26 July 2010

We'll Always Have the Climate Wars

For whatever reason, RealClimate has decided to open up debate over the so-called Hockey Stick, in their typical aggressive and angry manner (see, e..g, the exchanges between NASA's Gavin Schmidt and Georgia Tech's Judy Curry). As far as I am concerned the debate over the Hockey Stick is pretty much irrelevant to discussions of climate policy for the simple reason that the policies that I advocate are insensitive to that debate.

However, the debate over the Hockey Stock does serve as a useful measure of the state of the activist wing of the climate science community as well as their most bitter enemies, the so-called skeptics. For even the most dedicated observers the debates between the activist scientists and their opponents can be arcane, technical and simply impenetrable due to years upon years of perceived slights, a practice of in-group shorthand and a chorus of followers on either side cheering on the spectacle. So most people simply evaluate the arguments by who they decide to trust. Such decisions could be made due to political or other affinities. The issues raised by the released East Anglia emails and the IPCC troubles did much to swing the pendulum of trust away from the activist scientists among many observers. How to regain trust has thus been a focus on some responsible voices in the climate science community.

So it is somewhat surprising to see the renewed "academic penis wagging" of the activist scientists. This sort of behavior would seem to be a mistake, as going back to the old ways of winning through intimidation just doesn't seem plausible anymore. But like the skeptics, over-testosteroned academics are just something to be lived with, rather than defeated.

Over at Klimazwibel, climate scientist Eduardo Zorita helps to explain why the renewed offensive by the activist scientists is so badly misplaced. Zorita points to some additional major errors that have been found in the work of Michael Mann and colleagues, being published in the Journal of Climate (he also links to an online rebuttal which admits the errors, but in characteristic fashion explains that they do not matter). Zorita explains that in the debates over the Hockey Stick, sloppy errors provide a criterion with which to evaluate the trustworthiness of different research groups:
Now to the perhaps most substantial point: there is a debate around the RegEM method [as part of the Hockey Stick debate], as I tried to explain in the weblog. To my knowledge, three (truly) independent groups have found that this method also leads to too small past variations (Smerdon et al, Christiansen et al and Riedwyl et al). Another group says that the method slightly underestimates past variations (Lee et al) and another group says that this is a good method (Mann et al). The RegEM method is difficult to implement, there are several variants (ridged regression, total least squares, truncated total least squares, and for all them there exist hybrid versions in which the data sets are previously filtered in two different frequency bands). It also involves the somewhat subjective choice of a few internal parameters. In short, a quite complex method. If I am now told that, in the calculations by one of the groups, the input data have been mistakenly rotated around the Earth and that the interpolation on the global grid is not correct even before the implementation of the method has started.. well, what I am going to believe?
Given the amount of source material that has been provided to them, I have no doubts that the so-called skeptics are going to be perfectly happy discussing the Hockey Stick for the next 1,000 years. Simply by discussing it they raise issues about the credibility of the activist academic and government scientists that they oppose. For their part, the activist scientists are simply playing right along.

I do have a sense that climate debates have matured to the point where such political debates over science are far less meaningful to those involved in climate politics and policy than perhaps they once were. While that is a good thing for climate policy discussions, the broader climate science community still has a long ways to go in restoring trust. It cannot be demanded, but must be earned. Earning that trust will have to occur in the context of the never-ending climate wars, as they are not going away anytime soon -- much to the delight of the activists scientists and their skeptical dance partners.


  1. Roger,

    While I believe tree rings make terrible thermometers, I agree with you. As you say:

    "As far as I am concerned the debate over the Hockey Stick is pretty much irrelevant to discussions of climate policy for the simple reason that the policies that I advocate are insensitive to that debate."

    The adults in the room need to ignore the hockey stick debate and find energy solutions (LFTR et al) that warmers and skeptics can both agree upon.


    From NYT blog


    "I’ll be writing a lot more on energy and climate options in coming months (along with many others.) I don’t agree with everything the Breakthrough Institute and its allies propose. But anyone attacking their approach had better come up with a 21st-century plan for energy and climate that can work. The alternative is more stasis, and that suits those seeking to sustain the status quo just fine."

  2. The alarmists embraced the hockey stick and beat the world over the head with it. The climate science community defended it and continues to staunchly defend the perpetrators to this day.

    The hockey stick matters because the alarmist scientists will not condemn it, will not condemn the bastardized science that created it, and will not condemn the dishonesty and corruption that defends it to this day. Because all those climate scientists once embraced it, they are stained by it. And they will continue to be stained by it and associated with the incompetence and dishonesty of it until such time as they very publicly denounce it.

