Back in Judy’s jungle

Judith Curry is a climate scientist who in recent times has achieved prominence in accusing her colleagues of groupthink, criticising the IPCC process, and suggesting that scientists can gain from more tolerant engagement with the sceptics. She is not a sceptic of the science herself, but unsurprisingly she has been welcomed by many of the deniers and is frequently quoted as evidence of the soundness of their complaints. Michael Lemonick of Climate Central has written a lengthy article about her published today in the Scientific American. He is even-handed to a fault, but I found nothing to alter my perception of what has struck me as her opacity and naivety in the few pieces of her writing I have seen.


Lemonick’s article raises the question of uncertainty in the scientific predictions, something which Curry apparently feels is not sufficiently acknowledged.

“Curry asserts that scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations and don’t even know with precision what’s arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2—that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without any amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.”

I’m not a scientist. I’ve enjoyed reading science books for the general reader over the years and tried to have a broad understanding of major scientific theories. All relatively gentle and interesting. When it came to climate science however there was a dimension of urgency which was not present when reading about evolution or trying to understand relativity. If the climate scientists were even partially right the human future was under an almost unimaginably severe threat, though one which could yet be avoided. It rapidly became apparent that this was a science where one couldn’t just be an interested observer, even though a non-scientist.

In this context I can’t say it bothers me that scientists don’t know with precision the warming resulting from a doubling of CO2. I’ve seen the range that is generally considered possible and that’s quite sufficient to alarm me given that its effect is likely to be amplified by accompanying feedbacks. Apparently Curry feels that the uncertainty of the feedbacks is also not sufficiently acknowledged, but nothing I’ve read from the scientists offers certainty in estimating feedbacks, and what we are actually observing in the melting of Arctic sea ice or the acceleration of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet loss is quite enough evidence for me that the feedback amplification effect is a serious factor.

Similarly it doesn’t bother me if the IPCC reports are judged to have not always communicated the level of uncertainty as carefully as they might have done. “Sometimes they do it well, sometimes not so well,” said Harold Shapiro, the head of the InterAcademy Council which recently reported on the IPCC procedures. That’s fine by me. I can cope with uneven performance. It doesn’t lead me to think that the overall scientific picture is unreliable. And even Curry acknowledges that uncertainty works both ways and can be overstated as well as understated. Again, observations that some effects of warming are occurring well ahead of expectations illustrates that.

It’s the broad sweep of climate science that rivets my attention as a concerned human being. Curry seems to me to be magnifying comparative trifles. Which is precisely what many of the deniers and delayers depend on. I doubt that she’s right in the matters she alights on, but even if she were it doesn’t alter the overwhelming reality of human-caused climate change. There’s a coherence to the scientific picture which we would be utterly foolish to allow ourselves to be blinded to even by a practising scientist.

Curry may have a gripe with her colleagues, but it is neither here nor there in terms of what the science means for the actions we should be taking. I notice she seems to be keen on cost-benefit analysis. I don’t know how you sit down and do that sort of analysis in the face of the threat of climate change. When disaster looms you do everything in your power to avert it.

[Brian Eno]

67 thoughts on “Back in Judy’s jungle”

  1. We should mention that Dr Curry is critical of The Team, and has favorably commented on Montford’s “Hockey Stick Illusion”

    In fact, she is on record as stating that a willingness to read and accept some of the findings in the HSI are a litmus test of open-mindedness in the climate community.

    1. Fair to say that Curry’s take on the hockey stick controversy has not passed without criticism…

      It looks very much like she is grooming herself to take a role in the Pielke/Breakthrough Institute pantheon — yet another “honest broker” with a not-so-secret axe to grind.

      1. Actually, aside from the “honest” broker angle, Curry seem’s afflicted with IES “inflated ego syndrome”. It’s a path well traveled by skeptics.

        Supposedly being sufficiently qualified in one narrow field qualifies one to be an expert in all things science. In fact, so expert, that you can make disparaging public remarks about other disciplines inferring they’re a bunch of dummies.

        Perhaps Curry has never read an IPCC report?. The ones I’ve read are chock full of caveats and discussions of uncertainty.

  2. “Curry asserts that scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations and don’t even know with precision what’s arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2—that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without any amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.”

