24 October 2010

Beyond "Climategate" - Curry, Pielke Jr. and Revkin at Purdue Nov 3

This should be fun -- I'll be on a panel with Judy Curry of Georgia Tech and Andy Revkin of Pace University and the NY Times.  From the Purdue University website:


Over the past couple of decades, governments around the world have spent $Billions researching past and present climate variability and change, its impact to our environment, and likely future climate scenarios. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its 4th Assessment Report, proclaiming that, “The warming of the climate system is unequivocal”, stating with ‘very high confidence’ that human activity has contributed significantly to the observed changes. A recent poll indicated that well over 90% of climate scientists agree with findings of anthropogenic global warming. As robust debates continue within the scientific community concerning the magnitude of human influence, the rate of, and likely future impacts of climate change, public opinion - across all demographics - about the certainty of global warming and humanity’s role in climate change has decreased significantly over the past two years. The ‘Climategate’ controversy has raised additional questions not just about the legitimacy of climate science, but about the credibility of climate scientists themselves. A growing segment of the American population now believes that warnings about climate change are part of an elaborate hoax. To some observers, the climate change science community has failed in its public relations efforts. To others, the climate change science community has not been active enough in politics.

The purpose of this forum is to examine why such a contradiction between growing scientific certainty and decreasing public belief in climate science exists. In particular we wish to explore some of the following themes:
  • Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies?  Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists? 
  • What role has the media, including the blogosphere and the Internet, played in this growing contradiction? How has the media shaped the way that climate science is debated, disputed, and created? Is there a ‘better’ way for climate scientists to work with the media?
  • Moving forward, is there a better role for climate scientists in political and policy debates, and if so, what would it look like?


  1. How does this debate shape grant writing and seeking government funds, for me a very strong influence on the scientific community.

  2. Roger,

    I live in West Lafayette, I'll be there! Thanks for the heads up.

  3. "Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists?"

    Taking the two questions separately:
    1) Advocacy of mitigation / adaptation policies - there certainly seem to be occasions where some climate scientists (Professor Hansen being one) are straying beyond their expertise (of analysing the scientific evidence) and into areas of politices / policy / economics. This isn't necessarily a 'bad' thing per se (i.e. people, even scientists, have opinions on such issues), but when listening to their opinions, the public must remember that this advocacy is not from a position of expertise (unlike for example our host here, where this confluence of science and decision making IS the specific area of expertise).

    2) As above, advocacy is inevitably to be found in some (most) scientists when it comes to defending their ideas and intellectual work (although in most areas of science, the knock-on of this advocacy is much less than is the case presently in climate science). However, I think there is more of a risk that advocacy can lead to a loss of objectivity of a scientist (loss of credibility may follow, depending on how resolutely you continue to defend the indefensible).
    I'm a skeptical scientist, but if asked what would convince me to change my mind regarding the risk of damaging climate change, the answer would be if there was a return to a similar warming trend as observed in the 80s and 90s (at present, the average temperature calculations don't particularly seem to want to play ball in this, although the fact that the satellite temperature anomalies remain relatively high several months after the transition from El Nino to El Nina do put some doubts in my mind on this issue.)

  4. Which pole stated the 90% of scientists?