27 April 2010

The Poverty of Climate Science Litmus Tests

Mike Hulme, of the University of East Anglia, has some smart things to say about politicized debates over climate science:
. . . arguments about climate change are invested with powerful ideological instincts and interests. Solutions to climate change vary from market-based mechanisms and technology-driven innovation to justice-focused initiatives and low-consumption localism as a form of lifestyle, each carrying ideological commitments. It is despairingly naive to reduce such intense (and legitimate) arguments to the polarities of ‘belief’ or ‘scepticism’ about science.

Belief in what, exactly? Is it the belief that humans are contributing significantly to climate change? Yes, science can speak authoritatively on this question. Or a belief that the possible consequences of future change warrant an emergency policy programme? Scientific evidence here offers only one strand of the necessary reasoning. Or a belief that such an emergency policy programme must be secured through an international, legally binding targets-and-timetables approach, such as Kyoto? On this, science has very little to say.

On the other hand, what exactly is it that the so-called sceptics are charged with? Scepticism that environmental scientists, businesses and central government are in collusion to fabricate evidence? This is barely plausible. Or scepticism that claims about the future that are based on scientific knowledge are sometimes overstretched and underplay uncertainties? The latter is a warning that all would do well to heed.

The problem here is the tendency to reduce all these complexities into a simple litmus test of whether or not someone believes orthodox scientific claims about the causes and consequences of climate change. This is dividing the world into goodies and baddies, believers and deniers. Climate change demands of us something much more sophisticated than this.

Mike's thoughtful views came to mind as I read Joe Romm's predictable reaction to Judy Curry's efforts to focus attention on the integrity of climate science and to engage in a respectful discussion of related issues (links added):
She has joined the WUWT and McIntyre tribe.
Curry is unfazed, and keeps her sense of humor:
Now that I have apparently been unambiguously tossed out the “warmist blogger” tribe by Joe Romm who is the arbiter of political correctness with regards to global warming alarmism, what is a poor tribeless person like me to do?
But she also realizes that tribalism is here to stay, but she does not like its consequences:

So I guess all my discussion about tribalism and the harm it can do didn’t sink in. My whole point is that we need to have a respectful and reasoned dialogue with a broad range of people. And I have to say that it is easier for me, a “moderate warmist,” to have a respectful and reasoned dialogue at climateaudit than it is at climateprogress. A sad state of affairs, and one that damages the credibility of the warmists.

The definition of tribalism that i have been using is this:

Tribalism is defined here as a strong identity that separates one’s group from members of another group, characterized by strong in-group loyalty and regarding other groups differing from the tribe’s defining characteristics as inferior.

Tribalism is antithetical to science, it is far worse than groupthink.
Like Hulme, Curry rejects such naive and simplistic ways to view the climate debate. Yet if the most ardent of antagonists in the climate debate, on either side, believe that we all have to be members of tribes, please note my request to be in the non-tribe tribe with Hulme and Curry ;-)


  1. Hulme: "Climate change demands of us something much more sophisticated than this."

    Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference."

    What can we change about climate that is responsive to the effort?

    What can't we change about the naturally variability of climate cycles?

    Do we have the sophisticated collective wisdom to know the difference and determine the confidence factors for what we can and cannot change?

    For Dr. Curry, being cast aside by the tribe is liberating. Walk you own path. The wilderness is an adventure in real life.

  2. The sad part of Climategate is that the science middle has gone Left (circling the wagons). I am thinking particularly about the case of Gerald North (see here: http://www.masterresource.org/category/climate-change/north-gerald-texas-am/).

    Climategate should have brought us more to the happy middle but it has done just the opposite.
    Kudos for Curry, who future historians of science will treat well because of her courage in a very polarized debate.

  3. Very good points from both Judith and Hulme. I don't view myself as being tribal, but I'm sure Romm would assign me one, just as he did for Judy.

  4. Excellent essay by Mike Hulme. Ok, count me in as a member of the anti-tribe tribe :)

  5. Roger

    Tribalism is the reason I told you twice that I was an anarchist. The modern (American) ideological liberal vs conservative political divide is where much of the depth of feeling comes from. I have only voted once in my life, for the Scottish Green Party because my girlfriend was the candidate ! It was purely personal.

    My view is that the climate science and scientists are more or less irrelevant to the debate. I tend to have a lot of sympathy with Lovelock's diatribe against them. They have very little to contribute and have a financial interest in the outcome.