    Dr James Hansen (who ought to know) deals with this precise question in his excellent book “Storms of my Grandchildren” on pp 40 – 42. He concludes – “any physicist worth his salt can immediately tell you the answer if everything except temperature is fixed…….
    …….The answer we find is 1.2 degrees Celsius. So the Climate Sensitivity in this simple case of Planck’s radiation is 0.3 degree Celsius per watt of Climate forcing” etc.
    I don’t know where Dr Curry gets the idea that we don’t understand or know this basic fact.

    1. I don’t know where Dr Curry gets the idea that we don’t understand or know this basic fact.

      The article states:

      The plausible worst-case scenario could be worse than anything we’re looking at right now,” Curry says. The rise in temperature from a doubling of CO2 “could be one degree. It could be 10 degrees.

      I can’t find any reference to your claim in the Scientific American article. Where did you get it from?

            1. No need to apologize. Curry still hasn’t for her embarrassing gaffes and subsequent back-pedaling at Real Climate a few months back.

              Gotta get back to work, I’ll link to it later.

  3. I think the naivety issue is the central problem. There’s also a huuuge emphasis on politeness and civility – but only in a very restricted sense.

    I know some blogs are a bit off-putting with cries of ‘Stupid!’ and ‘dimwittedness’ and other such infelicities. But I find the comments on jc’s blog loaded with imputations of dishonesty and deceit against scientists and similar against the “pro-CAGW” crowd as the commenters like to say along with imputations of gullibility and tribalism.

    Having dealt with many schoolchildren, I have to say the blunt rudeness of some boys is far easier to take than the snide, underhanded, easy-to-slide-out-of nastiness of the worst 11 year old girls. And I see a lot of self-congratulatory comments at jc’s about how polite and informative the whole thing is, when many of the comments are quite offensive.

    I also find the avoidance of hard data, graphs and reports and the preference for dissertations on logic and uncertainty feeds the prejudices, rather than informs the not well-informed, of the majority of participants. The constant chorus of ‘why aren’t they here to answer the challenge’ is obliviously self-defeating. If I were a climate scientist, there is no way I would spend my time dealing with the usual suspects and the tried and failed theories that would be involved.

    The tribalism seems to be self generated over there.

    1. thank’s for the link dw. very interesting!
      my opinion is – when the debate/science becomes ‘messy’ ocham’s razor is the way forward! the simplest solution that works is the best. planck’s law provides that, and gives the answer in the ball park. remember this is holding all else but temp fixed. (no other forcings)
      sorry for the lack of capitalisation – just back from hospital after a fall and broken left shoulder

      1. Dude, hope you make a speedy recovery. What did you think of the presentation by Dessler?. I felt he did a great job of explaining the basics. His demolition of Lindzen and Choi’s 2009 study was particularly amusing.

        1. i’m now a bionic man! i’ll have to cut down my air travel! set off too many metal detectors!
          yes it a very good demolition. unfortunately Lindzen will go to his grave, with the water lapping around him, still protesting he is correct

  4. I have just read the Curry article and have been following the debate since her foray into the public sphere. Unfortunately she doesn’t know a great deal about translating science into policy and the role of uncertainty management associated with that. To understand the debate raging in the blogosphere she would do better to read some psychology than to mess with WUWT. In particular, the use of science in risk management is the most germane area but it’s multidisciplinary. (I’ve been discussing climate change with those who disagree with me for three decades, others for longer – it’s no biggie)

    She’s wrong about the IPCC using non-refereed literature against its rules. The guidelines were changed and for good reason – mainly so that policy relevant adaptation and mitigation reports could be included. Working Group I stayed pretty much with refereed lit.

    While many relevant crits about the IPCC can be made (I’m critical and I’m an author), their application of uncertainty is not as misleading as she is implying. As Steve Schneider alludes, the uncertainties she mentions are not additive. We can go back as far as Pascal’s triangle for the one.

    Also, as Gareth mentions, making a decision doesn’t require high precision, it requires robustness. Not making a decision, or not wanting to requires setting up a bunch of straw men and knocking them down.

    If she wanted to know more about uncertainty, she could have spoken to Steve, she can speak to Richard Moss, Gary Yohe (he’d also tell her these cost benefit analyses have been carried out for the past two decades (from the second assessment report). They are of limited utility and highly debated.)

    I don’t see any reason in attacking her, but I don’t see any reason in lionising her either. And I’m interested in the motives of those who do, because she’s not adequately applying her critical facilities to the science-policy relationship. And it shows.