    Bottom line -- The climate science community owns it because they bought it. They will continue to own it until they publicly divest themselves of it.

  3. Roger,

    Could you clarify who you consider to be 'activist climate scientists'? Also, do you count yourself in such a group (e.g. Klobatzch et al)? If not, then what in your view is the criteria for judging membership?


  4. As if you aren't in the middle of that war, with bullets from the Joe Romms of this world and the likes.

    Perhaps hockey sticks do not matter to you, but a little respect is warranted. I'm sure that if the topic was about thunderstorms, you'd be more up in arms.

    Hockey Sticks matter because they were used as calibrating tools for climate models. In turn, these were used to retrodict climate, and voilá, they agree, how awesome, innit? But if you think that climate sensitivity is an open question of some importance, then climate reconstructions become wildly important.

  5. What is your definition of "climate policy" and why?

    If such policy, as implemented by govt law or reg, would have no discernible effect on climate, why would such policy be labeled "climate" by people of science?

    BTW, conflating hockey sticks with "academic penis wagging," a pejorative image comes to mind.

  6. If this debate was being conducted honestly, science bodies round the world would be condemning RealClimate as a disgrace to science and academia in general. For its bias.

    The fact that they don't illustrates they are on the same side. The Royal Society has used all its historical authority and grandiosity to promote global warming, and been comprehensively rejected by public opinion. Their authority and eminence has been rendered worthless. For a science debate ? I don't think so.

    There is no question that Realclimate mentor James Hansen was sponsored by George Soros (it is in the accounts) and that he was able to defy his employers, NASA and continue his political campaigning. That is really quite incredible.

    Soros is one of Wall Street's biggest hedge fund owners. In Soros, a major sponsor of the Democratic Party (indeed his front organisation moveon.org claimed they owned it a few years ago), the circle of modern US politics is squared. He is an uber right wing liberal.

    Imperial College, London has allowed itself to be the host of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, sponsored by $100 billion hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham. The extremely influential Stern Report, ostensibly created for the British government was written while Stern was being paid by Grantham.

    This come about, partly due to the creation of a global education market focused primarily on money. My experience of the British system today is that it wouldn't have been imaginable 30 years ago. Although the downhill slope started around then.

  7. -3-Marlowe Johnson

    This post refers directly to the group at Real Climate, however, if you wanted to define that more broadly (e.g., to the clique associated with the East Anglia emails) I would not object.

    Klotzbach et al. are a group of academics (Klotzbach, Pielke, McNider, Christy, Pielke) who came together to write a paper, published it in the peer reviewed literature, dealt with a few minor criticisms and then have had no subsequent interaction as a group. I should note that that paper has yet to be refuted in the peer-reviewed literature, but maybe Gavin and crew are hard at work on the promised rebuttal ;-)

    It is a good paper, wouldn't you agree?

    More generally, I am of course an activist, but I am not a climate scientist.

  8. The HS debate is important, not only because it put in evidence the biased practices of core climate scientists, but because the unprecedented nature of today's warming (and the proportion of it that is man-made) are crucial arguments of established climate science. If the MWP has been large enough to generate as much or more warmth than current warming, and the past 1000 years are full of wide oscillations in temperature (MWP, LIA, and the current warming), discerning the anthropogenic component of current warming becomes extremely difficult, especially because recent warming has been clearly detected only during a short period in the second half of the 20th century.
    If these debates are added to other ongoing discussions (such as the met station selection behind average global temperatures, or the estimation of net feedbacks in climate sensitivity to CO2), it is obvious that the "settled science" of anhropogenic climate change due to GHG emissions is not so settled after all. Even admitting a degree of AGW, all these debates put a question mark on the actual amount of recent warming that is caused by human-induced emissions.

  9. Roger,

    While I will admit to not having read your book, I have a hard time figuring out how "the policies that [you] advocate are insensitive to that debate."

    As Hector M -8- mentioned, the HS provides a lot of the urgency for action. If the changes going on in the climate aren't unprecedented, then it seems that at least one rationale for any policy that can be described as "climate policy," as it moves the debate away from climate and more firmly into economics.

    It may be true that your preferred policies are good economics, but as you've observed, there's a lot of elasticity on the price of climate policies, so any reduction in benefit should make the policies sensitive to whether or not the current climate changes constitute business as usual or unprecedented crisis.

  10. All this bickering back and forth between so-called "warmists" and "denialists" needs to end and I believe there's only one method:

    A "Jets vs. Sharks" style street fight.