    This is my often stated view on this blog, repeated by Lovelock:

    "They've employed scientists to tell them what they want to hear"

    I think Mike Hulme is being very naive about collusion, that's why there are anti trust laws.

    From the New York Times

    "Freeman Dyson is strongly critical of Hansen's climate-change activism. "The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers... Hansen has turned his science into ideology.” Dyson "doesn’t know what he’s talking about", Hansen responded. "He should first do his homework"

    There we have it, Dyson points out that it is a so called scientist, James Hansen who started the ideological war with his pathetic, weak minded nonsense. His acolytes at Realclimate consistently behave like zoo animals and lie like infants.

    Hansen of course endorsed a book calling for the destruction of modern civilisation and very expensive acts of criminal damage in the UK.

    Here is the other pillar of modern climate science, Sir John Houghton, ex co chair of the IPCC.

    "As a fervent evangelical Christian, Sir John claimed that global warming might well be one of those disasters sent by God to warn man to mend his ways ("God tries to coax and woo but he also uses disasters"). He went on: "If we are to have a good environmental policy in the future, we will have to have a disaster". "

    There we have it, rational and non tribal arguments from the very top of climate science.

    I assumed that (Realclimate) climate scientists were very stupid liberals, but it is far more likely they are biased environmentalists. It's a natural career path. Scientists are tribal!!!

    I suggest reading a book by Bill Bryson called 'A short history of everything' which is actually a popular history of scientists over the centuries, which will disabuse anyone of the rationality and civilised conduct of the science community. I had always been aware that tribalism is extremely common in science before I read the book.

  6. This is my view of the fundamental reality of global warming. I thought I was ploughing a lone furrow as a non right wing sceptic until I read Matt Taibbi.

    "The new carbon-credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.”

    Only a tiny percentage of individuals are capable of verifying the correctness of peer reviewed science papers. We have to rely on the media and the IPCC to present the information in a non technical way. In the UK, we have the Guardian who were sponsored by Shell Oil to promote carbon trading. Every single one of those journalists is mendacious in the extreme, as are Black and Harribin at the BBC. My favourite sceptic is James Delingpole who's politics and social attitudes I absolutely abhor.

    What made me a sceptic was my own study of the subject a couple of years ago (which I have happily forgotten) and the observation that the vast majority of credible contributors to Guardian discussions, whether scientist or computer modeller were confirmed sceptics.

    Tribalism ? I think not.

    P.S. I have a science degree myself. I am not saying scientists are stupid..

  7. Climate change and CO2 control are linked. Scientists can correctly maintain that they have not advocated a solution however one can also argue an element of implied consent.
    Climate change as packaged sells a very dangerous and incorrect message to the Public- decrease CO2 emissions and the risk for weather/climate catastrophes is eliminated. Critical questions pertaining to our existing infrastructure capability to handle “natural variability” and our land and water use practices are in no small way held hostage by the CO2 reduction message.
    As evidence of the above claim- despite a nearly trillion dollar stimulus bill and claims of passing tipping points- where are the water infrastructure, hurricane hardening and flood control projects? More importantly where is the call for a detailed infrastructure needs assessment? Where are the calls for assessment of many of our land and water use practices?
    Lackey and Balir http://oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/RecentPublications.html opined “funding follows fear.”
    Intermediate solutions, however, diminish fear. It’s a very slippery academic slope from there. The important issue here seems not one of “fabrication” so much as framing.

  8. Roger, I will perfectly understand if you don't publish this. It isn't personal or vindictive, but illustrative of tribalism in climate science from the main author of the thread.

    Mike Hulme at Dot Earth

    Mike Hulme has sent some comments on Climategate to the Andy Revkin's Dot Earth column at the New York Times.

    The key lesson to be learned is that not only must scientific knowledge about climate change be publicly owned — the IPCC does a fairly good job of this according to its own terms — but the very practices of scientific enquiry must also be publicly owned, in the sense of being open and trusted. From outside, and even to the neutral, the attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. To those with bigger axes to grind it is just what they wanted to find.

    This is a surprising statement from Hulme, who is heavily implicated in the CRU emails.

    1. He was part of a group that organised a letter to the Times, ostensibly written by climatologists but actually drafted by Greenpeace (0872202064).

