Friday, November 5, 2010

A Good Week for Skeptics

... or the climatically heterodox.

1. Judith Curry is having a tremendous impact, suggesting as a former warming insider that the IPCC process is fundamentally flawed. (h/t for all of this to WUWT) I joked at work that she may be the Galileo of climate science. She is written up in the magazine of the university where she teaches (where she apparently still has a lot of support):

Instead of simply trying to curb greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, Curry advocates making humanity less vulnerable to extreme events such as hurricanes and focusing on regional issues. In Atlanta, for example, global warming is less of a concern than water. Droughts and floods create significant problems for the rapidly growing population.

The question then naturally arises. What is Judith Curry sure about?
She pauses before giving an answer in three parts.
“Climate always changes,” she says.
“Carbon dioxide, all other things being equal, will contribute to a warmer planet.”
And lastly, “Whether in the coming century greenhouse gas will dominate natural variability remains to be seen.”


Of course, she still tends to say there was a time when the skeptics appeared to be either lunatics or shills in the pay of big oil--then along came Steve McIntyre. This is a bit self-serving for someone who has really only become skeptical recently. The writer of the article assumes the CRU people and Michael Mann are honest, etc.

Curry is blogging away like mad (or perhaps I should say: with great determination):

The “discernible” [human influence on global climate] [in AR 2] and the hockey stick [AR 3] should never have made it into the summary for policy makers. Do we blame Mann and Santer for this? Heck no (well they were complicit, but not to blame). These were decisions made by people that were higher up and with pressure from policy makers. At the time of publication of the TAR in 2001, Mann was 3 years post Ph.D. Santer is a few years younger than I am, which was pretty young (early 4o’s) in the early 1990′s when the SAR was being prepared. Whatever their scientific talents or contributions, they were put into a highly political situation that required a lot of judgment and experience to navigate these things.


In spite of being “burned” as part of the IPCC process, both Mann and Santer remained very loyal to the IPCC and defensive of it, and have been rewarded professionally. I argue that they have also been victimized by the IPCC (they can hardly enjoy the threats, etc.) Some prominent climate scientists left the field because it was too political, notably Starley Thompson.


So, do we spend time beating up or defending scientists like Mann and Santer, or do we try to understand the nature of the system that both victimize and rewarded scientists like Mann and Santer? I for one am trying to get at the issues with the system and to understand how this all went so wrong.


2. Steven Mosher (a "lukewarmer") finally addresses the issue that Anthony Watts is famous for highlighting: the credibility of weather stations for reliable reports of "global temperature."

In the debate over the accuracy of the global temperature nothing is more evident than errors in the location data for stations in the GHCN inventory. That inventory is the primary source for all the temperature series.

One question is “do these mistakes make a difference?” If one believes as I do that the record is largely correct, then it’s obvious that these mistakes cannot make a huge difference. If one believes, as some do, that the record is flawed, then it’s obvious that these mistakes could be part of the problem. Up until know that is where these two sides of the debate stand.


Throughout this process I think we can say two things that are unassailable:

1. the mistakes are real. 2. we simply don’t know if they make a difference. Some believe they cannot (but they haven’t demonstrated that) and some believe they will (but they haven’t demonstrated that). The demonstration of either position requires real work. Up to now no one has done this work.


So the science is ... unsettled.

3. McIntyre is also banging away. Trevor Davies, University of East Anglia pro-vice chancellor with responsibiltiy for research and enterprise, testified at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, in the UK. After a lot of diligent digging, mainly by McIntyre, it has turned out (see also here) that the list of papers studied by the Oxburgh group (The Scientific Assessment Panel) was actually selected by ... Davies, a senior official at the university that was ostensibly being investigated. Davies denied the statement that "A lot of the papers that the controversy was about – the multiproxy papers – were not included." It turns out what he meant by that was that there was no reason to go beyond the papers that were mentioned by McIntyre in his formal submission to the Commons committee. This is partly a way of keeping up the pretense that smart warming folk don't read skeptic blogs--who would read those lunatics?--combined with a grudging admission that there is a need to read this one document of McIntyre's. But: the only opportunity skeptics would ever have in the UAE's minds, to list dubious papers, was in that one submission of McIntyre's? Amazing.

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