A Free-Market Energy Blog

Climate Science and Climate Policy Debate (clarification & apology to Andrew Dessler)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 15, 2019

My September 23, 2019, post, Don’t Debate the ‘Climate Crisis’? (Mann, Dessler, etc. want to assume, not discuss) attracted a critical comment from Master Resource reader David Appell:

Rob, you aren’t honest about what Dessler wrote, and I think you know this. He (obviously) made his point over two tweets, and you only quoted the second of them (“3/” below), out of context.

Professor Dessler in an email added:

… you claim that I don’t want to debate science. The tweet you quoted was one of a string where I make the OPPOSITE statement. However, by quoting it out of context of the surrounding tweets, you misrepresent my position. You also didn’t provide a link to my tweet string, so your readers couldn’t correct your erroneous interpretation. This suggests to me that you KNOW you’re misquoting me. If you have even a shred of integrity, in the future provide LINKS to my tweets so people reading your blog can see for themselves what I’m saying.

Appell in his comment includes Dessler’s full two-tweet position with the beginning sentence:

“I would never ever agree to participate in this. As an actual scientist, I debate in the peer-reviewed literature.’ 2/

“In a public debate, advocates can use all kinds of rhetorical tricks, as well as outright lies, to advance their cause. There’s no way to counter them in that forum. It is much harder to get away with that crap in papers, which is why so few skeptical papers get published. 3/

My characterization thus was incomplete because Dessler stated that he debates science in the peer-reviewed literature (not live with “skeptic” scientists).

I apologize to Professor Dessler for not including the full context of his position. I also apologize to readers for not linking up to tweets for easy access. I am not on Twitter and not in the habit of quoting tweets (except in the case of Professor Dessler, as here). From now on, I will link to all tweets (it is effortless, as I now know).


Below is my e:mailed response to Professor Dessler explaining that I did not purposefully misquote quote him. His reply (both emails of 10/13/2019) will follow.


First, you (and David Appell) are correct that I should have linked to the tweets. I am not on Twitter and just read your tweets (and usually note the date, which I did not do here, another mistake). Yes, I’ll embed links from now on.

I was not trying to be nefarious. The context of my post is the John Stossel/Times Square public debate, a real-time, side-by-side discussion/debate, the kind most people think of when they say and hear the word debate. And the debate in question was not only about physical science but public policy predicated on it. That gets to social science (which you like to engage in too). And the context was fellow climate scientists, not amateurs.

Not having direct interchange is a cop-out to me—and a ploy to say “the science is settled” and ‘we are beyond the science.” Jerry North helped me put together a climate seminar back in the late 1990s with a dozen or more specialists, from Richard Kerr to Stephen Schneider to NCAR modelers to Lindzen and Christy. It was illustrative and well received by the audience. Sorry, but 20 years later, I STILL do not know the climate sensitivity well enough to know whether CO2, roughly speaking, is a positive or negative externality. I don’t know if today’s “worse” weather is better or worse than 20 or 40 years ago given today’s technological advances and increased wealth (energy density again). Or if it is ‘worse,’ how much so?)

Your view about not debating in person is based on a very derogatory view of “skeptic” scientists. Your tweets call out a number of them by name, e.g.

… let’s not forget Roy Spencer’s window into the denial machine. You can be a scientist that no one takes seriously and national TV will come to you so you can mislead the audience. Pretty nice gig — and pretty easy. (December 18, 2018)

Gavin Schmidt’s stunt on a John Stossel segment where he refuses to be on stage with Roy Spencer at the same time is quite illustrative.

Your point about debating in the peer-reviewed literature only begs the question of fairness toward non-alarmist research and findings. Climategate’s horrible banter, which included “redefining” the peer-review process, got a lot of critical attention. Judith Curry has said a lot about bias and the declining reputation of climate science.

Roy Spencer has complained:

For decades now those of us trying to publish papers which depart from the climate doom-and-gloom narrative have noticed a trend toward both biased and sloppy peer review of research submitted for publication in scientific journals…. If the conclusions of the paper support a more alarmist narrative on the seriousness of anthropogenic global warming, the less thorough will be the peer review. I am now totally convinced of that. If the paper is skeptical in tone, it endures levels of criticism that alarmist papers do not experience. I have had at least one paper rejected based upon a single reviewer who obviously didn’t read the paper…he criticized claims not even made in the paper.

Roy goes on to bring up the recent Nic Lewis/Nature episode to note:

The good news is that this is a case where the error was caught, and admitted to. The bad news is that the peer review process, presumably involving credentialed climate scientists, should have caught the error before publication.

Roy’s post attracted 2,168 responses. I think this is an issue for the wider climate-interested community.

You mentioned in your Iris comments that

By 2006, when I submitted an analysis of tropospheric water vapor that investigated whether there was an iris in that, one of the reviewers pointedly questioned why anyone was still working on this issue. I subsequently withdrew the paper.

Really? Was it a flawed paper? Or did the reviewer believe it was a closed question, the Iris hypothesis being a theoretical impossibility? (I have a question to you on this re Spencer that I’m very curious about.)

I am distrustful of climate-science academia, not only the official channels of peer review. This is all a repeat of what has happened in economics where certain schools of thought were walled out for decades by a heavy-handed, close-minded academic/journal establishment (another story, but things are better now). When I see what has happened to Peter Ridd at James Cook University and the you-eat-your-own travels of  Cliff Mass at the University of Washington. So much for intellectual diversity and the pursuit of truth—don’t expect conservatives and libertarians who might be ‘skeptics’ of climate alarm to go into climatology.

So I stand by the gist of my post—and Curry’s final point in that post. We need live debates between scientists because the science in not settled and we have not “moved on” from the science to public policy. (Congressional hearings are good, but more back-and-forth free of political positioning are better.)

Climate policy begins with the physical science, and if we do not know whether the climate sensitively is really 1C or 2C or 3C or whether aggregate weather is getting “worse” (and how much worse) relative to the obvious benefits of higher CO2 concentrations and the cost of forced energy transformation, we are still in the debate stage.

On the point that you debate the science in the peer-reviewed literature, that seems to be indirect and peculiar. You debate science on Twitter and at RealClimate (as does Gavin)—all very helpful. You believe you are doing so in your Modern Climate Science editions, but I fault you for being way too dismissive of important issues in a series of posts at MasterResource. But in the formal peer-reviewed literature? That is not exactly a ‘debate’ forum where you publish in specific technical areas, although it is the foundation for the shorter, less formal argumentation. I think I can be forgiven for not taking this part of your argument very seriously when “debate” has the different connotation to most as back-and-forth discussion with an opponent.

Dessler Reply: “If you prominently post this on your blog, then I’ll consider this matter closed. For the record, I have no problem with people disagreeing with me, as long as they represent my position accurately. And if you have to misquote me to make my position look unreasonable, then perhaps what I’m saying is not so unreasonable after all.”

One Comment for “Climate Science and Climate Policy Debate (clarification & apology to Andrew Dessler)”

  1. Don't Debate the 'Climate Crisis'? (Mann, Dessler, etc. want to assume, not discuss) - Master Resource  

    […] note: A ‘clarification and apology’ associated with this post is here. The author failed to note that Andrew Dessler also stated, “I debate in the peer-reviewed […]


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