  5. The analogy I’ve used in the past goes something like this: You’re driving at a very high rate of speed toward a cliff. The safety experts will shout at you (as you zip past them) that you should slow down and change direction or you’re going to have a VERY bad accident. Can they tell you exactly how high the cliff is? Can they tell you exactly how you’ll be injured or killed (e.g. will you crack your skull open on the windshield or the steering wheel, or will you be impaled by some part of the car when it’s torn apart)?

    No, they can’t be that specific, and if they tried they’d likely get at least some details wrong, but it doesn’t change the fact that their basic recommendation — change what you’re doing, ASAP — is any less valid.

    (I apologize for the violent imagery; I think it’s appropriate, given the CC ramifications of a BAU emissions path.)

      1. Steal it as you wish.

        And just to be unmistakeably clear, even to those who make a habit of “somehow” mistaking such things (yes, this is for John D, below): I personally dislike violent imagery very much, but I resort to it in this case to drive home the urgency of our situation. And as Macro pointed out, nothing I said was in any way aimed at another person; I was describing the violence of the situation we’ve created.

      1. the imagery is directed at the fate of humanity – not personalities! the simple fact is with unrelenting climate change the stable sea levels the earth has enjoyed for 7000 years will vanish – ever wondered why civilizations can only go back that far?

    1. Let me preface my statement by saying that at this point, I am pretty much immune to criticisms from my peers regarding my behavior and public outreach on this topic

      “Immune to criticisms”, huh.

      This means abandoning this religious adherence to consensus dogma.

      She’s really painted herself into a corner with that remark. Equating the scientific consensus with religion, as if there were no basis for it all.

          1. Ahhh! the Montford delusion – I see Alistair McIntosh has also reviewed the book. Have you read his brilliant “Hell and High Water”? A fantastic analysis of the human condition from the dawn of civilisation to the present day, and the implications of human influence on climate change and the tremendous difficulties which we have imposed upon ourselves to attempt any amelioration. Bryan would enjoy it i know! there is a very interesting take on the scottish play!

            1. that wasn’t the impression i got from reading your link – i felt that montford was rather ‘hurt’ but putting a ‘brave face’ on it.
              actually mcintosh’s review concentrated more on the fact that the ‘delusion’ had been well and truly investigated and that any errors in the original work hard been thoroughly investigated and explained. ie montford’s ‘attack’ was simply irrelevant.hence montford’s embarrassed comment.

            2. Have you read his brilliant “Hell and High Water”

              No I haven’t. I’m a cheapskate. I read books that I can get a hold of at the local library. That one hasn’t circulated around to our local yet. Most of my reading is online.

              Are you going to loan me your copy?.

            3. Actually i read a library copy – north shore libraries – so if you are now in the ‘super city’ you can request it from there! or i’m sure it’s available on interloan. a rather different ‘celtic’ perspective on dealing with our excessive demands on a limited world.

          2. Just looked at the link suggested by DappledWater. Um, a quite different picture emerges than the impartial and thorough scientist deniers would have you believe Curry to be.

            I was very disappointed to see she was so lacking in integrity and had to fall back on typical denier slander when confronted with logical counter-points to all her assertions.

            1. I was very disappointed to see she was so lacking in integrity

              Your definition of integrity is obviously very different to mine.

            2. You are getting into dangerous territory with that remark. To respond in kind, I suggest most here (apart from Dewhurst and the other giants of modern science in the denialist cabal who appear here) regard you as an obnoxious irritating troll who thinks that endlessly repeating discredited nonsense will somehow make it valid.

            3. Integrity is defined by a persons actions. Failure to retract a demonstrably false statement made in a public forum is not an act of a person with integrity.

            4. I was very disappointed to see she was so lacking in integrity and had to fall back on typical denier slander when confronted with logical counter-points to all her assertions.

              Please provide a link to this “denier slander”

  6. JC said (on RealClimate)

    JC’s grade for the review: C-
    pros: well written, persuasive
    cons: numerous factual errors and misrepresentations, failure to address many of the main points of the book

    If anyone is seriously interested in a discussion on this book, I can see that RC isn’t the place, people elsewhere are already describing their posts not making it through moderation

    What, specifically, do you have a problem with in that comment?

