Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Skeptics Go Mainstream

Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, interviewed in Discover magazine. h/t Bishop Hill.

On the one hand, the skeptics have a point when it comes to sloppy work by famous climate scientists:

Where do you come down on the whole subject of uncertainty in the climate science?
I’m very concerned about the way uncertainty is being treated. The IPCC [the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] took a shortcut on the actual scientific uncertainty analysis on a lot of the issues, particularly the temperature records.

Don’t individual studies do uncertainty analysis?
Not as much as they should. It’s a weakness. When you have two data sets that disagree, often nobody digs in to figure out all the different sources of uncertainty in the different analysis. Once you do that, you can identify mistakes or determine how significant a certain data set is.

Is this a case of politics getting in the way of science?
No. It’s sloppiness. It’s just how our field has evolved. One of the things that McIntyre and McKitrick pointed out was that a lot of the statistical methods used in our field are sloppy. We have trends for which we don’t even give a confidence interval. The IPCC concluded that most of the warming of the latter 20th century was very likely caused by humans. Well, as far as I know, that conclusion was mostly a negotiation, in terms of calling it “likely” or “very likely.” Exactly what does “most” mean? What percentage of the warming are we actually talking about? More than 50 percent? A number greater than 50 percent?

Are you saying that the scientific community, through the IPCC, is asking the world to restructure its entire mode of producing and consuming energy and yet hasn’t done a scientific uncertainty analysis?

On the other hand, she still thinks something should probably be done about climate change, but she puts this in a funny way:

Should we wait to resolve all the uncertainty before taking action?
The probability of something bad happening is at least as high as the probability that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That turned out not to be true, but we ended up going in there anyway. So we have a history of taking action on bad things that have a low probability of happening.

Great, so there's no reason why Gore shouldn't be as stupid as Bush--after all, some good may come of it. (They were the two candidates for President in 2000.)

You get a sense that Curry has gained some real respect for McIntyre, McIntrick and other leading skeptics; and rightly so. She makes a point of saying several of them disagree with each other about pretty important matters. Maybe they deserve respect because they are following questions wherever they lead, and not trying to build a consensus?

The boomers, the boomers, whatever are we going to do about the boomers ….?

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