Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Judith Curry posted here on WUWT regarding rebuilding the lost trust we used to have in climate science and climate scientists. This is my response to her post, an expansion and revision of what I wrote in the comments on that thread.
First, be clear that I admire Judith Curry greatly. She is one of the very, very few mainstream climate scientists brave enough to enter into a public dialogue about these issues. I salute her for her willingness to put her views on public display, and for tackling this difficult issue.
As is often my wont in trying to understand a long and complex dissertation, I first made my own digest of what Judith said. To do so, I condensed each of her paragraphs into one or a few sentences. Here is that digest:
Digest of Judith Curry’s Post: On the Credibility of Climate Research, Part II: Towards Rebuilding Trust
1 I am trying an experiment by posting on various blogs
2 Losing the Public’s Trust
2.1 Climategate has broadened to become a crisis of trust in climate science in general.
2.2 Credibility is a combination of expertise and trust. Trust in the IPCC is faltering.
2.3 The scientists in the CRU emails blame their actions on “malicious interference”.
2.4 Institutions like the IPCC need to ask how they enabled this situation.
2.5 Core research values have been compromised by warring against the skeptics.
2.6 Climategate won’t go away until all this is resolved.
3 The Changing Nature of Skepticism about Global Warming
3.1 Skepticism has changed over time.
3.2 First it was a minor war between advocacy groups. Then, a “monolithic climate denial machine” was born. This was funded by the oil industry.
3.3 Because of the IPCC reports, funding for contrary views died up. It was replaced by climate auditors. The “climate change establishment” didn’t understand this and kept blaming the “denial machine”.
4 Climate Auditors and the Blogosphere.
4.1 Steve McIntyre’s auditing became popular and led to blogs like WUWT.
4.2 Auditors are independent, technically educated people mostly outside of academia. They mostly audit rather than write scientific papers.
4.3 The FOIA requests were motivated by people concerned about having the same people who created the dataset using the dataset in their models.
4.4 The mainstream climate researchers don’t like the auditors because Steve McIntyre is their arch-nemesis, so they tried to prevent auditors publishing in the journals. [gotta confess I couldn’t follow the logic in this paragraph]
4.5 The auditors succeeded in bringing the climate establishment to its knees because people trusted the auditors.
5 Towards Rebuilding Trust
5.1 Ralph Cicerone says that two aspects need attention, the general practice of science and the personal behaviours of scientists. Investigations are being conducted.
5.2 Climate science has not adapted to being high profile. How scientists engage with the public is inadequately discussed. The result is reflexive support for IPCC and its related policies.
5.3 The public and policy makers don’t understand the truth as presented by the IPCC. More efficient strategies can be devised by recognizing that we are dealing with two groups: educated people, and the general public. To rebuild trust scientists need to discuss uncertainty. [“truth as presented by the IPCC? say what?]
5.4 The blogosphere can be a powerful tool for increasing credibility of climate research. The climate researchers at realclimate were the pioneers in this. More scientists should participate in these debates.
5.5 No one believes that the science is settled. Scientists and others say that the science is settled. This is detrimental to public trust.
5.6 I hope this experiment will demonstrate how the blogosphere can rebuild trust.
Having made such a digest, my next step is to condense it into an “elevator speech”. This is a very short statement of the essential principles. My elevator speech of Judith’s post is this.
Climategate has destroyed the public trust in climate science. Initially skepticism was funded by big oil. Then a climate auditing movement sprang up. They were able to bring the climate establishment to its knees because people trusted them. Public and policy makers don’t understand the truth as presented by the IPCC. To rebuild trust, climate scientists need to better communicate their ideas to the public, particularly regarding uncertainty. The blogosphere can be valuable in this regard.
OK, now what’s wrong with Judith’s picture?
Can The Trust Be Rebuilt?
First, let me say that the problem is much bigger than Judith seems to think. Wiser men than I have weighed in on this question. In a speech at Clinton, Illinois, September 8, 1854, Abraham Lincoln said:
If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
So it will not be easy. The confidence is forfeit, that ship has sailed.
The biggest problem with Judith’s proposal is her claim that the issue is that climate scientists have not understood how to present their ideas to the public. Judith, I respect you greatly, but you have grabbed the wrong end of the stick. The problem is not how climate scientists have publicly presented their scientific results. It is not a communication problem.
