Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Denier weirdness: Judith Curry's "Sober People"

Judith Curry has written up her recent science disinformation talk for "op-eds", hoping for more fame and fortune, no doubt (archived here).

One funny thing. Judith doesn't admit her recent talk denier gish gallop was for the George C. Marshall Institute. She doesn't mention that unsavoury organisation at all. She just mentions the "National Press Club". But it wasn't hosted by the National Press Club. That was just the venue. The National Press Club isn't fussy about who it hires out rooms to.

In the middle of her "op-ed" Judith explains why she doesn't want to reduce CO2 emissions. She wrote:

However, attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The hiatus in warming observed over the past 16 years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales. Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successful and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected until the latter part of the 21st century. Solar variability, volcanic eruptions and long-term ocean oscillations will continue to be sources of unpredictable climate surprises.

There is a huge difference between being "futile" and marked effects not being seen till later this century. (And what about her ridiculous nonsense about CO2 not having a discernible influence on decadal time scales?) It would take a whole bunch of super-volcanoes to offset CO2 warming. And even a Maunder Minimum-like sun would barely make a dent in the relentless CO2-forced warming.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Judith doesn't give a rats about coming generations or about Earth as a whole. This is what the recent IPCC report showed for different emissions pathways. Click to enlarge it:

Source: IPCC AR5 WG1

See what happens if we don't cut emissions vs if we do. If we try hard enough we might even keep CO2 below a two or three degree rise. If not, we're heading for much, much hotter. Judith is advocating the latter with her "futile" comment. Just this week the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO) warned that: "Carbon dioxide emissions continue to track the high end of emission scenarios" and "With current emission rates (2014), the remaining 'quota' to surpass 2°C of global warming will be used up in around 30 years (one generation)."

Who are the "sober people"

This conclusion I drew about Judith's disdain for future generations and Earth as a whole is corroborated when she implies that people who are concerned about the climate, are not sober people. She wrote:
In the midst of the ‘mad crowd’ in New York City attending the People’s Climate March, sober people are trying to figure out ways to broaden the policy debate on climate change and do a better job of characterizing the uncertainty of climate change (both the science itself and the media portrayal of the science).  

Uncertainty - scientific vs general usage

Do you see what she's done there? First she implies that the hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life, from all over the world, who took part in last weekend's climate gatherings are a bit loopy. Also, Judith Curry brings up her favourite word "uncertainty" again. She is not using "uncertainty" in any scientific sense. She just likes to toss the word around as if AGW might not be happening. She knows it has some resonance with the general public, many of whom don't know what it means in a scientific context. Her fans love it. They think it means "doubt" and "it probably won't happen". It doesn't, at least not when used in science.

World leaders and climate scientists are "sober people"

She's also suggesting that that the following people are not "sober":
  • The Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon
  • The Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio
  • The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson
  • Former US Vice-President, Al Gore
  • Lots and lots of her fellow climate scientists
  • and many others.

Judith Curry's rhetorical tricks and call for false balance
Judith continues, talking about "concern" and "advocacy":
There is concern that the institutions of science are so mired in advocacy on the topic of dangerous anthropogenic climate change that the checks and balances in science, particularly with regard to minority perspectives, are broken.
Just who has that "concern", Judith doesn't say directly. Nor does she indicate what "checks and balances" might be "broken". Once again. Do you see what she's done? That's called a strawman. It's pure empty rhetoric with no substance. See how she labels denier nonsense as "minority perspectives"! Ha! (And her fans think she's just wunnerful, don't they. So..o..o reasonable. Without reason.)

Do you also see how she implies that her own increasingly raucus advocacy, to do nothing to stem global warming, is okay, probably because it "balances" actual science. That's called false balance.

Sober denialists

Now if you want to get an idea of who Judith regards as "sober people", just read this and wonder:
Richard Lindzen’s CATO essay Reflections on Rapid Response to Unjustified Climate Alarm discusses the kickoff of CATO’s new center on rapid response to climate alarmism.  Anthony Watts has announced the formation of a new professional society The Open Atmospheric Society for meteorologists and climatologists, with a new open access journal.  Both of these efforts emphasize public communication.  I’m not sure what kind of impact either of these efforts will have, but I wish them well.
So Judith's "sober people" include anti-science advocate Anthony Watts, who thinks Russian steampipes are causing global warming, the CATO Institute with its mission to destroy the environment, and Richard Lindzen with the ridiculous stuff that he comes up with in his public talks to science deniers. Is Judith seriously not just putting these serial disinformers forward as "sober people" but even comparing them to world leaders?

