the converted at realclimate. Back in 2006
spending time at climateaudit was pretty rough sport (it wasn't really
moderated at the time). When I first started spending time over
there, the warmist blogs thought it was really funny, and encouraged me
to give ‘em hell.
I was continuing my overall thinking on how to better deal with
skeptics and increase the credibility and integrity of science. I
gave an invited talk
at Fall 2006 AGU meeting, entitled "Falling out of the ivory
tower: Reflections on mixing politics and climate science." This
is where I first started talking about circling the wagons, etc. I
don't think this was quite what the convenors had in mind when they
invited me to give this talk, but at the time I still had pretty solid
status as a survivor of vicious political attacks during the hurricane
wars and was a heroine for taking down Bill Gray.
When the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report was published in 2007, I
joined the consensus in supporting this document as authoritative; I was
convinced by the rigors of the process, etc etc. While I didn't
personally agree with everything in the document (still nagging concerns
about the treatment of uncertainty), I bought into the meme of "don't
trust what one scientist says, listen to the IPCC." During 2008
and 2009, I became increasingly concerned by the lack of "policy
neutrality" by people involved in the IPCC and policies that didn't make
sense to me. But after all, "don't trust what one scientist
says", and I continued to substitute the IPCC assessment for my own
personal judgment [in my public statements].
November 19, 2009: bucket of cold water #2. When I first saw
the climategate emails, I knew these were real, they confirmed concerns
and suspicions that I already had. After my first essay
"On the credibility . . ." posted at climateaudit, I got some emails
that asked me to be sensitive to the feelings of the scientists
involved. I said I was a whole lot more worried about the IPCC, in
terms of whether it could be saved and whether it should be
saved. I had been willing to substitute the IPCC for my own
personal judgment [in public statements], but after reading those
emails, the IPCC lost the moral high ground in my opinion. Not to
say that the IPCC science was wrong, but I no longer felt obligated in
substituting the IPCC for my own personal judgment.
So the Judith Curry ca 2010 is the same scientist as she was in 2003,
but sadder and wiser as a result of the hurricane wars, a public
spokesperson on the global warming issue owing to the media attention
from the hurricane wars, more broadly knowledgeable about the global
warming issue, much more concerned about the integrity of climate
science, listening to skeptics, and a blogger (for better or for worse).
. . People really find it hard to believe that I don't have a
policy agenda about climate change/energy (believe me, Roger Pielke Jr
has tried very hard to smoke me out as a "stealth advocate").
Yes, I want clean green energy, economic development and "world
peace". I have no idea how much climate change should be weighted
in these kinds of policy decisions. I lack the knowledge, wisdom
and hubris to think that anything I say or do should be of any
consequence to climate/carbon/energy policy."
As noted in the first paragraph, the article reprinted above is a response to
Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues,
Michael D. Lemonick, Scientific American Magazine, October 25, 2010. For continuing analysis of climategate and the climate change issue by Prof. Curry, see her blog.
The following is a very small sample of recent postings on the politics of climate change:
Climategate: One Year and Sixty House Seats Later,
Marc Sheppard, American Thinker, 17 November 2010.
Pondering the impacts of Climategate one year later,
Jennifer Rennicks, Footprints on the Path to Clean Energy, 18 November 2010.
Closing the Climategate,
Nature, Volume 468, 18 November 2010. This editorial starts with a succint statement of the lesson learned: "The official inquiry might have exonerated scientists, but attitude changes are needed for science to ensure it holds the public's trust."
Scientists and Journalists on 'Lessons Learned' (Part 1), Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, 18 November 2010.
Time to Take Action on Climate Communication, Thomas E. Bowman, Edward Maibach, Michael E. Mann, Richard C. J. Somerville, Barry J. Seltser, Baruch Fischhoff, Stephen M. Gardiner,
Robert J. Gould, Anthony Leiserowitz, and Gary Yohe, Science, 19 November 2010.
Climategate is Still the Issue, James Corbett, Corbett Report, 19 November 2010.
United Nations Climate Change Conference Cancun - COP 16 & CMP 6, UNFCCC, as of 19 November 2010. This conference is scheduled for 29 November - 10 December, 2010. Conference web site: COP16-CMP6.
Scientists and Journalists on 'Lessons Learned' (Part 2), Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, 23 November 2010.
Cancun: your five-minute guide to the COP16 climate change conference , The Ecologist, 25 November 2010.
United Nations climate talks in limbo, Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, 27 November 2010.
To Fight Climate Change, Clear the Air, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and David G. Victor, New York Times, 27 November 2010.
Green view: The shadow of climategate, The Economist Online, 28 November 2010.
Agreement on new emission cut regime unlikely at Cancun, Meena Menon, The Hindu, 30 November 2010.
The final climate frontiers: Scientists aim to improve and localize their predictions, Alexandra Witze, ScienceNews, 4 December 2010.
Hundreds of comments are posted following some of these articles. An avalanche of news and articles have been posted during the month of November. Most of the material available has been written by scientists or journalists. Inputs from concerned citizens can also inform the debate for the common good. For those who are not scientists, an interesting possibility is the climate change section of Cornell University's Citizen Science Central, a project of the
Public Participation in Scientific Research initiative. From a Christian perspective, the Budapest Call for Climate Justice is respectfully offered for consideration. Hopefully, the dust will settle down before it is too late.