    1. What, apart from the fact that she claimed to be highlighting the supposedly valid claims of the book; then she claimed that it wasn’t actually what she necessarily thought – she was just regurgitating what the book was saying; and finally she makes claims about errors and misrepresentations…without actually stating what they were ?

      No, no problem there. If you really, truly want to believe in her…

  7. apart from the fact that she claimed to be highlighting the supposedly valid claims of the book; then she claimed that it wasn’t actually what she necessarily thought

    Please provide a link. I can’t find a statement to support this view. Thank you.

    1. Comment 401 of RC “The Mountford delusion” – I know you will use legalastic words to weasel some respsonse – but why else quote someone elses statement on ethics if she were’t insinuating that the people offering counterpoints to her were acting unethically (scientifically speaking – so not libelous).

      I do suggest you read comments from about 280 down, but if you lack time, her original post was rebutted politely and comprehensively. And all she could do was come back with bluster, lame excuses, and insinuation.

      I was not the only one to come away with a much lower impression of her than when I started reading that thread.

  8. Richard T October 27, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Integrity is defined by a persons actions. Failure to retract a demonstrably false statement made in a public forum is not an act of a person with integrity.

    Which demonstrably false statement made in a public forum?

    Please provide links when engaging in libelous debate, thank you.

  9. JohnD, did you read the whole thread on Real Climate, or are you just going to cherry pick?

    I’m please to see you disapprove of libelous comment. That will be a useful standard to apply to your own posts and links you include.

    1. JohnD, did you read the whole thread on Real Climate, or are you just going to cherry pick?

      No I didn’t read the whole thread. I was following the link provided by Dappledwater. I don’t have time to go through entire threads o blogs and find the comments that I think you were referring to.

      If you are going to make allegations of slander then you have to provide more evidence than some arm-waving allegation. Otherwise, your comment is equally as slanderous.

      That will be a useful standard to apply to your own posts and links you include.

      Sure, I’ll look forward to that with pleasure,

  10. If you haven’t read that thread and Curry’s shifting of ground, then you are in no position to make the comments you have. Talk about arm-waving allegations…..

    You’re the person who has brought in the libel/slander judgements, for some reason, John D., and adopted the high moral tone. Just a touch ironic.

    1. You’re the person who has brought in the libel/slander judgements, for some reason, John D., and adopted the high moral tone. Just a touch ironic

      If you go to the top of this thread, Ctrl-F and enter “slander”, you will see that Richard T first used the term “slander”

      I was asking for links to that. If someone accuses a tenured professor of “denialist slander”, then I would expect some link to the accusation.

      Don’t expect me to have read every blog post on the internet and have come to the same conclusion as you, that is all.

      1. John D.

        I saw a post in another forum from you where you stated something along the lines that concerns about biodiversity was the latest scientific scam. What makes you say it is a scam? You seem awfully bright and breezy when it comes to impugning the reputations of scientists. But I guess you probably place biologists down there with stamp collectors. Anyway you seem to be getting a bit precious about all the criticism directed at Curry. Well to JC I say join the club, inter-disciplinary climate practitioners have had to put up with far worse for much much longer.

        I read a snippet in the Dominion Post (Fri Oct 22) from a well known climate denier (Vince Gray) sniping at biodiveristy concerns – I ask myself what on earth would Vince Gray (I bet the man used to give his children lumps of coal for Christmas!) know about endangered species, habitat loss, and declining biodiversity? It’s seems we have another orchestrated smear campaign by the skeptics on our hands.

        1. biodiversity was the latest scientific scam

          It’s quite easy to explain.

          It’s not that I don’t think biodiversity or even CO2 emisions are not a problem. It’s the alarmism-driven gravy train that turns science into a political weapon that I have a problem with.

          However, Delingpole expresses my opinions much better than I could, if you can bear to read his column.

          1. Yeah, we get it, John. Scientists are evil.

            We were all much better off in the middle ages before those nasty scientists came along and screwed everything up. Old at 30, dead at 40 – that’s the life. Who wants to get old and wrinkled anyway?

            1. CTG,
              I do not claim that all scientists are evil. I claim that organisations such as the IPCC politicise and corrupt science.

              By the way, are you following the parliamentary questions into your fellow alumni at UEA? They really are squirming this time.

          2. In Dellingpole article he agrees with and includes a quote from Budiansky
            “There is no scientific dispute that extinctions are occurring, that they are occurring at a rate above the natural level due to human action, and that strenuous efforts are needed to protect critical habitats, to eliminate invasive competitors that threaten species, and to prevent overexploitation.”