  11. Roger, you constantly assert that "the policies that I advocate are insensitive to that debate", here meaning the hockey stick, but in previous posts more general issues, e.g. the size of the climate sensitivity. But this makes no sense: if (as is entirely possible) the climate problem is negligible, then why do we need a climate fix of any kind?

    Of course we may still have, say, an energy problem, but then why not call your book The Energy Fix? Is this just about book sales and jumping on the climate bandwagon?

  12. > the broader climate science community still has a long ways to go in restoring trust. It cannot be demanded, but must be earned.

    To me, that's the nub of the hockey stick debate. I have neither the background nor the time to investigate the important questions in any detail, e.g. the predictive power of GCMs. But sometimes simpler matters provide hints to "who can I trust?"

    Quite by accident, at this blog, I learned about the use by Prof. Mann's group of the Tiljander lakebed sediments as proxies in the Mann08 hockey-stick reconstructions (Mann08 is given a favorable mention in Tamino's linked RealClimate essay).

    With a modest investment, a scientifically-literate lay person can determine that these Tiljander proxies cannot be calibrated to the instrumental temperature record 1850-on, and are thus entirely unsuited to the methods used in Mann08.

    Yet the climate-activist community of scientists and bloggers continues the fervent defense of Mann08's use of the Tiljander proxies. To them, the notion that these authors made an error and should correct it -- that is beyond the pale.

    We expect mistakes on bank statements to be corrected upon discovery. Only when climate scientists begin to hold their scientist-allies to a similar modest standard, will they have started on the road to restoring trust.

  13. -11-Jonathan

    We do have a climate problem. Part of that problem is that it involves irreducible uncertainties. To paraphrase the late Stephen Schneider, we don't know whether the effects will be benign or catastrophic. Thus, we have to make policy in conditions of not knowing answers that we'd like to have. Some people think they have all the answers. Much of the debate in the "climate wars" is between these camps of those proclaiming to have the answers. It is possible to implement policy in the face of uncertainties. That is what my book tries to do.

  14. Your equivalence between "the climate science community" and "the so-called skeptics" is excellent in principle, but dubious when applied to this particular case. The reason is the central position of Steve McIntyre. Labeling him a skeptic misses the point. What he has done is analyze and criticize specific parts of the research done by the so-called hockey team, and not much else. Whether he is a "climate skeptic", scientifically or politically, is irrelevant to the argument he is making. But calling him a skeptic or a "denier" is useful to the hockey team as an opportunistic ad hominem argument to avoid dealing with the substance of his criticism. It's important to see this maneuver for what it is.

  15. Pielke: "It is possible to implement policy in the face of uncertainties."

    Almost anything symbolic is possible. The trick is to make it real, make it matter. What makes a policy, "climate" in a substantive, meaningful way?

  16. -13-Roger

    There's uncertainty and then there's uncertainty. I assume you're not going all precautionary principle on us here. Maybe this is another fudge-vs-fraud moment regarding "insensitivity."

    Still, you consistently state that people are not tolerant of policies with even fairly small costs.

    Now, consider the impact of the HS debate. It certainly doesn't state anything meaningful about AGW directly. But it does speak to its impact. Instead of roasting the planet, we might return to a climate similar to when Rome prospered.

    I suppose you could argue that this increases the uncertainty by highlighting a positive outcome (if we assume AGW is correct). But it certainly reduces the rationale for using government force to speed up a process that's already happening.

  17. Roger:
    I basically agree that the HS may not have any substantive meaning for climate policy options. However, I think it does have serious implications for what you say is public perception and trust of climate science, climate scientists, and pari passu climate policy makers. Can you really readily separate Mann, Schmidt, Jones, et al from the functioning of the IPCC? If they are seen as intolerant, narrow-minded and sneaky - will not that rub off on others?
    Judith Curry tried to move the discussion forward at RC, ClimateProgress, Bishop Hill and CA. The reaction was fierce and predictable and boiled down to - we shall have no discussion with those who do not agree with us and if you advocate such then you are clearly one of them.
    Gavin did absolutely nothing to bring civility to the discussion and largely pioured gasoline on the discussion. Joe Romm, of course, was even worse - but you know what he can be like!! Without some sobering and incontravertible scientific finding - it doesn't really matter who side it supports - I predict the food fight will continue.

  18. Dr. Pielke

    You indicate that, in your view, effective policies can be formulated that are insensitive to the hockey stick debate. It would seem to follow from this that the paleoclimate sections could be eliminated from the IPCC reports with no loss to policy makers. Is this correct?

    Are there issues in climate science whose resolution is needed to make effective policies. If not then could the sections of the IPCC dealing with climate science be eliminated as a whole?

