Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is Judith Curry arguing for political constraints on climate science?

Sou | 5:36 AM Go to the first of 26 comments. Add a comment

Anthony Watts blog at WUWT is tending to the really boring nutty right now so I popped over to see what was happening at Judith Curry's blog.  She's decided to go all out in favour of politicians putting limitations on scientific research.  Apparently , Nebraskan lawmakers are wanting scientists to prepare a report on "cyclical climate change" but telling them they are not allowed to consider any human influences on climate.  Judith finds it "strange" that any scientist would object to such limitations. (Archived here.)

Here is the advert for the study:

The advertisement looks innocuous, but apparently some lawmakers in Nebraska won't permit the scientists to take into account any human factors.  In other words they are putting political limitations on science.

Here is a report about the farce in a local news service:
The request says researchers “should consider 'cyclical climate change' to mean a change in the state of climate due to natural internal processes and only natural external forcings such as volcanic eruptions and solar variations.”
The use of the term “natural” would rule out the primary cause of the climate changes that have occurred in the last half-century: humans.
The issue of “cyclical” climate change was successfully amended into Haar's bill by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a Republican candidate for governor.
McCoy on Tuesday elaborated on his opposition to using state tax dollars to study man-made climate change: Humans aren't capable of influencing climate patterns.

CFACT bought into the issue, writing (archived here)
A few weeks ago, Nebraska lawmakers called for a wide-ranging study of “cyclical” climate change. Funded by the state, the $44,000 effort was to be limited to natural causes – not additional speculation about manmade effects. Amazingly, University of Nebraska scientists are not just refusing to participate in the study, unless it includes human influences. One climatologist at the university’s National Drought Mitigation Center actually said he would not be comfortable circulating a study proposal or asking other scientists to participate in it; in fact, he “would not send it out” to anyone. The director of the High Plains Climate Center sniffed, “If it’s only natural causes, we would not be interested.”
Their dismissive stance seems mystifying – until one examines climate change politics and financing.

CFACT went further, writing this nonsense:
None of these Nebraska scientists seems reluctant to accept far larger sums for “research” that focuses solely on human causes; nor do professors at Penn bearprotestsState, Virginia, George Mason, or other academic or research institutions. They’re likewise not shy about connecting “dangerous manmade global warming” to dwindling frog populations, shrinking Italian pasta supplies, clownfish getting lost, cockroaches migrating, and scores of other remote to ridiculous assertions – if the claims bring in research grants.
As if scientists determine the results of their research before they do it. CFACT isn't interested in facts.  They prefer to make stuff up as long as it's congruent with their aim of trashing the natural environment as fast as their little legs can carry them.

The Texas State Climatologist and Professor of Meteorology at Texas A&M University, John Nielsen-Gammon has written about it in the Houston Chronicle. What John is saying is that one of the scientists who refused to bid for the funds studies drought.  He is an expert in drought. Just drought.  Not drought from only natural causes or drought from only human causes, just drought. Period.  He wrote:
Knowing who these Nebraska scientists actually are, this [CFACT] article is simply sickening.  It goes on like this for a while, bringing up Galileo, Einstein, Stalin, and Lysenko, and concludes:
“Nebraskan (and other) researchers must end their hide-bound focus on human causes – and start working to understand all the complex, interrelated factors behind global climate changes and cycles. Government financiers and policy makers must do likewise. Our future well-being depends on it.”
Hey, CFACT, I have news for you: we climate scientists, at Nebraska and elsewhere, are already doing this.  We refuse to be told by politicians to restrict the scope of our scientific investigations.  Some of us feel so strongly about this that we are willing to pass up grant money that comes with politically-motivated restrictions.  And we’re willing to do this even at the possible cost of having our reputations dragged through the mud by the likes of you.
Because, despite our best efforts, some of us get used as political pawns anyway.
By the way, in a footnote, CFACT notes that the same authors will “discuss harassment of CAGW skeptics in a future article”.  Hypocrites.

 Judith says John's explanation doesn't "make sense" to her.  Apparently in Judith's world it is okay to put political constraints on the factors that academics can take into account when doing scientific research.  She lives in a strange little world.

