November 2010

The paradox of Curry

It's hard to believe that Professor Judith Curry can spend so much time writing blog posts and not seem to have the time to make sense. I've not bothered to follow the drama in any detail, my earlier interaction with her proved rather pointless - she appeared to learn nothing from it, even repeating essentially the same provably false claims about the bare no-feedbacks response in this Scientific American profile.

Anyway, this is intended as a very brief post just to highlight some of the people who've tried to understand Dr. Curry in recent weeks, and found her claims completely without foundation, as I did in the no-feedbacks case. I strongly recommend Coby Beck's latest post getting to the essence of her conspiracy-theory mindset:

there is another plausible explanation for the formation of the IPCC, the rise in funding of climate science and the emergence of the very strong consensus that climate change is happening, human caused and going to get worse. That explanation is this: science revealed a potential problem for human society, society used its institutions to watch for and investigate this problem, honest research has found strong evidence that the problem is real and serious, and virtually all experts, using their best and sincere judgment, have advised the world that the problem is deadly serious.

No conspiracies, no alterior motives, no malfeasonce, just geeks doing science. I know it is not Hollywood material, but sometimes reality is just that dull.

The nothing that was Climategate

Joe Romm has an excellent perspective on the last year, since "Climategate" - focusing on the developments in the science of climate that make our situation only that much more alarming. The real story of "Climategate" is not the frank discussions between climate scientists revealed in stolen emails, and at least so far not the Watergate-like computer break-in whose perpetrators and sponsors have still not been revealed (though I am sure one day that will prove a very interesting story). As Romm emphasizes, the real tragedy of "Climategate" is the media circus that chased this shiny new conflict-driven nothing of a story when there were far, far more momentous issues regarding the reality of climate at hand. If even one of the 9 scientific claims of the past year reviewed by Romm holds up under further research - and in my judgment very likely at least 4 or 5 of these, possibly 7 or 8, are real - the future for my children will be a far less happy place than I had anticipated even just a year ago.

Andy Revkin's coverage of the climate email hack at the NY Times, for example this early Dot Earth post, was an unfortunate example of the herd mentality among journalists on the subject - I've gone back and forth myself on whether Revkin was to some extent responsible for leading the herd. It was around that time I decided his "Dot Earth" blog, which largely launched my interest in climate science, was just not worth my time any more. But even the usually science-friendly George Monbiot thought what was revealed by the emails was serious. Other than the possibly illegal freedom-of-information suppression request by a flustered Phil Jones (who I'd never heard of before), it was not, as Monbiot later confessed.

The strongest lingering widespread meme raised by "Climategate" seems to be along the line of climate scientists being cliquish and "mean", saying nasty things about their critics. But all of science is like that "under the covers" - science is a relentlessly tough intellectual endeavor, and scientists don't waste their time being polite to people who they see as wrong. I work for research journals and see communications between scientists criticizing one another on their science day after day; a lot of this seems very harsh, some hardly the dispassionate image we have of the objective scientist. I looked through a random sample of such commentary recently, selecting a few relatively generic comments (i.e. leaving out the criticisms that were very specific to a particular piece of scientific work) and have posted them below - if the climategate emails seem overly harsh, well, we get just as bad day in, day out, around here!