            So he obviously doesn’t think concerns over biodiversity are a “scam”.

            He just has some fantasy about the issue being leveraged to institute a new world order.

    1. But John – you didn’t read them! You never do! So how would you know?

      You can scramble of there now and scan for something to pretend you did, but none of us are really fooled, you know…

  11. Uh huh, she parroted numerous unsubstantiated accusations from an accountant with an agenda, and when challenged, she failed to back them up with facts and substance. She also made unsubstantiated (and fallacious) accusations against Tamino….yes, very balanced and scientific.

    She was shown to be wrong on all counts…..

    Your dismissal of evidence before your very eyes is disturbing mate.

    JohnD do you post at SS under the same moniker?

  12. There. Happy now?

    I’m not here to play JohnD. Hmm, more obfuscation and weaseling by you JohnD. Is this common behavior for your JohnD?

    Anyhow, it is no wonder that self-professed ‘skeptics’ have a huge credibility problem.

      1. It’s about time someone gave that repetitious bore the heave-ho…

        I have just about had enough of your arrogant pompous trolling.
        All you have to offer this blog is accusations of “tedious troll”.

        I have seen nothing of any substance whatsoever from you.

  13. From a post at CP:

    “In the mean time CO2 levels rise, the planet warms and Greenland melts…all before our very own eyes, and yet some choose to argue about “uncertainty”. Judith Curry: “Well, the house might be on fire but we are not sure that the flames are going to reach X degrees Celsius. So hold off with those fire extinguishers, I’m not 100% certain that the the inhabitants of the house will be harmed because we are not sure exactly what the temperature is going to be”.

    1. And just to be clear, those words @4:44 pm are not those of JC. But rather represent the message JC is trying to sell

      And your evidence for this is?

      Dr Curry is not trying to ‘sell” that position at all, AFAIK.

      1. “Sell” it? No.

        She’s much more like someone in a group outside the burning house saying – we shouldn’t listen to her/them because she’s been not nice to someone -and- allowing those arguing against action (for fear of lawns being trampled or somesuch) to dominate the discussion because they were so helpful at last year’s street party.

        She says that her attitude formed as a consequence of her “visceral” reaction to the email kerfuffle. Finding out that heroes have feet of clay is hardly a shock, horror moment. Surely we all know that people gossip, swear and say rotten things when in private conversations. And professionals discussing something gone bad in their field (the ghastly paper in the dopey journal) are very often scathing. Think about lawyers discussing bad judgments in the privacy of chambers – the air is not just blue, it flashes with enraged lightning.

        1. I agree; her remarkably naive views about the motivation of organisations like the CEI and CATO institute are consistent with that kind of ‘perfect host’ personality that’s too polite to believe that ‘Such Nice People’ could ever be up to anything untoward – or utterly ruthless, for that matter.

  14. To make it easier for JohnD, here are some of the relevant quotes from the links given by Mapleleaf :

    The key points of Montford’s book that Tamino ignores are:
    1. The high level of confidence ascribed to the hockey stick inferences in the IPCC TAR, based upon two very recent papers (MBH) that, while provocative and innovative, used new methods and found results that were counter to the prevailing views. Plus the iconic status that the hockey stick achieved in the TAR and Al Gore’s movie.

    Gavin, the post I made [above] was a summary of Montford’s book as closely as I can remember it, sort of a review. I did not particularly bring in my personal opinions into this, other than the framing of montford’s points. So asking me to retract a point made in a book in a review of that book is, well, pointless. your attempt to rebut my points are full of logical fallacies and arguing at points i didn’t make. As a result, Montford’s theses look even more convincing.

    That’s right : when she states that “…the key points of Montford’s book…are :”, she meant to state that :

    ‘the book reckons (not necessarily me, you understand, but I might agree, sort of, after a fashion) such and such and if you respond to those accusations (which I do not have to back up because it’s not me making them, insofar as I am just repeating what I have read and assuming that you will be able to divine that without me saying so), because you will be responding to me (making a review of the points that the book makes – but not giving an opinion, in any direct fashion, so to speak), rather than responding to the accusations, you will be behaving illogically – because you are responding to me reviewing the points of a book (which I am stating but don’t need to back up), with which I may or may not agree or use as if they were my own words’.

    Clear as mud…

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