The last couple of days has seen ex-scientist Judith Curry hunkering down in the conspiracy theorists' bunker. She is suggesting that the scientists at NOAA are "biasing and spinning climate science to support a political agenda".
If that's what they were doing (it isn't, as climate researcher Peter Thorne explains), they were not doing it at all well. For one thing, they've published papers describing their work in considerable detail, and the data is freely available (here and here and here) for anyone to check. Judith has no expertise in putting together surface temperature records (if you can't tell from reading her articles), so she wouldn't know what to do with the NOAA data any more than Lamar Smith does. (Judith dropped off the Berkeley Earth project team at an early stage, without making any substantive contribution.)
She does know how to insinuate and spread nasty smear campaigns, however. Over the years she's honed that art to a reasonable, if patently transparent, level.
Warning: I prefer to write about science rather than people. HotWhopper exists primarily to demolish the disinformation from science deniers and replace it with facts. Judith Curry is a special case. She is/was a scientist who's now made it her life's work to vilify her colleagues and spout nonsense about science. If you are uncomfortable with this sort of write up, there are plenty of other articles here at HotWhopper that might interest you. This article doesn't contain much of anything new, except for Judith's latest conspiracy theory. I've just put together some background based on material which is available on the internet, and added some commentary.
Judith Curry's path from scientist to science disinformer
For people who are new to the "climate cyber-wars", this latest distasteful episode from Judith Curry may be an eye-opener. I've taken the opportunity she's provided, to sketch out the path that she took on her journey to science denial, scientist smearing, disinformation and conspiratorial thinking.
It's not a strange story. Others have trodden the denier path, though for the most part those people are older than Judith is. She isn't a youngster, but she'd be among the younger set of climate scientists turned denier. Oh, and Judith is also a special case because, unlike most other scientist-deniers, she has a nasty habit of hitting out at individual scientists, not just making up stuff about the science itself.
Back in November 2010, Michael Lemonick wrote about Judith Curry: "In a sense, the two competing storylines about Judith Curry—peacemaker or dupe?—are both true." Today I don't know if he'd try to argue she was attempting to forge any peace. And he'd have a hard time persuading anyone that she was still a dupe. She's not. Judith knows exactly what she is doing and probably thinks the payoff is worth the scorn.
Judith doesn't have the status that some other other deniers attained before they turned their back on science. Professor Richard Lindzen held down a post at the prestigious MIT for many years before his failed "iris" hypothesis sent him trudging out onto the science denier speaking circuit. [Correction: I've been told Lindzen started down the denier path before his "iris" hypothesis, back in the early 1990s.] Garth Paltridge managed a senior post at the CSIRO, before he became disenchanted with science, perhaps after not being able to develop his "Principle of Maximum Entropy Production" beyond a hypothesis.
You'll probably be aware that there are not many climate researchers who are also science deniers. There are a couple who reject science on religious grounds, like John Christy and Roy Spencer. There's Willie "it's the sun" Soon, but AFAIK he mostly freelances, and he's not a climate scientist in any case. Most deniers and disinformers are not climate scientists. And very few have published papers contesting mainstream science. The closest Judith came was being listed as co-author on a paper by Marcia Wyatt putting forward a stadium wave hypothesis, which was an interesting idea if you're into detecting patterns, but didn't last two years. That goes partway to explaining why Judith is so keen for the so-called "pause" (which wasn't) to continue. Marcia Wyatt said in the press release that "“The stadium wave signal predicts that the current pause in global warming could extend into the 2030s,"
It should be said that in the main, Judith restricts her outright disinformation about climate to her blog, her testimony to the US Government, talks to right wing lobby groups, and comments to sympathetic journalists and scurrilous conspiracy theories as op-eds for right wing media.
Close on the heels of Katrina, Judith Curry got some media attention after being the third of four co-authors of a paper on hurricanes in 2005. Since then, she's not been able to publish anything that so captured the imagination of the public, which may be why she decided to seek it elsewhere - outside of science.
This is a short-ish story about how she fell off a bridge she built, into the wacky world of science denial.