  19. Asserting that the hockey stick does not matter is like Dan Rather defenders claiming that even though the evidence of then Air Guard pilot GW Bush's record of AWOL was forged, it was nevertheless true.
    The hockey stick is a central prop to make the claim that there is a crisis and we need ot spend billions to solve it.
    Your promotion of a carbon free future require, whether you admit it or not, a climate crisis to be realized.
    No hockey stick means no crisis.
    No crisis means the tax payers deserve a lot of explaining.
    And a refund.
    Mann and the gang at RC realize this..
    They will only let the hockey stick be pried from their cold, dead fingers.

  20. 'Climate policy' and 'energy policy' need to be separated - they are not related in any significant way. If we spend vast amounts of money in the false belief that we can control or predictably influence the climate, then our ability to develop alternative energy sources will be severely damaged. In fact it is already being severely damaged by the climate/CO2 distraction.

    'Climate policy' should be restricted to adaptation (where feasible) to inevitable, natural climate change.

    The defence of the Hockey Stick fraud continues to cast a long shadow over climate science.

    Also, there are quotes that can be attributed to Stephen Schneider that don't do his reputation any favours.

  21. After their recent post and subsequent playground fight, Real Climate might want to consider a name change. Might I suggest Aristotles13?

    That entire thread is a study in logical fallacies and would make a great example for a philosophy class. Ad hom? Check. Red Herring? Check. Slippery slope? Check. Post hoc? Check. Authority? Check. And Assertion?! In spades from the name of the site to the mod’s keyboards - Check, Check, Check!

    Lest I forget, Ignorant Refutation. Check. While the lot of them argue dendro, strip bark, proxy, core, bristlecone, statistical rubbish they are in fact missing the point. The MWP is a curiosity not a lynchpin.

    Famine? Check. Disease? Check. Natural disasters? Check. Resource damage and depletion? Check. Policy to cope with all of the above? Not so much.

  22. I assume that Curry's comments were the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of RC's opinion of her. Otherwise the reaction to someone's thoughts about a book review seem a little out of proportion. Actions like this uncivil exchange result in less dialog and more enmity. The great irony is that some climate scientists come across as caring deeply about the planet but disliking people both specifically and in general.

  23. I just posted this in climateaudit:

    Judith Curry
    Posted Jul 27, 2010 at 2:49 PM | Permalink | Reply
    All the heat that I get in the blogosphere is worth it to me because of the many thoughtful emails I receive, offering support, ideas and information. I just received this in via email, referring to an interview with Stephen Chu in the Financial Times, Feb 17, 2010 (registration required): http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a71cf176-1bff-11df-a5e1-00144feab49a.html

    FT: On the climate threat, do you think there is legitimate concern now about the fact that some of the science, even if it’s not flawed, it’s been misrepresented, which has undermined the case in many people’s eyes.

    SC: First, the main findings of IPC over the years, have they been seriously cast in doubt? No. I think that if one research group didn’t understand some tree ring data and they chose to admit part of that data. In all honesty they should have thrown out the whole data set. But science has a wonderful way of self-correcting on things like that. What the public doesn’t understand is that as you go forward there will be these things and they will self correct. On balance if you look at all the things the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of experts convened by the United Nations to advise governments in responding to global warming] has been doing over the last number of years, they were trying very hard to put in all the peer-reviewed serious stuff. I’ve actually always felt that they were taking a somewhat conservative stand on many issues and for justifiable reasons.

    In all honesty, they should have thrown out the whole data set. And here I was trying to be polite . . .

  24. I think we have more of a political problem than a climate problem. If there is a climate problem it is too far away to worry about whereas the political problems are right here and now: legislative, economic and scientific.

    The hockey stick matters because it is a ready visual spur to mass panic and therefore an immediate political opportunity in the above three fields. That is the reason it will continue to be hard-fought.

  25. Dr. Curry,
    Thank you for the effort you make to communicate with so many, and for your patience and integrity which apparently sustains you very well.
    The question is if we are facing a climate catastrophe or not.
    The Hockey Stick is a compelling tool that says we are facing one. It is apparently deeply flawed.
    So is it flawed but accurate?
    Many state what you have stated: that some things are worse. Yet what is in fact worse?

  26. >I do have a sense that climate debates have matured to the point where such political debates over science are far less meaningful to those involved in climate politics and policy than perhaps they once were

    I agree, something like a big blowout like this would mean something 5 years ago, today its irrelevant. Gavin & the Realclimate parrots are indeed angry and nasty and people see that.