A example of climate activists at work that shows why they lost

Summary: Here is a first-person account of a small but telling incident in the climate policy wars, showing how the methods used by climate activists won battles, but lost the war. Their political power could destroy opponents, but doing so did not convince a majority of the US public. Now Republican gains have closed the door for action by the Federal government and most states, at least for the foreseeable future. The effects could be unfortunate.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

An Inside Look at the Politics of Climate Science

By Professor Roger Pielke, Jr.
Presented at the University of Florida, 17 March 2017.
Posted with his generous permission.

 

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An eminent climate scientist describes the frontiers of climate science

Summary: Here is a status report on climate science by an eminent climate scientists, helping us see its frontiers and so better cope with one of the major challenges of the 21st century. (Second of two posts today.)

A new paradigm for assessing the role of humanity
in the climate system — and in climate change

By Roger Pielke, Sr.
Posted with his generous permission.

A note about progress in science

Geological ages ago at Cornell, I learned that science usually takes place on the frontiers of observation. That’s the important insight Thomas Kuhn overlooked in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Freeman Dyson described this hole as “tool- or instrument-driven revolutions.” These are as or more common than paradigm-driven revolutions. Galileo looks through his telescope at the moons of Jupiter and our view of the universe changes. Watson and Crick looked at an X-ray diffraction image of DNA and saw its structure; four years later Watson formulated the “central dogma of molecular biology” and began a revolution still in its early stage.

My guess (guess) is that new observational tools, not just new theories, will end the climate wars. If not, then eventually the changing climate will tell us which side was correct.

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A whistleblower challenges NOAA’s climate data

Summary: An insider at NOAA has blown the whistle on improper practices at NOAA. This might be the most serious challenge to practices at the major climate science institutions since release of the “Climategate” emails. This occurs when they are vulnerable to scrutiny and pressure from Team Trump. The broad significance of Bates’ claims remains unclear, as are their validity. Here is a summary. It’s a story worth following.

whistleblower

Lots of pearl-clutching over this — David Rose at the Daily Mail published “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” The Mail is a British tabloid (i.e., big headlines for sensational stories, lots of graphics). Rose is an award-winning investigative journalist who has written for the BBC, Vanity Fair, London Observer, and The Guardian. See his bio and Wikipedia entry. We rely on journalists such as Rose to provide information and perspectives that contradict the institutional consensus.

For those that prefer hard news, we can skip the Daily Mail and go straight to the source: “Climate scientists versus climate data” by John Bates at Climate Etc. Bates is a distinguished principal scientist at NOAA, and has long been involved in both setting procedures for insuring data integrity and supervising its climate data products. See his bio at LinkedIn and the American Geophysical Association (elected to the Board in 2012). He is an insider to the workings of NOAA’s climate machinery. His report deserves close attention. The following quotes are from Bates’ article at Climate Etc.

Bates’ claims at Climate etc.

In the opening he gives an introduction of his case.

“The most serious example of a climate scientist not archiving or documenting a critical climate dataset was the study of Tom Karl et al. 2015 {aka K15), purporting to show no ‘hiatus’ in global warming in the 2000s {see NOAA’s press release}…. The study drew criticism from other climate scientists, who disagreed with K15’s conclusion about the ‘hiatus.’ (Nature: “Making sense of the early-2000s warming slowdown“). The paper also drew the attention of the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Representative Lamar Smith, who questioned the timing of the report, which was issued just prior to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan submission to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 {details here}.

“In the following sections, I provide the details of how Mr. Karl failed to disclose critical information to NOAA, Science Magazine, and Chairman Smith regarding the datasets used in K15. I have extensive documentation that provides independent verification of the story below. I also provide my suggestions for how we might keep such a flagrant manipulation of scientific integrity guidelines and scientific publication standards from happening in the future.”

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Disturbing research about the use of “narratives” in climate science papers

Summary: A new paper provides valuable information about climate science — evidence of the politicization that helped collapse the public policy debate. The authors conclude that narratives are “used to positive effect” in peer-reviewed papers. It puts science on the slippery slope to becoming propaganda (or, in today’s jargon, “fake news”). Scientists achieve career success but destroy the public’s esteem accumulated over centuries.

Clocks

Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science

By Ann Hillier, Ryan P. Kelly, and Terrie Klinger.
From PLOS ONE, 15 December 2016. Red emphasis added.

Climate change is among the most compelling issues now confronting science and society, and climate science as a research endeavor has grown accordingly over the past decade. The number of scholarly publications is increasing exponentially, doubling every 5±6 years. The volume of climate science publications now being produced far exceeds the ability of individual investigators to read, remember, and use. Accordingly, it is increasingly important that individual articles be presented in a way that facilitates the uptake of climate science and increases the salience of their individual research contributions.

…Despite this, professional scientific writing tends to be more expository than narrative, prioritizing objective observations made by detached researchers and relying on the logical proposition “if X, then Y” to define the structure of the argument.

