Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue – Judith Curry’s STATEMENT TO THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES




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Hearing on Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method
29 March 2017

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Here is Judith Curry’s statement.

Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests include hurricanes, remote sensing, atmospheric modeling, polar climates, air-sea interactions, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for atmospheric research. She is a member of the National Research Council’s Climate Research Committee.

She earned her PhD degree in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982.

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This is from Bill Kerr’s blog.

Science is an iterative process of multi hypothesis formation, collecting data and testing that data against the variety of hypotheses

Beware of dogmatic claims (alarmists, deniers), be sensitive to the uncertainty and complexity of the climate science issue

Explanation of the how and why we have got to a bad place in climate science (page 11, extract below)

There is a war on science – not from Trump but from within the science establishment itself (page 12, extract below):

How and why did we land between a rock and a hard place on the issue of climate science?

There are probably many contributing reasons, but the most fundamental and profound reason is arguably that both the problem and solution were vastly oversimplified back in the early 1990’s by the UNFCCC, who framed both the problem and the solution as irreducibly global in terms of human-caused global warming. This framing was locked in by a self-reinforcing consensus-seeking approach to the science and a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach for decision making that pointed to a single course of policy action – radical emissions reductions.

The climate community has worked for more than two decades to establish a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, prematurely elevating a hypothesis to a ruling theory. The IPCC’s consensus-seeking process and its links to the UNFCCC emissions reduction policies have had the unintended consequence of hyper-politicizing the science and introducing bias into both the science and related decision making processes. The result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate variability and societal vulnerabilities. The politicization of climate science has contaminated academic climate research and the institutions that support climate research, so that individual scientists and institutions have become activists and advocates for emissions reductions policies. Scientists with a perspective that is not consistent with the consensus are at best marginalized (difficult to obtain funding and get papers published by ‘gatekeeping’ journal editors) or at worst ostracized by labels of ‘denier’ or ‘heretic.’

Policymakers bear the responsibility of the mandate that they give to panels of scientific experts. In the case of climate change, the UNFCCC demanded of the IPCC too much precision where complexity, chaos, disagreement and the level current understanding resists such precision. Asking scientists to provide simple policy-ready answers for complex matters results in an impossible situation for scientists and misleading outcomes for policy makers. Unless policy makers want experts to confirm their preconceived bias, then expert panels should handle controversies and uncertainties by assessing what we know, what we don’t know, and where the major uncertainties lie….

War on Science
With the advent of the Trump administration, concerns about ‘war on science’ have become elevated, with a planned March for Science on 22 April 2017. Why are scientists marching? The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’. This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ – such as the IPCC consensus on climate change – dictate public policy. These scientists also fear funding cuts and challenges to the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.

The ‘war on science’ that I am most concerned about is the war from within science – scientists and the organizations that support science who are playing power politics with their expertise and passing off their naïve notions of risk and political opinions as science. When the IPCC consensus is challenged or the authority of climate science in determining energy policy is questioned, these activist scientists and organizations call the questioners ‘deniers’ and claim ‘war on science.’ These activist scientists seem less concerned with the integrity of the scientific process than they are about their privileged position and influence in the public debate about climate and energy policy. They do not argue or debate the science – rather, they denigrate scientists who disagree with them. These activist scientists and organizations are perverting the political process and attempting to inoculate climate science from scrutiny – this is the real war on science.

What exactly do the 98% of climate researchers believe?

Our political culture has moved so far to the Right that the term ‘sceptic’ now has a negative connotation and argument by ‘appeal to authority’ wins the day, even when dodgy.

De omnibus dubitandum – Question everything!

“If 98% of doctors said you needed urgent surgery, wouldn’t you have it?!” “If 98% of aeronautical engineers told you that your next flight is unsafe and likely to crash, would you listen to them or to the 2% who say otherwise?” John Kerry, US Secretary of State, claimed in May this year that the consequences of climate change could be “crippling” and that “97% of the world’s scientists tell us this is urgent”. Last year, a tweet in President Barack Obama’s name asserted that “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” Note: “dangerous”. Obama cited a study of climate science consensus led by University of Queensland academic, John Cook. (About which, more later).

I have heard these analogies and claims repeated in various forms by politicians and ‘climate activists’ through the media for a few years now. They certainly have a great run in the mainstream but they rarely cite a source for the 97%-98% figure. So, I decided to do a bit of investigating for myself.

Surveys of what the climate experts’ think take two methodological approaches: reviews of peer-reviewed literature and polls. Doran, Kendall and Zimmerman polled 10,257 Earth scientists in 2009 while Anderegg, Prall, Harold and Schneider reviewed 1,372 abstracts and citation data in the climate change/global warming field in 2010. Last year, John Cook et al examined nearly 12,000 abstracts from the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Doran et al (2009)

Doran is interesting because it used a polling methodology and a seemingly big sample of more than 10,000 Earth scientists. However, on closer inspection, they point out that only 3,146 of the scientists responded. Still, that’s not a bad figure. But the 98% figure is derived not from those 3,000-plus but from those deemed to have special expertise in climate change, that is, those who had published at least 50% of their peer-reviewed papers in that area. The actual numerical basis for the 98% figure on this occasion is from 77 out of 79 in the study. Seventy-nine agreed with the proposition that global mean temperature has risen since the late nineteenth century and 77 agreed that human activity is a significant factor. The Doran study is called ‘Examining the scientific consensus on climate change’ published in the American Geophysical Union journal. Doran et al (2009) So, when John Kerry refers to “the world’s scientists”, one can only hope he has some other evidence in mind.