What Judith is arguing for is that climate scientists should accept a requirement that they refuse to consider any factors that are associated with all the added greenhouse gases in the air.

Yep.  Judith Curry is advocating politically constrainted "science" if there is any such thing. How could scientists possibly study something if they are not allowed to consider all possible factors?  How could scientists study any weather change without acknowledging that the extra greenhouse gases are affecting climate and weather? Whatever results they came up with would have to be wrong from the start.  They wouldn't be able to use any climate models that included the current level of greenhouse gases, nor allowed for the growth of greenhouse gases.

Judith has put her hand up for the money.  Not only that, she's offered to do a study where she has already decided the results, writing (my bold italics):
JC message to Nebraska lawmakers:  I understand why you want to better understand and predict the natural variability of drought in Nebraska, such as seen in Figure 1 above.  I have been studying climate variability in the high plains, specifically temperature and winds, for a DOE funded study on predicting wind power variability.  For $44K, I would be happy to extend our study to include precipitation and drought, interpreting Nebraska climate variability in context of the stadium wave and including probabilistic projections of extremes for the next two decades. And I am sure that there are other researchers outside the state of Nebraska who would be willing to address this topic also.

Is Judith claiming that Nebraska droughts are caused by her stadium wave?  AFAIK she hasn't even said what causes her so-called stadium wave.   All she's done is say "here's a pattern we think we've found".

It gets worse, with a logic fail from Judith.  In the comments she writes:
curryja | November 29, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
Can you look at Figure 1 and deny that there is natural variability? 
I've added the following comment (Sou 5:14 pm 1 Dec 13):
curryja | November 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply
Hi Don I agree. I am tweeting with Gavin about this, the main objection seems to be their refusal to consider AGW. Well AGW seems to be getting a lot of consideration, whereas natural internal variability seems to be the main driver on the time scales of interest, and is getting insufficient consideration. So political posturing on both sides; you expect this from politicians but not from scientists.

Since when did it become "political posturing" to be able to do science free from political constraints? (It's science deniers who keep bringing up Lysenko conspiracy theories trying to claim that AGW is a Lysenko plot!  Judith is arguing that a research project that takes into account all possible factors, regardless of whether they are natural or anthropogenic is "political posturing".) (Edited re later comment from Judith. Sou 5:14 pm 1 Dec 13)

The point is not whether there is "natural variability".  The point is that no politician should be putting these sort of constraints on scientific research.  It would be like handing out grant money to study the common cold and telling researchers that they are not to consider any viral causation.  Natural variability is taking place in a world heated up by global warming.  There is no pure natural variability any more.  All weather is influenced by the added greenhouse gases.

You can't just remove greenhouse warming from the equation and say - oh look, this is what the weather would be like without greenhouse gases.  That would be of no value to Nebraskans.  The farmers there want to know what to expect in the future.  What is realistic.  Not what would have been expected if we hadn't been adding greenhouse gases to the air.

A responsible scientist would not be able to do the research in good faith.  But Judith Curry would.

If Judith doesn't win the tender, maybe Anthony Watts will find a use for their money.  He could do a review of weather stations in Nebraska and conclude that even if they get more droughts it will be okay, it won't get too hot.  Any extra heat associated with drought can be put down to "Nebraskan UHI disease".


  1. I read this yesterday and was wondering her reaction to the very reasonable response from Nielsen-Gammon. I wonder if she has gone over the edge. She is still clearly trying to play both sides but I fear she is not limber enough to hold that extreme a split.
    I was thinking though that it COULD be useful science if someone did this study and JUST looked at natural causes and then ascribed their results to some percentage of the actual degree of drought they have been experiencing. So the RESEARCH would exclude ACC but the attribution would include it, thereby satisfying the conditions of the grant and not corrupting the science.
    Added bonus of pissing of the republican legislators

  2. Hmm... Maybe scientists should just go ahead and produce the study just to show that natural variability can't account for all of the changes that are occurring. When the legislators ask them how come their results don't match reality they can say to them "You told us to leave out a major factor so we don't expect these results to match reality."

