“What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.”
This item at Judith Curry’s website caught my eye. She recounts the “crazy days of Thanksgiving 2009 when I spent all weekend writing my ‘Open Letter'” in the wake of Climategate.
Six years later, in the middle of COP 21, it is time to give voice to Curry’s contribution, which was reproduced by Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth at the time under the title, “A Climate Scientist Who Engages Skeptics” (November 27, 2009).
An open letter to graduate students and young scientists in fields related to climate research:
Based upon feedback that I’ve received from graduate students at Georgia Tech, I suspect that you are confused, troubled, or worried by what you have been reading about ClimateGate After spending considerable time reading the hacked emails and other posts in the blogosphere, I wrote an essay that calls for greater transparency in climate data and other methods used in climate research. The essay is posted over at climateaudit.org.
What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.
My motivation for communicating on this issue in the blogosphere comes from emails that I received from Georgia Tech graduate students and alums. As a result of my post on climateaudit, I started receiving emails from graduate students from other universities. I post the content of one of the emails here, without reference to the student’s name or institution:
Hi Dr. Curry,
I am a young climate researcher (just received my master’s degree from xxx University) and have been very troubled by the emails that were released from CRU. I just want to applaud and support your response on climatesudit.org (95% of it 🙂 ). Your statement represents exactly how I have felt as I slowly enter this community. The content of some of the emails literally made me stop and wonder if I should continue with my PhD applications for fall 2010, in this science.
I was so troubled by how our fellow scientists within the climate community have been dealing with opposing voices (on both sides). I hope we can all learn from this and truly feel that we are going to need voices like yours to fix these problems in the coming months and years.
At the heart of this issue is how climate researchers deal with skeptics. I have served my time in the “trenches of the climate war” in the context of the debate on hurricanes and global warming. There is no question that there is a political noise machine in existence that feeds on research and statements from climate change skeptics. In grappling with this issue, I would argue that there are three strategies for dealing with skeptics:
1. Retreat into the ivory tower
2. Circle the wagons/point guns outward: ad hominem/appeal to motive attacks; appeal to authority; isolate the enemy through lack of access to data; peer review process
3. Take the “high ground:” engage the skeptics on our own terms (conferences, blogosphere); make data/methods available/transparent; clarify the uncertainties; openly declare our values
Most scientists retreat into the ivory tower. The CRU emails reflect elements of the circling of wagons strategy. For the past 3 years, I have been trying to figure out how to engage skeptics effectively in the context of #3, which I think is a method that can be effective in countering the arguments of skeptics, while at the same time being consistent with our core research values.
Some of the things that I’ve tried in my quest to understand skeptics and more effectively counter misinformation include posting at skeptical blogs, such as climateaudit, and inviting prominent skeptics to give seminars at Georgia Tech. I have received significant heat from some colleagues for doing this (I’ve been told that I am legitimizing the skeptics and misleading my students), but I think we need to try things like this if we are to develop effective strategies for dealing with skeptics and if we are to teach students to think critically.
If climate science is to uphold core research values and be credible to public, we need to respond to any critique of data or methodology that emerges from analysis by other scientists. Ignoring skeptics coming from outside the field is inappropriate; Einstein did not start his research career at Princeton, but rather at a post office.
I’m not implying that climate researchers need to keep defending against the same arguments over and over again. Scientists claim that they would never get any research done if they had to continuously respond to skeptics. The counter to that argument is to make all of your data, metadata, and code openly available.
Doing this will minimize the time spent responding to skeptics; try it! If anyone identifies an actual error in your data or methodology, acknowledge it and fix the problem. Doing this would keep molehills from growing into mountains that involve congressional hearings, lawyers, etc.
So with this reaffirmation of core climate research values, I encourage you to discuss the ideas and issues raised here with your fellow students and professors. Your professors may disagree with me; there are likely to be many perspectives on this. I hope that others will share their wisdom and provide ideas and guidance for dealing with these issues. Spend some time perusing the blogosphere (both skeptical and pro AGW blogs) to get a sense of the political issues surrounding our field.
A better understanding of the enormous policy implications of our field should imbue in all of us a greater responsibility for upholding the highest standards of research ethics. Hone your communications skills; we all need to communicate more effectively.
Publish your data as supplementary material or post on a public website. And keep your mind open and sharpen your critical thinking skills. My very best wishes to you in your studies, research, and professional development. I look forward to engaging with you in a dialogue on this topic.
Chair, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Georgia Institute of Technology
My past public statements on climate change can be found at my website http://curry.eas.gatech.edu/climate/policy.htm.
My paper on “Mixing politics and science in testing the hypothesis that greenhouse warming is a causing an increase in global hurricane intensity” can be found at
My presentation on the integrity of climate research can be found at