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Friday, August 2, 2013

Policy postscript - where Judith Curry is wrong

Sou | 7:43 PM Go to the first of 7 comments. Add a comment

I wrote my take on scientists and policy and so did a number of other people - such as William Connolley at Stoat, James Annan, Victor Venema, Wotts and Judith Curry. They all bring different perspectives.  I'm not going to labour the point but I will address something that Curry wrote.

Judith Curry quoted some paragraphs from my earlier piece, which is fine.  But then she misused or misunderstood my meaning and wrote this:

Finally, I would like to pick up on the issue raised by hotwhopper, about scientists being gradually drawn into the policy role, and taking time to fully form their ideas.  This introduces the ‘age’ issue into the science-policy process, something that was alluded to in the Tamsin’s twitosphere discussion.  Being effective at the science-policy interface requires experience and perspective that only comes with seniority.
In doing so, Judith turned what I was writing into the opposite.  My point wasn't about age, it was about experience.  It takes experience to develop the maturity to contribute effectively to policy.  I was certainly not arguing that only old people are good at policy.  There are lots of old people who are useless at policy and many young people who have a real talent for it.  I was making the point that experience is important, and wrote that scientists can get that experience along the way - quoting myself:
For example, they may be tapped on the shoulder to sit on a committee or two.  They may be invited to take a short term assignment in a research advisory role or a management role.
Judith Curry is arguing that people shouldn't be given that experience.  She took the opportunity to have another shot at Michael Mann and Ben Santer, writing:
Leadership roles in the IPCC (as lead or coordinating lead authors) requires experience and perspective at the science-policy interface.  Assigning lead authors before the ink is dry on their PhD thesis (e.g. Mann) or as a coordinating lead author within 5 years of a Ph.D. (e.g. Santer)  seems extremely ill-advised to me.  
That's in flat out contradiction of the point I was making.  But first, let's consider each of these scientists and their early contributions to the IPCC reports:

Dr Ben Santer was a contributing author to Section 8 of the 1990 IPCC report, one of 35 contributing authors plus there were two lead authors to that section.  He was one of 65 contributing authors to Chapter 5 in SAR (1995 WGI) and one of four lead authors of Chapter 8 in that same report.

Ben Santer would have been 32 when the IPCC was formed in 1988. He already had his PhD at that time, having been awarded it in 1987.  In the year SAR came out in 1995, he turned forty years of age.  Dr Santer has won numerous awards for his work and is not an example of someone who was "too young" to contribute to science (as if anyone is too young to contribute to science anyway).

Dr Michael Mann was one of eight lead authors to Chapter 2. Observed Climate Variability and Change in WGI of the third Assessment report released in 2001.  These eight worked under two coordinating lead authors for that chapter.  He was also one of 56 contributing authors to Chapter 7. Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks and one of 63 contributing authors to Chapter 8. Model Evaluation in TAR.  Both of these chapters also had a number of lead authors and coordinating lead authors.

Dr Mann was awarded two Masters degrees in 1991 and a third in 1993, and a PhD in 1998.  In the year of publication of TAR in 2001, he was already 36 years old.  Hardly a youngster.

Seems to me that Judith misfires three times there.  First she implies that Santer and Mann were too green, when both had published extensively in the subject areas in which they contributed to the IPCC reports.  Secondly that she regards the Working Group I reports as policy, when in fact they are scientific reports.  Thirdly, contrary to what Judith wrote, getting experience like that gained as an IPCC author can be a useful way to get some of the experience I was referring to in my earlier article.

I say that with some provisos.  While experience gained in helping to coordinate the input into IPCC reports may help scientists gain some experience in regard to science policy, unless they are involved directly in discussions with NGOs and governments on the final content of the reports, they may not have a chance to learn all that much.  (I am aware that Dr Santer got a heap of such experience from his involvement over the years!)

Creating opportunities for promising young scientists

Still, it's the sort of opportunity that can lead to more direct involvement in policy making and I'm all for giving promising young scientists such an opportunity.  That's precisely the sort of opportunity I was referring to when writing my earlier article and discussing the pathways available to scientists who are interested in learning about policy development.  Maybe not always directly, but it can expose them to more direct opportunities.


  1. Why would a lead author or CLA require a perspective at the science-policy interface when asked to write about the science? Short answer: they don't, unless they specifically write about the science at that interface.

    Judith really has something against Mike Mann and Ben Santer. It sounds like penis envy.


    1. Envy of some kind at any rate.

      AFAIK Judith Curry has never been invited to be an IPCC author, let alone be a lead author, let alone be a coordinating lead author. Neither does she seem to know much about the content of the reports or the process by which they are prepared.

    2. At least in Germany, you are not invited, but have to apply for a position as IPCC author. Maybe Curry never has applied for it.

    3. I'm wrong (again). Judith Curry is listed as a contributing author to Chapter 7. Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks in TAR (2001).

    4. It's not penis envy (that's a bloke thing), it's all about male-pattern baldness. With MPB comes authority, the correlation is undeniable. It's not a gender issue at all.

      On the other hand, Judith Curry is babbling like the rest of the D-Team to keep the circling demons at bay. The way Michael Mann has come out of this - he'd get more votes that Nader ever did, I'd wager - as an impressive and authoritative figure must gall them horribly. They, on the other hand, are subjects of widespread ridicule and really need to talk about Andrew.

  2. Regarding early experience, some scientists might decide their futures actually lie in politics. More elected scientists and fewer elected lawyers would be, I think, a very good thing. I'd settle for fewer lawyers, of course, but why not shoot for the stars?

    Margaret Thatcher makes a fine example. One meeting with concerned scientists (whose mindsets and language she understood) and she pulled the alarm handle on AGW.

    1. It took Mrs Thatcher a while to get the Climate Change bug - she was warned by the UK's chief scientist before the summer of 1981 and didn't make her speech for another eight years - but she did at least get it.


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