    2. He appears to have changed confidence intervals in a presentation at the behest of WWF.(0933254004)

    3. He appears to have been instrumental in the plot to oust von Storch from Climate Research (1051190249)

    See this email from Michael Mann on the affair (1057941657):

    I think that the community should, as Mike H has previously suggested ... terminate its involvement with this journal at all levels -- reviewing, editing, and submitting, and leave it to wither way into oblivion and disrepute


  9. Roger

    You are a Senior Fellow of The Breakthrough Institute. Your views on decarbonisarion are certainly in harmony with its objectives.

    From its history.

    The Breakthrough Institute was founded in 2003 on the premise that the complaint-based, interest group liberalism born in the 1960s and 1970s was failing to achieve the broad social and ecological transformations America and the world need.

    In 2003, Shellenberger and Nordhaus co-founded the Apollo Alliance, which the New Yorker called "an influential umbrella coalition of Greens and trade unionists," and shaped the strategy for a new Apollo project aimed at achieving energy independence, increasing economic competitiveness, and overcoming global warming.

    The Breakthrough Institute is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.


    Your colleague Jesse Jenkins, who posted here recently describes himself like this

    "Jesse Jenkins is a clean energy and climate policy analyst, advocate and blogger. He is currently the director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute where he helps develop advance new energy solutions to power America's future, secure our energy freedom, and halt global warming.

    Prior to joining Breakthrough, Jesse spent two years as research and policy associate at the Renewable Northwest Project, a Portland, OR-based non-profit promoting renewable energy development in the Pacific Northwest. Jesse has a long history of grassroots climate and energy activism and co-founded the Cascade Climate Network, the Northwest's largest network of youth working to tackle the climate crisis and build a sustainable, just, and prosperous future.


  10. Hulme's submission to the Russel panel is probably the shortest, and very interesting.

    He says:
    "It is the report of a careful investigation into the dynamics between scientific evidence, the ethics of science, peer-review publishing and policy advocacy for the case of a paper
    published in 2003 which challenged the orthodoxy that passive smoking is injurious to


    It cites Ungar's study of the Enstrom and Kabat second-hand smoke paper.

    Interestingly enough, the Ungar paper contains the following line:
    "A notable and contentious example of this
    comes from climate change, where there is a tendency to balance the coverage of
    conventional scientists with that of the skeptics who challenge the scientific consensus. Yet the skeptics constitute less than 5 percent of the scientists working in the area, and many of them are funded by the oil industry."

    Ungar would no doubt reformulate his contention about the oil industry fundings of skeptics today.

    As can be seen, Hulme specializes in giving everyone a sound headache. :)

  11. At some point, Judith should explain her back cover endorsement of Joe Romm's book Hell or High Water. He keeps bringing it up, and I know I am curious if not a lot of other folks.

    And if she has changed her mind about some things, why and what example does this set for others?

    Seems like something has changed, and it seems that it is not from Romm's side.

  12. This may also be part of the explanation for why this happens: "Extremists more willing to share their opinions, study finds" http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/10/21/extremists-more-willing-to-share-their-opinions-study-finds/

  13. Eric144

    Do you know, I'd forgotten just how strong the evidence against Hulme is. That said, he does now seem to be trying to put himself in lukewarmer territory, at least as far as scientific conduct is concerned. It would be nice though if he 'fessed up to what went on in the past - perhaps Roger could discuss the possibility with him. A "truth and reconciliation" approach is perhaps the only way forward from here.

  14. Hi Roger,

    I join the non-tribe-tribe, but I am not sure if I want to join the anti-tribe-tribe


  15. “Curry is unfazed, and keeps her sense of humor: Now that I have apparently been unambiguously tossed out the “warmist blogger” tribe by Joe Romm who is the arbiter of political correctness with regards to global warming alarmism, what is a poor tribeless person like me to do?”

    Hmmm. Joe Romm and the concepts of tribalism and political correctness. Enter the Lake Erie Theory:

    (a) The Cleveland Indians aka “The Tribe”,

    (b) The Cleveland Indians mascot and logo is “Chief Wahoo”.

    Possible conclusions: Romm is saying Curry has the particular ability to read the stitches on Romm’s fast ball and hence Curry is “The Wild Thing“? -Or- is Romm a Wahoo want-a-be merely rejected by The Tribe?

    No NHL hockey team in Cleveland hence the hockey stick has been eliminated from the theory.

    Ah, the evil of it all!

