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The New Guard of Climate Questioners: Get Ready for the Next Round of Climate Science Debate

Last Wednesday, November 17, 2010, the Subcommittee on Energy & Environment of the Committee on Science and Technology of the U. S. House of Representatives held a hearing on climate change titled “A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.” In a clear deference to the incoming make-up of the House, there were a relatively high number of panelists that were invited by the sitting minority, which made this hearing more “rational” and fascinating that than most subcommittee hearings in some time.

The Republican invitees were Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels, and Judith Curry.

The first two are stalwarts of the let’s-just-hold-on-a-minute view of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. And, true to form, at the hearing each presented compelling evidence as to why anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might not rapidly push up global temperature—not now, nor in the future. The testimony of Lindzen and Michaels can be found here and here respectively. And while their arguments are met with considerable opposition from the global-warming-is-a-dire-problem types, the ideas espoused by Lindzen and Michaels are scientifically compelling.

The third Republican invitee, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Dr. Judith Curry, is a new addition to this group (her testimony can be accessed here). In fact, not too long ago, she was starring for the Democrats at Congressional hearings. She also endorsed Joe Romm’s book, Come Hell and High Water, upon its release in 2006.

But all this changed about a year ago, when Dr. Curry started delving into the contents of the Climategate emails (which just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their release). She did not like what she found and spoke up.

At the time, when expressing her initial concern about the behavior on display (and its implications) in the Climategate emails, hers was one voice among several that came from folks who were typically apart from the usual (critical) suspects.

However, as time went on, the other voices have grown dimmer, while Judith’s has grown louder—primarily because of her continued investigations and her conviction borne upon what she has found.

Her primary interest, as of late, concerns the recognition and representation of uncertainty in our scientific knowledge. She holds the opinion that the level of true uncertainty is suppressed in the IPCC documents, and that its full revelation is essential in presenting a fair description of the state of scientific knowledge.

Her frank discussion on this topic has made her rather unpopular among her past supporters (she was at one time deemed the “high priestess of global warming” but now labeled a “heretic”) and is what has landed her in the anchor seat of the Hearing last week.

Here is a snippet of how she describes her personal journey:

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…

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.

(The full article from which this quote was excerpted is here)

For those interested in following her continued investigations into uncertainty and other topics of climate change, I recommend stopping in from time to time on her excellent blog, Climate Etc.—which, currently, hosts discussions of climate issues that includes the widest range of participants and viewpoints.

A new guard is forming to try to protect the integrity of science, and Judith Curry is one the front line. One can only hope that others will follow.

8 comments

1 John Droz { 11.22.10 at 7:56 am }

Chip:

Thank you for writing a good summary of the more intelligent comments made at that congressional hearing.

We have no more important issue facing us today than protecting the integrity of science.

To promote their political agendas, a wide range of co-conspiritors (Sierra Club, UCS, NAS, APS, etc.) have made a concerted frontal assault on science. Their most aggressive actions have been on the core of science: the Scientific Method.

To intelligently solve any or our technical problems today (AGW, energy, etc.) we simply MUST base them on real science.

That, in essence, was the message from those three testifiers.

2 rbradley { 11.22.10 at 8:54 am }

Judith Curry publically endorsed Joe Romm’s 2006 book, Come Hell and High Water, which is also telling about her wake-up call.

I remain very disappointed that the ‘non-alarmist alarmist’ Gerald North of Texas A&M did not and has not joined Professor Curry in a climate-alarmism rethink. A number of his statements suggested a middle ground between ultra-skepticism and alarmism, but he ‘went Left’ post-Climategate as I have tried to document at MasterResource.

3 kim { 11.22.10 at 9:14 am }

Judy was awakening from the dream well before ClimateGate, witness her invitation to Steve to ramble on down and wreak his magic.
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4 Charles Barton { 11.22.10 at 10:08 am }

Unfortunately the masterresources crowd has not gotten the message of scientific uncertainty. You guys are guilty of promoting the dogmatic view that adverse climate consequences from CO2 emissions are impossible, and therefore we don’t need to worry about them. There is no scientific uncertainty in your minds is there?

5 John Droz { 11.22.10 at 10:19 am }

Charles:

I can only speak for myself, by my view is that the jury is still out regarding the AGW hypothesis.

AGW may well prove to be true — but it also may prove to be false. At this point there is good evidence on both sides.

To resolve this, what is needed is an assessment of the AGW hypothesis that is comprehensive, objective, independent, transparent and empirical based. In other words, the Scientific Method should be applied.

That’s my opinion.

6 Joseph A Olson, PE { 11.22.10 at 10:54 am }

Excuse me, but despite my best efforts to educate this lady over a six month process she is still grossly underinformed. When Dr North tried to minimize the ClimateGate impact in a Washington Post interview ten days after the event I challanged his with my article “Hadley CRU Morphs Into the Ouija Board of Science”. When he admitted in two debates with Dr Lindzen that he had not read a single ClimateGate email out of ‘professional respect’, I thought that was outrageous. He then days later did another WaPo interview claiming there was NO incriminating evidence in the emails he had NEVER read. Again I challanged him in “No Loophole For Your Soul”.

Dr Curry’s behavior is covered in my articles “Non Science Nonsense” and “End of the World as You KNOW It” and is self explanatory. She has to date only a partial knowledge of the required science and is in total denial of her role in this FRAUD. There can be no benediction with out FULL confession. And remember Dr Curry, there is NO loophole for your soul either.

7 Marlo Lewis { 11.22.10 at 11:02 am }

Charles, another point to consider — one routinely ignored by AGW dogmatists — is that there are risks of climate policy as well as of climate change.

In politics as in medicine, a cure can sometimes be worse than the alleged disease. Think of any pharmaceutical product advertised on tv — migraine remedies, asthma inhalers, arthritis relief. A big chunk of the commercial will list the potential side-effects, which, in addition to “dry mouth,” often include stroke, heart attack, death, and, for Viagra and other E.D. remedies, the four-hour problem.

In stark contrast, the cap-and-trade brigade promote their policy nostrums as if nobody could possibly ever get hurt by rationing and taxing the fuels that supply 85% of the world’s energy. The global warming establishment simply does not speak with the candor that we have come to expect from our pharmaceutical companies.

For a discussion of climate policy risk, check out my paper, “The Department of Defense Should Assess the Security Risks of Climate Change Policies” (http://cei.org/cei_files/fm/active/0/On%20Point%20-%20Marlo%20Lewis%20-%20Climate%20Change%20and%20National%20Security%20-%20FINAL.pdf), and Indur Goklany’s masterful, “Trapped Between the Falling Sky and the Rising Seas: The Imagined Terrors of the Impacts of Climate Change” ( http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1548711).

8 Craig Goodrich { 11.23.10 at 8:02 am }

Charles:

The reason there is no uncertainty in my mind, at any rate, is that after two decades and $100 billion in research, there is still NO actual evidence for the CO2-driven warming theory, and in fact all available data — from satellites and deep-diving buoys — is that the theory is every bit as silly as it first appeared in the late 1980s — after it had been proposed and rejected at least twice before, around 1900 and 1935.

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