The early days of denial
I'm in Australia, so I didn't get to hear about Judith's moment of fame with the hurricanes, back in 2005. It was in November 2009, that she took to the cyber-waves in a big way on the back of stolen emails. She was initially cautious, so much so that Joe Romm published her "open letter to graduates", with words of (qualified) support. However, in a comment under her Climate Progress article, she gave an inkling of what was to come when she claimed about the vindictive FOIA harasser and denier blogger that: "Steve McIntyre is a bona fide skeptic". (Note that I don't think there's been a single article produced by deniers using the the information Steve claimed to so desperately need. So much for bona fides!) She clearly took to Steve's approach to spreading disinformation and, around the same time as her ClimateProgress article, wrote an article for Steve McIntyre's disinformation blog. She was also happy to get publicity at WUWT, saying she was "trying to reach out to everyone" and adding: "pls help in this effort".
Not an attention junkie?
I first met Judith a short while later in April 2010, in cyberspace, on Keith Kloor's blog, when she was making all sorts of vague and unsubstantiated allegations against climate scientists. She told me that she "was not personally an attention junkie", though that didn't gel with her behaviour. Nor with her tales of the media attention and "rock star" status from 2005.
Much to the horror of onlookers, in one of those discussions she was making a song and dance about the discredited report from the disgraced Wegman not being included in the 2007 IPCC AR4 report, when a peer-reviewed Wahl and Amman (2007) was. (The Wegman report was not a peer-reviewed publication but a report commissioned by Republican deniers, Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield.) I think that she may also have flagged the Berkeley Earth project while complaining about temperature records. (I excused myself from the discussion after Keith Kloor said I was being disrespectful of the person who was in the process of falsely accusing her peers of professional misconduct and corruption. I'd seen enough in any case.)
Building a bridge from stolen emails, then burning it
So Judith took the opportunity to make a name for herself after the disinformation campaign that went on when emails were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. I don't know if she pawed (sic) through any of the stolen correspondence or not. She obviously read the deniers' misinterpretations of them. What I do know is that she grabbed the chance to get some publicity defaming scientists and turning her back on climate science. She pretended to take the high road, but instead took the low road. She said she was going to build a bridge. She did. Then she leapt across it, falsely accusing the IPCC processes of being "corrupt". She made lots of unfounded allegations at the party held in her honour on the blog of Keith Kloor. I'd say 2010 was the year she burnt the bridge behind her and took up residence in the strange world of science deniers and disinformers. She abandoned science and instead promoted anti-science propaganda literature.
Now one can speculate that she was always on the outer in her own professional sphere. Maybe because she figured she wasn't part of what she saw as an inner circle of climate research elite. Maybe she never found what she regarded as her rightful place. She showed little respect for her colleagues, instead she said she had "respect" for a denier blogger at WUWT and thought he was "honest". She clearly had a lot of sympathy for the various tall poppy loppers and was more than happy to fall into the waiting arms of the science disinformers. She had a few sessions with denier blogger, Steve McIntyre, who at the time spent a lot of effort vexatiously harassing climate scientists and trying to pick holes in their work (and mostly failing). That may have appealed to her baser instincts of professional jealousy. No need to investigate to see if the Auditor's arguments had any merit, it was enough that he made claims. Judith's first and last reaction seems to have been to believe the disinformation she read on denier blogs.
Judith was courted by and courted science disinformers. Even back in April 2010 she indicated she preferred WUWT to science blogs. She was easy pickings and didn't take much grooming. At her debutante party in Lisbon the following year, she may have been quite overwhelmed by the warm embrace she received from the science denial "community". Finally she had found a "home" where she could pontificate and be adored.
Overcoming small mistakes
In the early days, Judith appeared to slip up now and then, though that may have been intended. I've already mentioned how she made a song and dance saying the IPCC should have included the non-peer reviewed Wegman report after it had been revealed to be nothing more than trumped up nonsense (and its author had already been disgraced). In June 2010, she also made the mistake of praising a dumb denier book at realclimate.org - a serious website run by some of the world's leading climate scientists. For these slip-ups she was deservedly ridiculed. I say these were slip-ups, but they were probably fortuitous ones and may even have been quite deliberate because they helped cement Judith's position in deniersville.
In any case, Judith soon caught on. She no longer posts comments on science blogs as far as I know. In September 2010 she started her current blog, and from the outset she attracted a lot of deniers and disinformers. These days she only occasionally gets comments from people who accept science, and she has to say something quite outrageous to draw them, such as voicing the conspiracy theory she's promoting this week.