  16. Mike Hulme is part of the problem, not the solution. The grand narrative of Global Warming has disintegrated, as such Hulme's words are much diminished.

    Take a good look at what is happening world-wide governments are in full retreat on climate change.

    The alarmists have lost the war.

    Deal with that reality and not some obtuse discussion on tribalism.

  17. The problem with Romm is not so much that he is a "tribalist", but that he is a "diatribalist."

  18. Hulme, unlike Curry, is basically still being evasive and deceptive.

    The AGW promoters are not worried about science. Science is an excuse to promote the policies the AGW community wants. You have hit the nail on the head, though: the idea that we are going to manage our global climate system into a more benign and less dangerous state by regulating CO2 is a ridiculous idea.
    AGW is to climate science what tulipomania was to horticulture.

  19. Good article by Hulme indeed.

    I agree with Judith Curry that an 'us versus them' attitude is counterproductive, but it's also understandable in the context of the many attacks on the science.

    I think in diagnosing the situation and offering ways of improvement, this context also has to be taken into account.

    I have a more detailed reaction at my blog:


  20. Hulme argues that a conspiracy to inflate the dangers of climate change is scarcely plausible. If, however, there is a litmus test for becoming involved in official reports like IPCC, or getting top administrative jobs, like at EPA, then no formal conspiracy is needed. Only the like-minded are talking among themselves. It happens all the time in many fields. Try getting into the US Dep. Education hierarchy if you think certain policies of teaching amount to indoctrination or are meddling. How likely that a discussion among generals will conclude that a military option is not useful?

  21. It is unfair to tribes to use "tribal" as a description of the RealClimate et. al. bunch. Other words such as "cabal", "gang", and "mafia" would be more appropriate.

  22. Note to Dr. Pielke--

    I am Craig--1. Craig--20 is not me.

    Perhaps you have a solution to avoid confusion.

  23. -22-Craig#1

    I have no solution, sorry about that. I suggest adopting a more unique moniker!

  24. "I have no solution, sorry about that."

    Typical scientist response. ;>)

  25. -24-Craig (#X?)

    "Typical scientist response. ;>)"

    Nah, typical policy scholar response ... ;-)

  26. The enormous hostility partly stems from the assumption that skepticism undermines policy. But the reason Copenhagen failed, like the Bali junket before it, is because everyone eventually has to face up to the fact that just switching off the lights and hoping for the best isn't much of a plan.

    I'd hoped the "planet-savers" would notice that and maybe become a bit more open-minded but they just seem to get more and more detached from reality and the misrepresentations about what we know and what we don't get ever more blatant.

    In my view normal market force reactions to the high oil prices did far more for green tech than the IPCC did. In fact the environmentalists, not the skeptics, are now the biggest hold up to the advance of green tech. Maybe it's the idea that money really can be made from it that is just too much pro-consumerism for a greenheart to bear!

    I've given up hoping for any rapprochement because too many just relish the fight; both sides pretending they are warding off the forces of evil. As someone above wrote, much of current discourse is more infantile than scientific.

  27. I prefer climate clique. Rolls off the tongue easier.

  28. Bishop H.

    To be fair, Hulme stuck his neck out by criticising the IPCC and expressing as much scepticism as his future career preospects would allow. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

    The reason I posted the link was the connection to environmental groups. It is clear to me that climate 'science' is deeply influenced and warped by its practioner's commitment to environmentalism.

    Hulme was connected to WWF and Greenpeace, who also seem to have been major contributors to the last IPPC report

    Political environmentalism is historically a creature of the far right. Both WWF founders, princes Philip and Bernhardt were Nazis. Bernhardt was an SS officer, Philip merely a supporter (he was raised in Germany). Philip also wrote

    "In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation" (in his Foreward to If I Were an Animal; United Kingdom, Robin Clark Ltd., 1986). Greenpeace has many donors in the same billionaire class.

    The Rockefeller family, one of who's trusts the Breakthrough Institute is a part of, also had very well known Nazi sympathies in WWII. They were renowned for their ownership of Standard Oil (Exxon), and had the cheek to stand up at a recent Exxon general meeting and criticise their AGW policy.

    The Rockefellers are no longer major shareholders in Exxon, they are now in banking and will no doubt make a lot of money from carbon trading.

    JP Morgan Chase is the biggest current incarnation of the Rockefeller fortune.They are members of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and employ our very own favourite, little war criminal, Tony Blair to sell global warming for them . One million dollars a year salary.