The problem is that 71.3% of what passes as peer reviewed climate science is simply junk science, as false as the percentage cited in this sentence. The lack of trust is not a problem of perception or communication. It is a problem of lack of substance. Results are routinely exaggerated. “Scientific papers” are larded with “may” and “might” and “could possibly”. Advocacy is a common thread in climate science papers. Codes are routinely concealed, data is not archived. A concerted effort is made to marginalize and censor opposing views.
And most disturbing, for years you and the other climate scientists have not said a word about this disgraceful situation. When Michael Mann had to be hauled in front of a congressional committee to force him to follow the simplest of scientific requirements, transparency, you guys were all wailing about how this was a huge insult to him.
An insult to Mann? Get real. Mann is an insult and an embarrassment to climate science, and you, Judith, didn’t say one word in public about that. Not that I’m singling you out. No one else stood up for climate science either. It turned my stomach to see the craven cowering of mainstream climate scientists at that time, bloviating about how it was such a terrible thing to do to poor Mikey. Now Mann has been “exonerated” by one of the most bogus whitewashes in academic history, and where is your outrage, Judith? Where are the climate scientists trying to clean up your messes?
The solution to that is not, as you suggest, to give scientists a wider voice, or educate them in how to present their garbage to a wider audience.
The solution is for you to stop trying to pass off garbage as science. The solution is for you establishment climate scientists to police your own back yard. When Climategate broke, there was widespread outrage … well, widespread everywhere except in the climate science establishment. Other than a few lone voices, the silence there was deafening. Now there is another whitewash investigation, and the silence only deepens.
And you wonder why we don’t trust you? Here’s a clue. Because a whole bunch of you are guilty of egregious and repeated scientific malfeasance, and the rest of you are complicit in the crime by your silence. Your response is to stick your fingers in your ears and cover your eyes.
And you still don’t seem to get it. You approvingly quote Ralph Cicerone about the importance of transparency … Cicerone?? That’s a sick joke.
You think people made the FOI (Freedom of Information) requests because they were concerned that the people who made the datasets were the same people using them in the models. As the person who made the first FOI request to CRU, I assure you that is not true. I made the request to CRU because I was disgusted with the response of mainstream climate scientists to Phil Jone’s reply to Warwick Hughes. When Warwick made a simple scientific request for data, Jones famously said:
Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?
When I heard that, I was astounded. But in addition to being astounded, I was naive. Looking back, I was incredibly naive. I was so naive that I actually thought, “Well, Phil’s gonna get his hand slapped hard by real scientists for that kind of anti-scientific statements”. Foolish me, I thought you guys were honest scientists who would be outraged by that.
So I waited for some mainstream climate scientist to speak out against that kind of scientific malfeasance … and waited … and waited. In fact, I’m still waiting. I registered my protest against this bastardisation of science by filing an FOI. When is one of you mainstream climate scientist going to speak out against this kind of malfeasance? It’s not too late to condemn what Jones said, he’s still in the news and pretending to be a scientist, when is one of you good folks going to take a principled stand?
But nobody wants to do that. Instead, you want to complain and explain how trust has been broken, and you want to figure out more effective communication strategies to repair the trust.
You want a more effective strategy? Here’s one. Ask every climate scientist to grow a pair and speak out in public about the abysmal practices of far, far too many mainstream climate scientists. Because the public is assuredly outraged, and you are all assuredly silent, sitting quietly in your taxpayer funded offices and saying nothing, not a word, schtumm … and you wonder why we don’t trust you?
A perfect example is you saying in your post:
Such debate is alive and well in the blogosphere, but few mainstream climate researchers participate in the blogospheric debate. The climate researchers at realclimate.org were the pioneers in this …
For you to say this without also expressing outrage at realclimate’s ruthless censorship of every opposing scientific view is more of the same conspiracy of silence. Debate is not “alive and well” at realclimate as you say, that’s a crock. Realclimate continues to have an undeserved reputation that it is a scientific blog because you and other mainstream climate scientists are unwilling to bust them for their contemptuous flouting of scientific norms. When you stay silent about blatant censorship like that, Judith, people will not trust you, nor should they. You have shown by your actions that you are perfectly OK with realclimate censoring opposing scientific views. What kind of message does that send?
The key to restoring trust has nothing to do with communication. Steve McIntyre doesn’t inspire trust because he is a good communicator. He inspires trust because he follows the age-old practices of science — transparency and openness and freewheeling scientific discussion and honest reporting of results.