  3. Funny. We see all those complaints about scientists doing anything for the grant money, and who ends up trying to get hold of it....?


  4. Linzen has his Iris, now Curry has her stadium wave. Watts has his UHI, Spencer and Christy have heaven-sent clouds, whatsisname has cosmic rays, Singer has his 1000 +/- 500 year cycle, Piers Corbyn has the Moon. All the pseudio-scientists now have the crank theories they'll carry to the grave. Curry was late to the game but has caught up, it seems.

    Just how are volcanic forcings cyclical? Are all the vulcanologists keeping something from us?

  5. I'd love to see the competing interests statement on this: "The funders completely determined the content of this research." Nothing with a statement like that is going to get published in a reputable journal ...

  6. My first thought when reading this was exactly the same as Tony Learns' and Riverat's - do the work and demonstrate that there is a discrepancy between the identifable interaction of natural factors and the observed results, and indicate that there is another factor that is known but not included in the analysis because it was excluded from consideration by the funding body.


    Bernard J.

  7. As for Curry, I've said it before and this response of hers in this issue only brings it to mind again...

    There's a difference between real science and mere scientific prostitution, and Judith needs to look very carefully at where her favours are flowing if she doesn't want people to be confused about which side of the fence it is on which she's operating.

    Bernard J.

    Bernard J.

    1. That wasn't polite or productive.

    2. Dumb Scientist.

      Many years ago I had a colleague who for a buck was (and probably still is for all I know...) quite prepared to massage both data and interpretation of others' work to produce a conclusion favourable to a client. I saw years of work by others in our lab rendered effectively useless as a consequence of some of this behaviour, and I see a similar distraction of attention occurring in the climate science arena by people who either deliberately or through ideological bias produce similarly unsupportable work.

      I have an extremely low threshold of tolerance for those who wilfully ignore proper scientific method and/or who refuse to address valid critiques of their work. Most of my current colleagues have a similar antipathy for those who sell credentials for a preconceived and unsupportable scientific outcome.

      I recognise that my comment was not particularly "polite", but if Curry really expects to be held in any serious regard by the overwhelming majority of her colleagues she really does need to seriously reconsider the way she presents her conclusions. I don't think that this is a particularly controversial conclusion in any objective sense, and history will be the judge of Curry's participation in the human-caused climate change arena.

      To this end I stand by my comment. If Curry values her previous reputation over whatever it is that currently motivates her to speak the dross that characterises her, she will think carefully about that motivation and whether it benefits her in the long term.

      Bernard J.

    3. A similar sentiment could've been expressed without the incendiary reference to prostitution. For instance, here's what I've said:

      "Jane Q. Public, David Rose, Prof. Curry: please stop spamming humanity with all this misinformation. It’s staining your legacies and threatening the future of our civilization."

      In my opinion, this wording is less likely to provoke an unrelated (and unproductive) argument about gender politics and the world's oldest profession. But I don't intend to argue this point further, because I've got too much contrarian misinformation to debunk.

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    5. Anonymous, HotWhopper is for demolishing disinformation not spreading it.

    6. Back in the day my father had a word for ecologists who practiced this form of "science": Biostitute.

  8. For $44K, I would be happy to take my mask off and stop pretending I'm neutral. Now give me a stadium wave.

  9. I don't see what the problem is. There's been plenty of research already done on the human contribution to climate change, but not so much on the cyclical nature of the climate. This research is obviously designed to fill in the missing pieces rather than to repaint the whole picture... a very cost effective strategy.

    1. The problem is that it specifically excludes discussing the contribution of anthropogenic influences.

      To come with an example: suppose you study droughts. You notice a cyclical nature, and on top of that a trend. You find that that trend is most likely anthropogenic in nature. Now someone tells you to publish your data *without* mentioning the trend and its likely cause. You know your work will be used to make projections in the future. And thus you know those projections will be wrong, because an important factor is ignored.