Public information vs disinformation

It's not just that, but Judith implies that climate scientists don't emphasise public communication. Realclimate.org was around long before Anthony Watts anti-science blog got started. The award-winning SkepticalScience.com is specifically designed to inform the general public about climate science. The IPCC reports were around long before any of these. Dozens of major research institutions provide a wealth of information aimed specifically at the general public. There are lots of excellent science journalists who regularly write about climate. And there are a myriad of quality popular science magazines - like National Geographic, which has top-notch writers, Scientific American and ArsTechnica, which has some excellent articles about climate science. And I've barely touched the surface. (For example, there are more in my blogroll in the side bar here, which could be ten times longer if there was space.)

Climate science is one of the rare sciences where public communication has been emphasised for years. It is arguably the most public-friendly, transparent of all sciences and has brilliant scientists and science communicators engaging with the public to inform them. Judith on the other hand is promoting public disinformers.

She really has gone off the deep end, hasn't she.

On advocacy for science

Contrast Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, on advocacy for science, with Judith Curry's advocacy for science denial. (Click in the bottom right to view full screen or on YouTube.)



  1. I find it interesting that those scientists who advocate that scientists shouldn't advocate do not see the irony in what they are saying. I also find it interesting that those who advocate that are leaning towards the denial side. In the end, scientists are people too.

    1. I expect disinformers like Judith Curry do see the irony. They are counting on the confirmation bias and lack of critical thinking ability of their readers. Which, from what I see at denier blogs like WUWT and Judith's blog, is justified.

  2. Curry's reformation is a bizarre thing to witness.

    I've a feeling we'll see some more of this, as the windshield of reality approaches the bug of wishful thinking. See respected meteorology researcher Cliff Mass struggling with the meaning of warming, on his blog:

    "Is the warming we experienced a good or bad thing?

    I will let each of you decide for yourself. For my tomatoes, it has been a good thing. For my desiccated lawn, a bad thing. For those who like sustained warmth and sun, a good thing. Those who long for Northwest clouds and cool weather, a bad thing.

    When folks talk about climate change and more specifically global warming, it is always described in negative terms. I was at the Northwest Climate Conference at the UW two weeks ago. NO ONE mentioned a single positive attribute of a warming climate here in the Northwest.

    Yes, rapid climate change is often (and perhaps generally) negative for fauna, flora, and people accustomed to the current climate, but is there nothing positive about a cool, cloudy part of the U.S. getting a bit warmer?"

    Mass might well ask whether drowning large swaths of SE Asia and other places is worth better tomatoes but that's not how he's choosing to frame the question. Closer to home, I'm not sure what he'd say about the worth of pine bark beetles and defoliation of large portions of western US and Canadian forests versus yummy veggies grown at home but exploring that comparison does not seem to be part of his objective in that particular post. More depressingly, Mass has earlier flirted with the idea that climate researchers are exaggerating their findings in search of more revenue, an all too dismally familiar excursion.

    Curry's likely not the last person who is going to be unhinged over this issue due to colliding motivations. She certainly wasn't the first; Lindzen may well be the first mainstream victim of the climate-driven ideological mental fracture.

    1. Perhaps we could take steps to stop climate change AND buy Cliff Mass a greenhouse for his tomatoes so he doesn't miss out?

    2. Mass is inviting his readers to narrow their selective vision even further. Irresistible offer for the neo-lib pollyannas.

    3. Mass was quoted in this article in the NYT promoting the Pacific Northwest: as a "potential climate refuge”.

    4. This reminds me of a recent comment by Craigh Loehle over at Curry's place (sorry, can't find the link and can't be bothered), which came down to "just give money to the people from the Maldives to move elsewhere" and "there is a lot of land that will become available, e.g. in Siberia").

      If people cannot see the problems here, they are either naive or just plain evil. History has taught us well about situations where people are forced to move: it usually ends in conflict. They should also have a talk with war refugees. Many have traumas, even if they themselves never experienced any fighting directly. Just the mere fact they had to leave their roots, not by choice, but by necessity, ending up in a place markedly different from what they were used to, was enough.

  3. Sou you have failed to understand the true value of Judith's statement.
    How valuable is it?
    Highly valuable. I mean really really really really highly valuable.

    Not to put too fine a point on it.

  4. Georgia Tech is a fine joint and it's reputation has been tarnished by JC.
    Has anybody heard any rumblings from the Department or the Institution in this matter?

    1. Universities don't normally make public statements when one of their own goes off the rails like Judith Curry has.

      You could probably regard her replacement in the Chair role with Prof Greg Huey as a statement of sorts.