And until mainstream climate science follows his lead, I’ll let you in on a very dark, ugly secret — I don’t want trust in climate science to be restored. I don’t want you learning better ways to propagandize for shoddy science. I don’t want you to figure out how to inspire trust by camouflaging your unethical practices in new and innovative ways. I don’t want scientists learning to use clever words and communication tricks to get people to think that the wound is healed until it actually is healed. I don’t want you to learn to use the blogosphere to spread your pernicious unsupported unscientific alarmism.
You think this is a problem of image, that climate science has a bad image. It is nothing of the sort. It is a problem of scientific malfeasance, and of complicity by silence with that malfeasance. The public, it turns out, has a much better bullsh*t detector than the mainstream climate scientists do … or at least we’re willing to say so in public, while y’all cower in your cubbyholes with your heads down and never, never, never say a bad word about some other climate scientist’s bogus claims and wrong actions.
You want trust? Do good science, and publicly insist that other climate scientists do good science as well. It’s that simple. Do good science, and publicly call out the Manns and the Joneses and the Thompsons and the rest of the charlatans that you are currently protecting. Call out the journals that don’t follow their own policies on data archiving. Speak up for honest science. Archive your data. Insist on transparency. Publish your codes.
Once that is done, the rest will fall in line. And until then, I’m overjoyed that people don’t trust you. I see the lack of trust in mainstream climate science as a huge triumph for real science. Fix it by doing good science and by cleaning up your own backyard. Anything else is a coverup.
Judith, again, my congratulations on being willing to post your ideas in public. You are a rara avis, and I respect you greatly for it.
PS – In your post you talk about a “monolithic climate denial machine”?? Puhleease, Judith, you’re talking to us individual folks who were there on the ground individually fighting the battle. Save that conspiracy theory for people who weren’t there, those who don’t know how it went down.
This is another huge problem for mainstream climate scientists and mainstream media alike. You still think the problem is that we opposed your ideas and exposed your errors. You still see the climate scientists as the victims, even now in 2010 when the CRU emails have shown that’s nonsense. Every time one of your self-appointed spokes-fools says something like “Oh, boo hoo, the poor CRU folks were forced to circle their wagons by the eeevil climate auditors”, you just get laughed at harder and harder. The CRU emails showed they were circling the FOI wagons two years before the first FOI request, so why haven’t you noticed?
The first step out of this is to stop trying to blame Steve and Anthony and me and all the rest of us for your stupidity and your dishonesty and your scientific malfeasance. [Edited by public demand to clarify that the “your stupidity” etc. refers to mainstream climate scientists as a group and not to Judith individually.] You will never recover a scrap of trust until you admit that you are the source of your problems, all we did was point them out. You individually, and you as a group, created this mess. The first step to redemption is to take responsibility. You’ve been suckered by people like Stephen Schneider, who said:
To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.
That worked fine for a while, but as Lincoln pointed out, it caught up with you. You want trust? Disavow Schneider, and STOP WITH THE SCARY SCENARIOS. At this point, you have blamed everything from acne to world bankruptcy on eeevil global warming. And you have blamed everything from auditors to the claimed stupidity of the common man for your own failures. STOP IT! We don’t care about your pathetic justifications, all you are doing is becoming the butt of jokes around the planet. You seem to have forgotten the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Read it. Think about it. Nobody cares about your hysteria any more. You are in a pit of your own making, and you are refusing to stop digging … take responsibility.
Because we don’t want scientists who are advocates. We’re not interested in scientists who don’t mention their doubts. We’re sick of your inane “simplified dramatic statements”. We laugh when you cry wolf with your scary scenarios. Call us crazy, but we want scientists who are honest, not scientists who balance honesty and effectiveness. You want trust? Get honest, kick out the scoundrels, and for goodness sakes, get a clue about humility.
Because the truth is, climate science is one of the newest sciences. The truth is, we know little about the climate, we’ve only been studying it intensely for a couple decades. The truth is, we can’t project the climate of the next decade, much less that of the next century. The truth is, we have no general theory of climate. The truth is, we don’t know if an average temperature rise of a couple degrees will be a net benefit or a net loss. The truth is, all of us are human, and our knowledge of the climate is in its infancy. And I don’t appreciate being lectured by infants. I don’t appreciate being told that I should be put in the dock in a Nuremberg style trial for disagreeing with infants. You want to restore trust? Come down off your pedestals, forsake your ivory towers, and admit your limitations.
And through all of this, be aware that you have a long, long, long climb back up to where we will trust you. As Lincoln warned, you have forfeited the confidence of your fellow citizens, and you will be damn lucky if you ever get it back.