Anderegg et al (2010)

The Anderegg survey in 2010 was published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences. Anderegg et al reviewed abstracts and citation data of 1,372 climate researchers (they use the term ‘researchers’, though presumably most are scientists) and drew conclusions from 908 of them. Leaving aside that publication does not necessarily equate to expertise, Anderegg et al measured the climate researchers’ positions regarding the same two basic questions: Has the planet warmed and has human activity been a significant factor? They found that 97% to 98% of the 908 Abstracts and citations agreed with both propositions. The Anderegg report is called ‘Expert credibility in climate change’. Anderegg et al (2010) 

Cook et al (2013)

The 2013 work by Cook et al received international attention. It reviewed 11,944 abstracts from peer-reviewed climate-related scientific literature and the authors concluded that 97% of those who took a position supported the consensus that warming has happened and that human activity is responsible for at least half the warming since 1950. However, 66% of the abstracts reached no conclusion or took no position on the topic and so were not included. Thus, the figure of 97% refers to 97% of those with a position: approx. 4,000 out of about 12,000 abstracts. Leaving aside for a moment the question as to how the 8,000 with ‘no opinion’ might have been better dealt with, the Cook et al review found essentially what Anderegg and Doran had found: 97% consensus. Cook et al’s study is called ‘Quantifying the consensus on anthropological global warming in the scientific literature’ in Environmental Research Letters Cook et al (2013).

Questioning and scepticism

In each case, the objective was to find out what climate experts felt about the question of whether the planet has warmed and whether human activity plays a significant part. None of the studies – and none that I know of – have sought to ascertain what the climate experts think about the likelihood of “crippling consequences”, to quote John Kerry, or the likelihood of crisis or catastrophe. Nor do the studies seek to ascertain expert opinion on whether warming may be good or bad on balance.

So, how do the words of John Kerry and other alarmists measure up against these studies of expert opinion? Do 97% to 98% of experts believe the situation is “urgent” and will have “crippling consequences”? The answer is no. There is no evidence for such a consensual view.

Politicians, climate activists and influential Hollywood celebrities are misusing the 98% figure derived from such studies to justify an alarmist point of view and to marginalise dissident scientific voices. This is especially unfair given that many or most scientist-sceptics could be part of the 98% in the terms of the studies above. Sceptics generally accept that warming has occurred over the past 130 years. Sceptics tend to be more questioning of the degree to which human activity is a contributing factor and, from my reading of them, generally place emphasis on natural variation rather than industrial activity and CO2 emissions. I do not have the necessary expertise to reach a conclusion on the science but I do know, from history, that minority voices within science are sometimes proven right.

Argument and debate are essential to the advancement of knowledge

A culture of debate is as essential to scientific progress as it is to democracy. Yet our political culture has moved so far to the Right that the term ‘sceptic’ now has a negative connotation and argument by ‘appeal to authority’ wins the day, even when dodgy. And if you stand up for those scientists and experts who are sceptics, as I do, for their right to argue a case without being vilified, then look out for that big “98%” stick! Argument and debate are essential to advancement of knowledge

The findings of Cook et al, referred to above, the one which received international publicity last year, were subjected to critical scrutiny by David Legatesformer Director of the Center for Climatic Research at Delaware University. The challenge by Legates et al drew attention to an obvious problem with the way in which the 97% figure was arrived at. Cook et al adopted seven levels of ratings to categorize their findings.

Category 1 is for research that “Explicitly states that humans are the primary cause of global warming”. Clear enough.

Category 2 is for “Explicit endorsement without quantification” (i.e., does not express a view as to how significant human activity is).

Category 3 is “Implicit endorsement”.

The final four categories are: “No opinion or uncertain”, “Implicit rejection”, “Explicit rejection without quantification”, “Explicit rejection with quantification”.

Using Cook’s own figures, only 64 papers fitted Category 1. That’s 64 out of 11,944 – or, out of 4,000, if we are to agree with Cook that those expressing ‘no opinion’ should not be included in the count. That means, only 1.6% of abstracts explicitly expressed the view that humans are the cause of global warming. A far cry from 97%. Cook et al arrived at the 97% figure by lumping categories 1 to 3 together, when only category 1 explicitly represented the view that human activity was the main cause of warming.

Cook and colleague Bedford claimed in a more recent paper titled ‘Agnotology, scientific consensus and the teaching and learning of climate change’ (2013) that “Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97% endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause”. The “main cause”? How could John Cook say that, when his own data shows something very different?

An article by John Cook in ‘The Conversation’ is titled “It’s true: 97% of research papers say climate change is happening”. Well, big deal. The fact of climate change is hardly controversial and very few sceptics challenge it. The increase over 130 years is less than a degree and the past 16 years show a pause, so it is hard to argue that the warming is accelerating.

Advice to Obama and John Kerry

Were Obama and Kerry and others to refer to the 98% in their public speeches in a more accurate and honest way, they would have to say something like:

“About 98% of experts accept that the planet has warmed by less than a degree over the past 130 years and that human industrial activity has played a significant part in this. However, there is no consensus as to the main cause”.

Somehow it just doesn’t have the same pull as “dangerous”, or the supposed need for ‘urgent personal surgery’, ‘airplanes crashing’ or “crippling consequences”.

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In my next post on this topic, I’d like to offer for discussion some ideas on what a left-wing response to all this should be. Alarmism needs to be repudiated but what should be advocated and demanded? 

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