Over time, the puzzlement from Judith's peers has turned to scorn, which may have pushed her further into the anti-science camp. She may feel like a heroic martyr to some "cause". A captive of deniers turned, like Patty Hearst.
Misrepresentations to the US Government and her blog readers
Judith has in past written testimony for a US House Committee said temperatures had declined, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. She ended up not being called, but was happy for John Christy to present her written testimony.
She has tried to claim on her blog that she doesn't present science in a manner that would influence policy:
The relevant issue to my mind is to expect non-normative testimony from academic researchers. I discussed this issue on a previous blog post Congressional testimony and normative science. Consensus climate scientists routinely present normative testimony, along the lines of ‘urgent mitigation action needed’. On the other hand, I personally work to make my testimony non-normative...In claiming to make her testimony non-normative, Judith is claiming that she doesn't argue for a policy direction - implicitly or explicitly. That's just not true. She has argued that mitigation of climate change "would be futile" and misrepresented science arguing that CO2 doesn't affect climate variability on decadal timescales, contrary to mainstream science. In January 2014 she provided written testimony to the Committee on Environment and Public Works of the United States Senate, arguing for a policy of not mitigating climate change, writing:
Motivated by the precautionary principle to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The stagnation in greenhouse warming observed over the past 15+ years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales
Recent data and research supports the importance of natural climate variability and calls into question the conclusion that humans are the dominant cause of recent climate change.
How to become a scientist-denier-disinformer
There are some lessons to be learnt from Judith, if you are working scientist who is against climate change mitigation:
- Avoid flaunting your science denial wares in discussions where you'll be shown up. Make sure you are surrounded by enough denial voices, so that sensible voices are drowned out.
- Stick to innnuendo when spreading gossip or lies about climate science and scientists. Use hints, and let other people run with your insinuations and develop them into whatever conspiracy theory is flavour of the month. If you think that people won't get the message, turn your baseless insinuations into questions.
- Every now and then, say out loud that the greenhouse effect is real, even if you can't explain how it works. This is a very inexpensive way of passing yourself off as a genuine climate scientist, not dismissed as a complete whacko. You can contradict yourself at the same time, and claim that reducing CO2 emissions won't have much effect on climate change. As long as you get in that the greenhouse effect is real, you'll trick some member of the public into thinking of you as a bona fide scientist.
- Avoid commenting on other blogs, especially other science blogs. That's risky. Don't try to con the unconnable at places like realclimate.org. If you feel attention is slipping you can post an inoffensive or innocuous comment on a prominent denier blog.
The safest and most effective way to be noticed by the people you want to notice you, and with minimal risk, is to host your own blog. Don't go opening your mouth at a place where people are going to show up your silliness. Do it where you are going to get some sympathy and where you have some control. On your own blog. Deniers don't have a lot of options when it comes to congregating in cyberspace, so you're bound to get lots of the sort of comments you're angling for. All you need to remember is:
- Do not correct science denier rubbish. On the contrary praise it, and promote articles and books by science disinformers. Sing the praises of anti-science lobby groups. All it takes is a comment like "very interesting". You don't have to commit yourself to overtly agreeing.
- If you think the proportion of pro-science people is too great, take a dig at comments that hint of science.
These tactics have been shown to be very effective. Judith is now called upon by denier politicians to speak to US Senate and House committees and to political lobby groups. She is now a big fish in the science denying pond. Scientists are hard to come by when you're looking for a denier. In the past, denier politicians in the USA had to resort to potty peers from the mother country, who for years tried to masquerade as a member of the House of Lords. Journalists looking for some false balance have been known to go to Judith Curry for a quote, though that's happening less and less often as the mainstream media focuses more on mainstream science, not piddly deniers. And these days, financier Matt Ridley seems to have the foothold as far as the denier media goes.
Judith kept her word about building a bridge to fake sceptics, though she burnt the bridge behind her in a way that probably continues to dismay her professional colleagues. She was so successful in reaching out to them that now her blog commenters are almost entirely people who reject science in favour of conspiracy theories and pseudo-science. Some of these people now use her blog as a notice-board to promote their zany ideas (like this and this and this), while Judith sits back without a murmur of correction or objection.