    A family with a similar political history are the Pews who are major players in modern environmentalism (Sunoco Oil owners - rabidly right wing).


    The Rockefeller, Ford and Pew foundations are substantial donors to progressive causes.

    So many connections, so little time.

  29. Roger,

    As I've suggested elsewhere, the whole tribalism game is profoundly unhelpful to discussions of any kind and in my experience those invoking it can't help but fall into the same trap as those who use the word verbose.

    Why do you think it's useful to frame ANY disucssion in terms of 'tribes'?

  30. If anyone is in a position to PUBLISH about what is wrong with "consensus" climate science (estimates of climate sensitivity too high, IPCC reporting on hurricanes wrong, temperature records wrong etc.,etc.) it would be Judith Curry. Instead she prefers to hang out on blogs and make vague accusations of corruption.

  31. #13 Bishop, I'm not quite convinced by your evidence against Hulme having looked at the emails you refer to. I may have missed something, though.

    The Greenpeace and WWF connections seem like a minor issue to me. What would be more serious is if Hulme was indeed "instrumental in the plot to oust von Storch". This appears to be based on Michael Mann's statement about what "Mike H has previously suggested".

    That's hearsay. There's ample room for misunderstanding, wishful thinking, or Mann deliberately making it up as fictional support for his own plan. I wouldn't consider that strong evidence.

  32. -29- Marlowe Johnson

    Well, for one you'd put the social sciences out of business of we couldn't discuss how humans self-organize.

    Here is a sports analogy: the solution to poor sportsmanship (or fan-manship) is not to do away with team sports or their supporters.

  33. "Nah, typical policy scholar response ... ;-)"

    Try a spanner. Turn clockwise to tighten. ;?p

  34. As a geoscientist in a for-profit industry, I've found it very instructive to have hypotheses actually put to definitive right-or-wrong tests. Having the next goalpost be a hard test, rather than the next grant proposal, changes one's perspective.

    In general, my outcomes are either "congratulations" or "better luck next time", never "we need to study this more".

    I'd like to see the climate modelers pose a hypothesis that would be testable within a timeframe meaningful to a career.

  35. Dagfinn

    These things are always possible, but I think it's pretty unlikely given that the email in question appears to have been addressed to Hulme!

  36. Bishop

    Addressed or copied, referring to Hulme both in the second and third person.

    Even if Hulme did suggest something like this, we don't know the wording, the time or the circumstances and whether it was done in writing. Did he say it in response to what had actually happened, or a biased and edited version of the story? There are too many possible sources of error.

  37. dagfinn #31:

    "Bishop, I'm not quite convinced by your evidence against Hulme having looked at the emails you refer to. I may have missed something, though"

    Hulme (along with Joseph Alcamo) was also instrumental in getting the pre-Kyoto "consensus" ball rolling in the U.K.:


    More recently (in his book, "Why We Disagree About Climate Change") he is quoted (by Lindzen) as saying:

    "We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us."


    "Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical and spiritual needs"


    "We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilize them in support of our projects"


    The article Roger cites in this post includes:

    "Rather than reducing climate change to arguments about how settled – or not – the science is (predictions in environmental science are rarely, if ever, settled), we need to provide the intellectual, educational, ethical and political spaces to argue fearlessly with one another about the very things that the idea of climate change demands we take a position on. These include our attitudes to global poverty, the role of the state in behavioural change, the tension between acting on knowledge or on uncertainty, the meaning of human security and the value of technological innovation. Where we stand on issues such as these will determine which sort of solutions to climate change we choose to advocate."

    This must be clmate change "plasticity" in action. But I for one fail to see how my stand on "climate change" has any bearing on my attitude towards global poverty or what I might think about the role of the state in behavioural change.

    He seems to be suggesting "let's not argue about climate change". Which is all well and good, except that far too many of our influential politicians are proceeding to implement "solutions" on the mistaken assumption that the science IS "settled".

    All of that being said, I think I almost prefer Hulme's approach to that of Canada's climate Kahuna, Andrew Weaver (another IPCC-nik) - who has recently embarked on a very public libel and defamation suit against The National Post.

    Although this is not one of the alleged defamatory statements, Weaver had said that AR4 revealed climate change to be a "barrage of intergalactic ballistic missiles".

    Well, I guess that's the "story" Weaver's "created" about climate change ... and he seems to be sticking to it!