The ineffable meaning of “conflicts” in climate science

This is a post about “what did Gavin Schmidt say, and what did he really, really mean to say” when he declined an invitation to a workshop. First some background …

Recently there was a workshop in Lisbon, convened by (inter alia) Jerome Ravetz, aka the father of “post-normal science”. The topic of the workshop was “Reconciliation in the climate change debate”.

From all reports I’ve seen, a good time was had by all who attended (even if little progress was made towards reconciliation).

U.K. science journalist, Fred Pearce was one of the participants, and on Feb. 2, he wrote a blogpost summarizing his observations. Pearce had concluded:

[M]ost agreed that there was no scientific basis for the world adopting a target to prevent global warming going above 2 °C. It was “arbitrary”, they said, and cooked up by climate scientists with a political agenda.

Much time at the meeting was taken up bitching rather than conciliating. Several complained about how hard it was to get papers published if they ran counter to climate-change orthodoxy. They agreed with von Storch that peer review was riven with conflicts of interest.

And they felt this was most pronounced in the IPCC itself, where reports assessing climate science were routinely written by people sitting in judgement on their own research and that of their critics.

Public trust in climate science had collapsed and had to be rebuilt through reconciliation, they said. Of course, mainstreamers would claim it is hypocrisy for “sceptics” to lash out at mainstream climate science and then invoke the resulting public confusion to demand a seat at the table. But have they a better idea?

The “better idea” (at least in the US) seems to have been expressed by a “gang of 18” (which includes such Climategate luminaries as Michael Mann, Kevin Trenberth and Ben Santer) who are urging Congress to “put aside politics, take ‘fresh look’ at climate data

Apart from some scurrilous unfounded slurs against skeptics (whom they persist in calling “deniers”), these self-anointed prophets of doom are urging that:

“Congress should, we believe, hold hearings to understand climate science and what it says about the likely costs and benefits of action and inaction,”

So, not content with previously telling voters how they should vote in the recent US mid-term elections, Mann (along with his fellow activist-advocates) now thinks it is incumbent upon him to tell Congress “what the science says about the costs and benefits of action and inaction”.

Except that “the science” – certainly that produced by Mann, his cronies and their computer models – does not tell us anything about “the costs and benefits of action and inaction”. The gang of 18 concluded their open letter:

Already, there is far more carbon in the air than at any time in human history, with more being generated every day. Climate change is underway and the severity of the risks we face is compounded by delay.

We look to you, our representatives, to address the challenge of climate change, and lead the national response. We and our colleagues are prepared to assist you as you work to develop a rational and practical national policy to address this important issue.

In the interim, Mann and his pals’ Jan. 28 missive to Congress seems to have been upstaged by one whose signature was somewhat conspicuous by its absence: Gavin Schmidt. Schmidt was amongst a number of “mainstream” scientists who had declined the invitation to particiipate in the Jan 26-28 Lisbon workshop.

Bishop Hill summarizes the sequence of events – particularly who said what and when. The focus is on the meaning one might reasonably infer from Schmidt’s text in declining the invite:

Thanks for the invitation. However, I’m a little confused at what conflict you feel you are going to be addressing? The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago. Your proposed restriction against policy discussion removes the whole point. None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions. No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

You would be much better off trying to find common ground on policy ideas via co-benefits (on air pollution, energy security, public health water resources etc), than trying to get involved in irrelevant scientific ‘controversies’.

Any person with a reasonable command of the English language wanting to précis the above high-handed dismissal from Schmidt would be inclined to say, “Schmidt declared that the science of these matters is settled, so there’s nothing to discuss except the policy”. Or perhaps, since brevity is the essence of clarity, “Schmidt said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss” – the latter of which happened to be Pearce’s précis.

Keith Kloor (amongst others – not the least of whom was Schmidt, himself) had taken (rather ironic and hypocritical, IMHO) exception to Pearce’s observation:

Avowed non-sceptics included Hans von Storch, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and James Risbey of CSIRO. But the leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss.[emphasis added -hro]

Certainly seemed like a not unreasonable précis/paraphrase to me. Yet the alarmist blogosphere has been aflame with criticism of … wait for it … Pearce!

Schmidt – who obviously has no problem providing “input” to an article with patently untrue claims by Kevin Trenberth – jumped on his high horse and accused Pearce:

Gavin Schmidt on February 3, 2011 7:27 PM

Fred Pearce includes a statement about me that is patently untrue.

[Schmidt then cites the invitation he declined, and follows with a “revisionism” of his very own words:]

At this stage we are planning to have a workshop where the main scientific issues can be discussed, so that some clarity on points of agreement and disagreement might be reached. We would try to stay off the policy issues, and will also exclude personal arguments.

The issues we have in mind are Medieval Warm Period, ice, climate sensitivity, and temperature data. We would hope to have smaller groups discussing these in some detail, hopefully with scientists who are very familiar with the technical issues to lead the discussion.”

Since, in my opinion, the causes of conflict in the climate change debate relate almost entirely to politics and not the MWP, climate sensitivity or ‘ice’, dismissing this from any discussion did not seem likely to be to help foster any reconciliation.

At no point have I ever declared that the ‘science was settled’ and that there was nothing to discuss.

IOW, “I didn’t say the science is settled, but the science is settled and if we’re not going to talk about policy, then I don’t want to play.”

What could be foggier?! Evidently quite a lot, according to Kloor:

my main point still stands, in that Fred [Pearce] should have checked with Gavin that he was interpreting the email correctly. [emphasis added -hro]

Kloor, whose own biases have been colouring many of his posts and “arguments” lately, had no qualms whatsoever attributing to James Delingpole that which Delingpole did not say in a recent BBC TV interview – without checking with Delingpole to make sure that he was “interpreting” his (very few) words correctly. Yet he berates Pearce for not checking with Schmidt whose unedited – and unrevisionized – words were perfectly clear to anyone for whom English is not a second language.

And Kloor does not believe that he has a “double standard”. Amazing. Simply amazing.

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