      The press release could have left off the last sentence. Although at least Goldbart didn't say she was a good ambassador for the Institute. He restricted his statement to her science admin role not her denialist advocacy role.

  5. Sou

    Also, Judith Curry brings up her favourite word "uncertainty" again. She is not using "uncertainty" in any scientific sense. She just likes to toss the word around as if AGW might not be happening. She knows it has some resonance with the general public, many of whom don't know what it means in a scientific context. Her fans love it. They think it means "doubt" and "it probably won't happen". It doesn't, at least not when used in science.

    This came up at ATTP, where John Mashey provided a fascinating history lesson by reminding us what was written in the American Petroleum Institute’s 1998 strategy document detailing its “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan”.

    You can draw a straight line from the tactics used by energy industry misinformers back in 1998 through Curry’s briefing of the George Marshall Institute. Here's the API:

    Victory Will Be Achieved When

    – Average citizens “understand” (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom”

    – Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science

    – Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom”

    – Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy

    – Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears to be out of touch with reality.

    Now this is Curry today, briefing the GMI:

    The George C. Marshall Institute presents a discussion by noted climatologist Dr. Judith Curry, who will present a case that the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified. The following three issues are addressed, which are of central relevance to climate policy:

    – Evidence reported by the IPCC AR5 weakens the case for human factors dominating climate change in the 20th and early 21st centuries

    – The weak linkages between anthropogenic climate change and extreme weather, and the importance of natural climate variability

    – Challenges to decision making under deep climate uncertainty

    Arguments are presented that greater openness about scientific uncertainties and ignorance, and more transparency about dissent and disagreement, would provide policymakers with a more complete picture of climate science and its limitations, and ensure that the science community, policymakers, and the public are better equipped to understand, respond and adapt to climate change.

    Eerily similar, isn't it?

    1. Judith's a reasonably fast learner. Not that the lesson is difficult. She's got her eye on the prize, though I think she's left her run a bit late. Climate change is already apparent. She'll be stuck with the second or third rate denier speaking circuit. There aren't too many gigs at fancy hotels for deniers these days. Nothing in the mainstream media. The best she can manage is denier articles in tabloids like the Daily Mail. Oh, she'll get more invites to put her denialism on record for the US government too, I expect.

      This is how Joe Bast described the Las Vegas denier fest to Brendan Montague:

      .I buttonholed Joseph Bast and asked whether he had indeed chosen Vegas as a brilliantly daring provocation to his critics. The spin of the roulette wheel reminded me at least of the madness of sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps that plunged millions of Americans into penury. Was it social commentary? “No”, he said. “The rooms were cheap”

    2. Sou

      Yes, I remember that gem from dear uncle Joe Bast.

      Your mentioning Brendan M reminds me that DeSmog UK has been up for several weeks now. A very good source for the latest on Lord Lawson and the GWPF, not to mention the very strange history of neoliberalism, the birth of the "think tank" and the road to climate change denial.

  6. "...she implies that people who are concerned about the climate, are not sober people."

    This is a strong echo of one of standard US political pundit and media gambits. In that gambit you dub those who agree with you about foreign policy (especially the imminent need to send US troops into another country and blow a whole lot of shit and people up) "Very Serious People(tm)", and imply that those who think there might be some tradeoffs to continue and maybe being a bit more considered and a bit less gung ho would be smart as not being very serious people.

    And then (if you're a media host) you bias your selection of guests to those who fit the VSP mould.

    1. Re: "Very Serious People(tm)"

      Sorry, that dog won't hunt. Krugman has had prior art on that term for years :)

    2. IIRC that is because Krugman has been satirising the gambit I'm talking about for those years, Kevin! I may even be remembering his satirical term rather than the one used by those trying it on for real.

    3. L - what I meant is *you* probably can't TM the phrase; Krugman has been using it for years - and yes I agree that it may well be applicable to JC (as attempting to become a 'VSP' vis a vis climate issues).

    4. The most obscure hack can become a Leading Scientist pretty much overnight if they say the right things. Judith Curry is an example.

    5. "what I meant is *you* probably can't TM the phrase"

      Ah, I see!

      No, that wasn't what I meant by it. When I see the idiom "[Capitalised Phrase](tm)" used it typically means that the phrase has become reasonably well established in the last decade or so (at least in certain circles) as carrying a distinctive meaning.

  7. "There is a huge difference between being "futile" and marked effects not being seen till later this century."

    And you'd have to be an idiot or a liar to suggest that because you thought that C02 wasn't a "control knob" on decadal scales that it simply won't cause any problems on longer time scale.

