04 December 2009

Interview with Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang

I am interviewed by Andrew Freedman over at the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. Here is an excerpt:
I have been critical of the behavior of activist climate scientists for many years. Their efforts to wage a battle with their political opponents (who they call "skeptics" in the emails) on the turf of science has contributed to the excessive politicization of climate science. The appropriate place to wage political battles is out in the open, and in full consideration of the many factors beyond science that shape our political agendas.

While it is clear that the "skeptics" were/are often hiding their political agendas behind science, that doesn't make it right for the activist scientists to do the same. In fact, there is much more at stake for the scientific community from the activist scientists than the "skeptics" because the activist scientists have claimed to be representing the scientific establishment and are in fact part of leading scientific institutions like the IPCC, and thus a loss of credibility is disproportionately more consequential.

If it seems like the issue of politicized science falls in the favor of the skeptics, that is correct. They can politicize science with less consequences than can the activist scientists. That is just a fact. No one said that politics is fair.

Despite the stated intentions in the emails, the reality is that no one controls peer review in all of academia or even in a field like climate science, and it is futile to try to do so, though apparently this did not stop some of these activist scientists from at least talking about trying to manage the peer review process in ways favorable to their work and unfavorable to their perceived opponents. No matter how well the succeeded in this effort, seeing their efforts described in the emails looks really bad to most observers.

The IPCC is different however, in that it is controlled by a much smaller group of people. I've had my own experiences with the IPCC that lead me to believe that a few individuals can indeed successfully serve as gatekeepers to keep certain peer-reviewed science out of the report. In areas where I have expertise -- disasters and climate change specifically -- the IPCC has failed miserably. [Note: Pielke laid out this argument in more detail in a June blog post.]
Please head over there to read the entire interview. And if you have any questions about my comments, feel free to come back and ask them here.


  1. Roger you say "While it is clear that the "skeptics" were/are often hiding their political agendas behind science, that doesn't make it right for the activist scientists to do the same." Which "skeptics" exactly did you have in mind? IMHO, this assumption is behind much of the hostility of many cliamte scientists towards skeptics like Richard Lindzen, Steve McIntyre, Ross McKitrick, Michael Crichton, Bjorn Lomborg, the late John Daly, Willis Eschenbach and, I guess, even your Dad. What are their political agendas? If the skeptics you have in mind are the guys who are Fellows at the CEI or Marshall - how is there agenda hidden? You seem to believe that the climate scientists who became advocates became advocates in response to what the skeptics did. This seems to me to be an unwarranted and untested assumption.

  2. Roger:

    This is a great response:

    "Your question clearly presents these scientists as activists. How did we get into a situation where some believe that it is the responsibility of climate scientists to engage in a battle with "climate skeptics and vested interests who seek to convince the public that climate change is not a major problem and risk management policies are unnecessary"?"

    Many people assume that everything now is about politics and which interest group gets to run the country and get the spoils and patronage.

    Every time I look at the emails I see a group of people that suffer from a big "us vs. them" mentality. This serves to reinforce social cohesion.

    Also, the simple rapidity of email conversation reinforces the cohesion. Easier to nip things in the bud and to plan and coordinate mass responses to the "them" (either skeptics or those poor papers that shouldn't have been published or bad scientists who shouldn't have Ph.D.s in the first place)

    The basic lesson is how smart Wegman was in his socio-metric analysis.

  3. I think that your criticism of the IPCC is a bit too pointed. One of the working groups basically agrees with your position on hurricanes, as you've said. Another working group doesn't, but that one cites your article in the very first sentence of the section about hurricanes.

    Your work is cited in many places, though not necessarily everywhere you think it should be.

    So it seems that at worst, it is a mixed bag. That isn't to say that it can't be improved or doesn't have problems. If you think that the outsourcing of the IPCC to the academic community is a key part of the problem, what other structure do you think would lessen the political influence? Or is that your goal?

  4. Dean: His observations wrt IPCC are spot-on target and it is not relevent if he personally was negatively or positively impactedin a portion of the process. He has observed the fact that IPCC has a small cadre of 'lead authors' who engineer a 'consensus' by marginalizing data and papers that the cadre / cabal doesn't like. Their actions have pushed flawed science over good science in several areas, including his area.

    Each filtering step (Stern review or 'Summary for policy-makers') seems to make it even more skewed, invariably in the direction of making things appear to be worse.

    This is agenda-driven science, which is not really science at all, but a form of PR-based advocacy.

    Perhaps it is a 'mixed bag' but that is not good enough for a high stakes activity like the IPCC.
    It should be 100% open, transparent and with zero hidden agendas. Expecting all that is perhaps too much for a UN body whose main goal is to service a pre-defined UN-agenda.

  5. There is some middle ground between ultra-skepticism and climate alarmism.

    Robert Murphy speaks to economists on this issue at MasterResource: "Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate" at

  6. As far as I know, the least transparent part of the IPCC process is when the politicians filter what the scientists wrote if they want to avoid pressure to follow the science.

    Roger says that the IPCC was "outsourced" to academia and that wasn't good. That suggests that he doesn't think the problem is just the specific scientists now making decisions for the IPCC, but that he thinks those decisions should be made outside of academia.

    Roger - if I'm misinterpreting, please let me know. I'd like to know what structure you think should be used for the IPCC. I agree that Pachauri has gotten too partisan in his particular role. If the overall process is inherently political, are you suggesting that the politicians should have more control vs that of the scientists?

  7. -5-RBradley,

    1) There is a “middle ground” in every debate. But, there is not necessarily any virtue in staking out that “middle ground”. Nor, is there necessarily any vice in staking out an extreme. As a wise man once said:

    “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

    2) That said, your link suggests that -- in this case -- the “middle ground” has been staked out by the likes of “Richard Lindzen, Pat Michaels, and Roy Spencer”. I find that to be an accurate assessment. And, in that circumstance, I find the middle ground very honorable indeed.

    So, thank you for an excellent citation!