What might have been the biggest puzzle to many of Judith's colleagues was that after she built her bridge and was awarded a T-Shirt to mark the occasion, she crossed it and burnt it behind her. That didn't surprise those of us who saw this happening from a distance. The signs were all there. Her touting as fact things that everyone already knew were baseless. Then her using her blog, government testimony and public speeches to say things she'd not say in the published literature (because it is unsupportable by any evidence). In public she uses innuendo to cast doubt on the fact of climate change and the harm it is causing and will cause. She is now one of the few "go to" scientists left for the more extremist US republicans because of her anti-mitigation stance. The others being John Christie and Roy Spencer and, occasionally, Richard Lindzen, all of whom are known for misrepresenting science.
The Latest Defamatory Smear Attack by Judith Curry
This week, Judith Curry continued her attacks on scientists (archived here). She is now accusing not just a single scientist of fraud, but the scientific organisation, NOAA. She wrote an op ed for Fox News of all places, with the defamatory title: Is government tinkering with global warming data?
That complies with Betteridge's law of headlines, which states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." Not that that will stop deniers from picking up the lie and running with it.
Judith might be a slow learner, but she's learning. Did she do any research herself on the subject? There's no evidence that she did, unless you count going to her favourite paid disinformers and climate conspiracy blogs.
The issue she made much of was answered in the paper on sea surface temperatures, so I'd say she didn't even bother to read the papers she's jumping up and down about. And her question shows that she wouldn't pass a Grade 3 arithmetic test. She wrote:
Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen and Chip Knappenberger criticized the analysis, stating that adjusting the reliable ocean surface buoy data upwards to match the much less reliable data from engine intake channels in ships introduces an artificial upward trend in the data because the buoy network has become increasingly dense in the last two decades.
Here's a lesson for Judith - I'll subtract 0.1 C so you can see the difference in the trend. Yep - there is none:
Adding to buoy data rather than subtracting from ship data was because for most of the period since 1880 there were no buoys, so there was no comparison. If Judith had read the paper describing ERSSTv4 instead of writing arguably defamatory op-eds for Fox News, she might have learnt something. She'd have seen for example:
Although buoy SSTs are generally more homogeneous than ship SSTs, they are adjusted here because otherwise it would be necessary to adjust ship SSTs before 1980 when there were no or very few buoys.
The comparison was between buoy data and ship data while they coexisted. On the other hand, the temperature records needed to be adjusted over time to account for things like the shift from uninsulated to insulated buckets; and rising deck heights etc.
But why am I telling you all this? HotWhopper readers are, in the main, not dumb deniers. And most can do basic arithmetic. And most don't fall for disinformer tripe from denialist lobby groups like CATO.
Oh, and in case you're wondering - all this was done properly, against the proper climatology. Any fool can see that - even on Judith Curry's charts. If there was something wrong there'd be a bigger difference between the NOAA record and other records.
Each new effort by scientists is aimed at improving on the previous one. The new NOAA record is based on a lot of effort to refine the sea surface record, which must be a helluva job. And the new land record incorporates many, many more weather stations because it adds in records from a heap more data from the International Surface Temperature Initiative (ISTI). I won't go over ground already covered. You can read about the NOAA work in a detailed article I wrote last June when the paper was published.
Suffice to say that Judith is either immensely stupid or deliberately deceitful, knowing most of her readers are wilfully ignorant.
There's more. She's also making some rather silly points for someone who used to be a climate scientist. She's also built a strawman, asking:
Was any concern raised about the discrepancies of the new ocean temperature data set and NOAA’s other ocean temperature data set (OISST) that shows no warming since 2003?
Huh? Leaving aside the fact that the OISST data set uses different data sources - satellite as well as ships and buoys on the sea surface, and leaving aside the fact that the new NOAA data set is, well, a completely new analysis so isn't expected to be identical to older ones - where did she get the notion there's been no warming since 2003 from?
|Data source: KNMI Climate Explorer|
Judith favours politicians harassing scientists, except when it's directed at her
Judith says she approves of the ongoing intimidatory tactics and vexatious requests for irrelevant information from the Chair of the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Lamar Smith has been waging a war against science for some time now.
She adds a bit of slimey innuendo to the mix, claiming that she has "heard enough behind the scenes" - yeah right - unfounded gossip from CATO and WUWT and her other favourite haunts, I'd say.
Her approval of political harassment shows some consistency. Remember, she seems to have approved of the intimidatory tactics of US legislators in the past, when Joe Barton and Ed Whitfield commissioned the Wegman report, which was subsequently shown to be not just wrong scientifically, but littered with distorted plagiarism.