    Her formulation is also logically deficient (as much of her argument was when I first looked at it). To assert that CO2 is not a "control knob on decadal scales" looks rather like fallacious and unscientific binary thinking - is a control knob vs is not, rather than the more scientific question of "how much influence does it have"?

    And just as problematic is the inference which, if taken at its most charitable, relies on having a solid attribution of human vs non-human influences over those time scales - or alternatively a plausible inference about how our climate would have behaved over that time period without all that CO2.

    However, since she famously hypes uncertainty, if one takes her at her word on that she can't be relying on such an attribution nor on a plausible inference about what would have happened without the CO2.

    That leads us right back to her unscientific binary formulation about control knobs - which just so happens to be a formulation commonly deployed by denialists to bamboozle those without enough scientific or logic skills to be taken in by it.

    What an amazing coincidence!

  8. "Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successful and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected until the latter part of the 21st century."

    Well, no, you professional idiot.

    My supertanker takes a whole day to perform a 180 degree turn, and that means the effect of a command to turn given in the middle of an ocean isn't apparent to the naked eye for a couple of hours after it's given.

    But that's no reason to withhold the command because (a) it does have an effect starting immediately it is acted upon even if you can't see it and (b) if we took that "logic" seriously we'd never give the command in the first place which would be immensely stupid.

    Also, (c) there's a massive iceberg ahead, so it's kind important to turn around so we miss it. You still want me to wait to give the order until you're sure you'll see an immediate change in course, or do you want me to get the early part that you can't see with the naked eye done immediately so that by the time you can see the change we're already part way through the turn?

  9. Judy says:

    "The hiatus in warming observed over the past 16 years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales."

    Wow, just wow, 'on decadal time scales' for goodness sake. Oh I would love to see Judy on a one to one with Richard Alley, she would not pass muster as a mop.

    Richard Alley has probably forgotten more about climate science [1] than Judy ever knew.

    [1] But then he has probably forgotten very little which is kinda my point.

    1. Yes, she is extraordinary in her point-missing splendor...and it's coupled with this piece of 'sober person' brilliance:

      "Even if CO2 mitigation strategies are successful and climate model projections are correct, an impact on the climate would not be expected until the latter part of the 21st century."

      As if Judy alone has just uncovered this 'insight', and as though this is some kind argument against acting now. We may as well not plant any seed in winter because it won't germinate til spring: what would we possibly want it for then?

      Everybody on that childish blog of hers is mugging along with her deliberate obtuseness. They know her construct is disingenuous.

    2. Alley ?!?! must be seduced by his stellar song-smithing - wrote him once recommending he study Bach, to better grasp Younger Dryas, how it resembles a Phrygian half cadence - btw: Climate etc. comments are primarily genuine scientific discussion - chatter reads sounds like a gang of peureil headbangers

    3. I have about 20 years of scientific discussions behind me, and I can tell you that threads at Climate Etc are not anywhere *near* my experiences with scientific discussions. The lack of any attempt of most of the contributors to those threads to actually *learn* something is just screaming so loud, it really can't be missed. And that deafening silence starts with the blogger herself.

    4. j.gabel

      wrote him [Alley] once recommending he study Bach, to better grasp Younger Dryas, how it resembles a Phrygian half cadence

      Pseudo-intellectual posturing is not scientific discussion. And if you are going to use words like 'puerile' then at least spell them correctly.

  10. At your Cato link we don't see where Cato's mission is to destroy the environment. Rather it states, “Its stated mission is "to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace" by seeking greater involvement of the "lay public in questions of public policy and the role of government.""
    At your link we also find that Cato has supported,
    Gay marriage, sexual privacy, legalizing marijuana and liberalized immigration. It was critical of Bush's decision to go to war and civil liberties abuses.
    What it seems we are looking for is more involvement of the lay public in questions of public policy. A bottom up rather than a divisive top down approach that most people rightfully have concerns about. At the end of the day, I think that value resides with the individual rather than the appointed ones. That we can learn from each other, understand each other and maybe even co-operate. Libertarians for decades have been questioning the war on drugs as people didn't want to talk about it, were dismissive of the issue, and called us names while prisons were filled with fathers and mothers with the expected result to their children.

    1. Stated mission and actions can be two quite different things. In this case, as you can probably guess from the mission you quoted, it's a political lobby group not a proper think tank.

      Pat Michaels and Paul C. "Chip" Knappenburger (Pat'n Chip), who've been featured here on several occasions are paid by CATO inst to write articles against mitigating global warming. In other words, it wants to hasten the sixth major extinction and cause irrevocable damage to people and the environment.

      They have no excuse for this. From their backgrounds, both of them would understand climate science. Although it's not clear if Chip knows much about anything.