Narrative writing, on the other hand, is commonly used to good effect in popular science writing. Both simple narratives and apocalyptic climate narratives are known to capture public attention and spur action. Moreover, narratives can influence perceptions of climate risk and policy preferences among the public, and the narrative style has been proposed as a powerful means of research to address problems of knowledge, policy, and action as they relate to climate change.

Here we explore the influence of narrative in the professional communication of climate science research, acknowledging that the perception of narrative can be subjective and context- dependent.

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Paul Krugman explains how to break the climate policy deadlock

Paul Krugman — Nobel Laureate economist, #5 on Prospect magazine’s 2015 list of the world’s top “thinkers” —  gives us powerful advice about the climate policy debate in his August 12 NYT op-ed (similar to this from a February column).

Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman. Creative Commons license.

Here’s how I would approach the issue: by asking how we know that a modeling approach is truly useful. The answer, I’d suggest, is that we look for surprising successful predictions. General relativity got its big boost when light did, in fact, bend as predicted. The theory of a natural rate of unemployment got a big boost when the Phillips curve turned into clockwise spirals, as predicted, during the stagflation of the 1970s.

So has there been anything like that in recent years? …Were there any interesting predictions from … models that were validated by events?

In fact he is discussing his own field, macroeconomics — but this insight has deep roots in the philosophy of science and applies as well to climate science. Predictions are the gold standard for validating theories. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) Thomas Kuhn described failed predictions that undermined dominant paradigms (e.g., the Michelson–Morley experiment) and successful predictions that helped establish new paradigms (e.g., the orbit of Mercury). He said…

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns us about climate change

Summary:  This is the second post looking at statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s insights about “ruin” risks, and what they tell us about climate change. Here we look at his warning about climate change and two factors he ignores: the duration of the climate risk window and the odds of a climate disaster. The danger is real but the stories that we face certain doom are wild exaggerations, which make rational preparation more difficult. The previous post was Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the risks threatening humanity.

Cover of "Turning the Tide On Climate Change" by Robert Kandel
Cover of “Turning the Tide On Climate Change” by Robert Kandel (2009).

Yesterday’s post examined a methodology developed by a team including Nassim Nicholas Taleb for identifying “ruin” risks, where the result is non-recoverable for global civilization — or even the biosphere (described in “Mathematical Foundations for the Precautionary Principle“).

They wrote a note applying their method to one of the major risk debates of our time: “Climate models and precautionary measures” in Science and Technology, in press. The authors are brilliant, and it states with unusual clarity common arguments for radical and immediate action to fight climate change. Here’s the core of their analysis (it’s worth reading in full).

“Those who contend that models make accurate predictions argue for specific policies to stem the foreseen damaging effects; those who doubt their accuracy cite a lack of reliable evidence of harm to warrant policy action. These two alternatives are not exhaustive. One can sidestep the “skepticism” of those who question existing climate-models, by framing risk in the most straight-forward possible terms, at the global scale. That is, we should ask ‘what would the correct policy be if we had no reliable models?’

“We have only one planet. This fact radically constrains the kinds of risks that are appropriate to take at a large-scale. Even a risk with a very low probability becomes unacceptable when it affects all of us –– there is no reversing mistakes of that magnitude.

“…While some amount of pollution is inevitable, high quantities of any pollutant put us at a rapidly increasing risk of destabilizing the climate, a system that is integral to the biosphere. Ergo, we should build down CO2 emissions, even regardless of what climate-models tell us.

“…This leads to the following asymmetry in climate policy. The scale of the effect must be demonstrated tube large enough to have impact. Once this is shown, and it has been, the burden of proof of absence of harm icon those who would deny it.”

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Science into agitprop: “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans”

Summary:  The public policy debate about climate science shows the dysfunctional nature of the US media. It’s one reason why making effective public policy has become difficult or impossible. Here’s another example of how propaganda has contaminated the news reporting of this vital subject, looking at stories about a new study of our oceans.

Oxygen loss in the oceans
Image courtesy Matthew Long, NCAR. It is freely available for media use.

NCAR’s press research accurately describes the paper: “Widespread loss of ocean oxygen to become noticeable in 2030s” (although it omits a crucial detail, mentioned below). Phil Plait at Slate turns this into agitprop:  “Climate Change Is Strangling Our Oceans“. His conclusion: ““messing with {the ocean} habitat is like setting fire to your own house. Which is pretty much what we’re doing.” Maddie Stone at Gizmodo also has a sensational headline “The Oceans Are Running Low on Oxygen” (the paper says nothing like that; for example, “detectable change” does not imply a “low” level).

To see how science becomes sensational propaganda let’s start by looking at the paper — “Finding forced trends in oceanic oxygen” by Matthew C. Long et al, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, February 2016. Ungated copy here. It is interesting and valuable research about climate dynamics. The abstract…

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