Double Standards: when is a witch hunt a witch hunt?
The inconsistency comes about when she complains about requests for fairly simple information on her own funding sources. When Judith Curry received a request from a US congressman, Raul Grijalva, to identify her funding sources , she referred to it as a witch hunt and an attack:
My first reaction to this was to tweet: Looks like I am next up in this ‘witch hunt’. My subsequent reactions have been slowed by a massive headache (literally; cause and effect?)
Other than an emotional burden. This is the first time I have been ‘attacked’ in a substantive way for doing my science honestly and speaking up about it. Sure, anonymous bloggers go after me, but I have received no death threats via email, no dead rats delivered to my door step, etc.
Now Raul Grijalva wasn't wanting all her emails and other personal correspondence going back decades. All he asked for was what funding she received relating to her published research. A fairly simple request that, as Judith admitted, did not inconvenience her personally except as an "emotional burden".
The double standards would be viewed as quite extraordinary, except for the fact that Judith has made it plain over the years that she is quite prepared to misrepresent climate science when required to do so. Science disinformers are known to have double standards.
In her article this week attacking NOAA, Judith wrote:
Last month, the House Science Committee, chaired by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), subpoenaed NOAA for data and communications relating to Karl’s article. However, NOAA is refusing to give Rep. Smith the documents, citing confidentiality concerns and the integrity of the scientific process. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex) called the request “a serious misuse of Congressional oversight powers.”
That's an example of her telling lies. The NOAA not only gave Lamar Smith all the data, they sat down and explained it to him. What they didn't give him was the "communications" part. As reported at The Hill:
NOAA spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton said the internal communications are confidential and not related to what Smith is trying to find out.
“We have provided data, all of which is publicly available online, supporting scientific research, and multiple in-person briefings,” she said.
Judith must know this, so she is not merely applying double standards, she is making up stuff.
Judith tries on the peacemaker hat she took off five years ago
Judith finishes up one of her articles writing that: "The politicization of climate science has gotten extreme. I don’t know where to start in trying to ameliorate this situation, ..."
ROTFL. Is the word hubris appropriate here? As if Judith has any intention of doing any "ameliorating" all of a sudden. Over the years she has been working harder and harder to fan the political flames. With this latest effort she's bending over backwards to pay homage to deniers, with wanton disregard for science.
References and further reading
Thomas R. Karl, Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, Huai-Min Zhang. "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus". Science 348, no. 6242 (2015): 1469-1472 doi:10.1126/science.aaa5632 (subs req'd)
Huang, Boyin, Viva F. Banzon, Eric Freeman, Jay Lawrimore, Wei Liu, Thomas C. Peterson, Thomas M. Smith, Peter W. Thorne, Scott D. Woodruff, and Huai-Min Zhang. "Extended Reconstructed Sea Surface Temperature version 4 (ERSST. v4), Part I. Upgrades and Intercomparisons." Journal of Climate 2014 (2014). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00006.1 (subs req'd)
Peter W. Thorne, Kate M. Willett, Rob J. Allan, Stephan Bojinski, John R. Christy, Nigel Fox, Simon Gilbert, Ian Jolliffe, John J. Kennedy, Elizabeth Kent, Albert Klein Tank, Jay Lawrimore, David E. Parker, Nick Rayner, Adrian Simmons, Lianchun Song, Peter A. Stott, and Blair Trewin, 2011: "Guiding the Creation of A Comprehensive Surface Temperature Resource for Twenty-First-Century Climate Science." Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 92, ES40–ES47. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/2011BAMS3124.1 (open access)
The Wegman Scandal
- Strange Problems in the Wegman Report - article by John Mashey for Skeptical Enquirer, March-April 2011
- Wegman Report update, part 1: More dubious scholarship in full colour - article by Deep Climate, July 2010
- NOAA: No pause in the global surface temperature - June 2015 - with references
- More perversity from Anthony Watts @wattsupwiththat - the last in the series about the deniers' appalling behaviour and general protest at the June NOAA paper - with a list of links to the other articles.
- Confessions of deniers at Judith Curry's blog - February 2015
- Freed of any values, Judith Curry slithers and slides and hurtles into deniersville - January 2015 - you can read more about Judith Curry's antics by typing her name in the search bar up top