    2. BTW - this blog isn't for political discussions. Climate science isn't political. Climate change affects all people of all political persuasions, religions etc.

      People who use their politics as an excuse to deny global warming are pathetic. Political ideology is what is behind a lot of the climate science denial in the USA, more so than elsewhere in the world. Australia, too, to some extent but not as bad as the USA.

      Politics becomes relevant only when developing policy solutions to the problems. It's not relevant to the AGW problems themselves.

    3. Sou:
      "...it's a political lobby group not a proper think tank."
      I've looked up a number of NGOs at Guidestar. The IRS believes they are 501(c)(3). The highest level non-profit charity in the U.S. As I've commented elsewhere things can get gray. Drawing a bright line between educating and politicking. There mission statement sounds charitable by design. They have CPAs and better yet, CPAs who are also Lawyers to keep themselves out of trouble by straying to far into the political arena. I am not disagreeing with you. I am saying it's likely they are in the gray along with some of our more liberal non-profits. Annual revenues are around $25-30 million. Really not much. What am good for you wonder frequently? I can read their annual 990s. I even do those for 4 very small non-profits.

    4. Look at what they do and have done, not what they say about themselves. Their actions betray them.

  11. Ragnaar writes:"At your Cato link we don't see where Cato's mission is to destroy the environment. Rather it states ...."

    Seriously, did you expect a menu option titled, "Cato's Plan to Destroy the Environment"? SEPP, George Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute and CATO walk hand-in-hand using tactics developed by the tobacco industry to bypass science to cast their blanket of 'uncertainty' and 'the science isn't settled' and similar memes all to delay meaningful action on fossil fuels/CO2.

    More involvement by the lay public? Sure they know the math behind radiative physics, CO2 attribution, polar amplification, paleoclimate, proxy validation, etc., etc. Heck, why do we even *have* scientists if we're not going to use the knowledge they produce.

    Well, you've apparently bought the line they're selling because that's EXACTLY what they want you to believe.

    This, can't we all just get along and learn from each other tripe is precisely what a concern troll does. There is no equivalence in what CATO et al do and what scientists do. One seeks to enlarge our collective knowledge (scientists) and the other exists only to cast doubt upon that knowledge to preserve private financial empires.

    In the sidebar there is a book listed by Professor Robert Altemeyer - The Authoritarians. It's a free pdf download. Read it, then come back and tell us how we just need to cooperate and get along.

    1. I haven't questioned Cato's purity much. And that's what libertarians do. We watch for when Cato drifts either to the Democrats or Republicans counter to libertarian ideals. A look at their Wiki page shows how often they disagree with everybody. They take unpopular stands such as against the war on drugs when other parties are afraid to. Libertarians are just some small mostly irrelevant in practice group or people and I am sure they are pleasantly surprised with all the attention they are getting.
      I am pretty sure you're going to disagree with me but this get along thing is something I am favoring. On some other blog Lacis showed up explaining line by line radiative transfer I believe it's called. He had a long detailed explanation and I read it 3 times trying to follow it. I concluded, that was the science even if I didn't understand it that well. I think he's an expert in that key area. He's worked with Hansen. By the was Sou, while this is way off topic, Fan on that other blog pointed to something I think is important about what recently Hansen said.
      Link to Hansen's message:
      He seems to want to reach across the isle. I felt bad when President Obama seems to not have time for him. I still refer to his 1984 paper. It's 30 years later. Perhaps he doesn't see much progress.

    2. I'm all in favour of "getting along". Many societies are pleuralistic and different segments need to get along or those societies won't thrive. It's more important now than ever, the way the world is.

      Getting along doesn't mean tolerating defamation against scientists. It doesn't mean tolerating the huge disinformation campaign being waged by organisations like CATO.

      When deniers (and some scientists) say they just want to "get along" it's often in the same category as misplaced moans about "free speech". They want to legitimise their "by hook or crook" efforts to increase atmospheric CO2, to confuse the public about global warming, to insert fear, uncertainty and doubt where there is none.

      I call that anti-social, not "getting along".

    3. Apparently it's not getting much reaction. That link to what Hansen wrote above. He said,
      “Founder Marshall Saunders espouses respect and love for political opponents of a carbon fee, and repeated engagement.” The Founder is some guy in a group Hansen is associated with. Where am I coming from here? I think we should listen to him.

  12. Kevin,

    At one point they were trying to label it "junk science," but that particular thoroughly discredited meme seems to have faded. I think many now at least accept some of the science, but think it is being exaggerated (intentionally?) for some unidentifiable reason.


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