      Note that the claim that "cyclical nature" has not been studied so much is just plain wrong. Plenty has been done, but to the dislike of the "ABC" (anything but CO2) people, most don't show anything. As John Nielsen-Gammon also pointed out, Mike Mann has done most of his research on natural variability of climate. Unfortunately for the ABC people it shows that natural variability cannot explain the current observations.


    2. What I don't understand is how you can think that climate scientists are not already studying all aspects of climate science. How can they understand the anthropogenic aspects of climate change without understanding the natural aspects as well and putting it all in context? It doesn't make sense to to otherwise.

    3. "Not so much on the cyclic nature of climate" - that statement is:
      a) without justification
      b) meaningless
      c) shows anonymous is totally ignorant when it comes to climate science
      d) just plain nuts.

      It also shows that Anonymous did not read my article, which among other things gives the reason for excluding human influences. The reason is that Sen. Beau McCoy who introduced the proviso does not believe that humans can have any effect on climate, as quoted in my article above.

  10. Actually it might be quite useful to produce graphs of our climate changes with the human element removed—provided that this is specifically stated in the accompanying key, title or description. I guess it might make a strong point and backfire in the face of the funders, if it was their aim to airbrush history. Hmm, 'airbrush history': now where have I seen that phrase used before? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photo_manipulation

  11. riverat -

    "What I don't understand is how you can think that climate scientists are not already studying all aspects of climate science. "

    Of course, that is the underlying assertion behind Judith's "mystifi[cation]" - the assertion that climate scientists are aren't already examining both natural variability and anthropogenic influences.

    But even further, the irony of Judith's position on this is quite beautiful, as one of her complaints and that of many of her "denizens" is that the work of climate scientists is invalidated because they are exclusively focused on only examining anthropogenic influences. So even though it's a straw man perspective, she criticizes the work of others because she feels it is biased by an agenda of looking for anthropogenic factors only, and then turns right around and plays dumb about why anyone would object to work that is motivated by an intention to look at natural variability only.

    And to add an extra dash of irony, she is suddenly not the least bit in opposition to the mixture of political advocacy and scientific research.

    It's iron-o-palooza time at Climate Etc.

    1. This reminds me of Prof. Curry's "uncertainty monster" narrative where she's the only scientist in the world who knows how to calculate uncertainties. At the same time, she makes claims about pauses and cooling trends which wouldn't be made by someone who appreciated the large uncertainties on short timespans.

      Morton's demon is strong in this one. Does the Dunning-Kruger effect explain the Fermi paradox?

  12. One thing, around 70% of Nebraska's corn crop is manmade irrigated. Let it natural drought; that corn don't care.

    Around 100% is manmade fertilized, manmade bug sprayed, manmade weed sprayed, uses manmade seed, manmade etc.

    So suddenly Nebraskans are against manmade climate?

  13. Sou,

    I can fully understand why you do not link your articles in the comment treads of the relevent WUWT articles which they critique.

    In the case of Climate Etc, I think you could.

    In the current example, my favourite internet commenter of all time, A Fan Of More Discourse, has already linked to your critique, on this thread...


    My point being that, while I love you, I was kinda converted anyway.

    Increasingly, I find that the internet is becoming ghettoficated. WUWT readers read The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Australian, etc, and never even see a link to a site such as this, which demolishes their arguments and demonstrates their duplicity.

    I read your blog. But why tell me? I know.


    1. Thanks, idunno. I'll think about it but am not all that inclined to post at Judith's blog for a number of reasons.

      For one thing, evidence suggests that very few readers of Judith's blog follow links. From what I see of the comments, her audience is, in the main (with exceptions as you've mentioned) much the same type of reader as WUWT. Their minds are made up. The topic of a blog article is almost irrelevant to their outpouring of protest at climate science.

      Judith has the audience she wants and they deserve each other.

    2. I must add that I appreciate it when other people link to here. A link from someone other than me carries more weight.

  14. A paper using only natural rather than human influences would by definition have to have a starting position that the global average temperature has only increased by about .1DegC since 1880, mention .9DegC since 1880 and you have introduced an anthropogenic component, good luck with that


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