[Update: Fred Pearce's New Scientist article has been updated. More below]
It was all going so well. The climate contrarians, along with a handful of sympathetic scientists, had offered an olive branch of reconciliation to the climate science mainstream, discussed issues of common concern, and broken bread together. All this, in the salubrious environment of Lisbon and its Gulbenkian Foundation, facilitated by an experienced organizing group of “post-normal” science philosophers and the EU’s Joint Research Committee. The mainstream was noticeably absent, but there was the next best thing: the group’s favourite bete noir, Gavin Schmidt, had arrogantly refused to attend because, supposedly, the “science was settled and there was nothing to discuss”. Or so said New Scientist’s Fred Pearce who was there to capture this epochal moment for posterity.
Then it all went horribly wrong. It turned out that Schmidt had said nothing of the sort, and that Pearce had grossly misrepresented Schmidt’s email reply to organizers, which contained a polite, nuanced refusal, along with a list of subjects that should be discussed. This, even though Pearce had actually seen and read aloud the
complete email [albeit accidentally truncated], which was leaked by “ad hoc” invitation committee member and fringe blogger “tallbloke” in what was (to put it charitably) a highly inappropriate attempt at spin. The gullible Pearce didn’t even bother to check with Schmidt, but appears to have accepted “tallbloke’s” version at face value.
But the naivete and gullibility do not end there, for Pearce missed the truly fascinating part of the whole story. “Tallbloke’s” passing around of the email he wasn’t even supposed to have was not just a supremely ironic coda to a workshop ostensibly dedicated to building trust and reconciliation (a circumstance which seems to have completely eluded the befuddled Pearce). Somehow the fringe blogger and WUWT regular managed to forge a connection between a highly respected science philosopher and the contrarian blogosphere, and then put himself in the inner circle planning the resulting workshop a year later, providing a fascinating insight into this misbegotten enterprise.
The story of Fred Pearce’s bungled report of the Lisbon workshop has been told elsewhere, notably at Deltoid which has a good, clear chronology of events, along with links to Rabett and all the others to boot.
So I won’t get into all the details. But I will note that Pearce’s behaviour here, while not deliberately malicious , was doubly unprofessional. Not only was the reference to “settled science” incorrect and a clear buy-in to a well-worn contrarian meme (one present right in the Lisbon workshop’s very statement of purpose), but “nothing to discuss” is completely at odds with the list of policy subjects that Gavin proposed as more worthy. Moreover, it was also highly unprofessional of Pearce to allow himself to be spun by someone involved in the workshop, without even bothering to check that interpretation with Schmidt. And his lack of curiosity about the provenance of the workshop shows at best an an astonishing naivete for a journalist.
The road to Lisbon began about a year ago, with a pair of surprising guest posts at WattsUpWithThat by noted science philosopher and “post-normal” guru Jerome Ravetz. Ravetz has long explored the role of the “extended peer community” in science “quality assurance”, an idea which Ravetz started to apply somewhat indiscriminately and uncritically in the post-“climategate” maelstrom. Hence WUWT.
In his first post, Ravetz did not necessarily accept all of the contrarian critique (much of it self-contradictory in any case) but did acknowledge the central thesis of “climategate”:
Consideration of those protective plausibilities can help to explain how the illusions could persist for so long until their sudden collapse. The scientists were all reputable, they published in leading peer-reviewed journals, and their case was itself highly plausible and worthy in a general way. Individual criticisms were, for the public and perhaps even for the broader scientific community, kept isolated and hence muffled and lacking in systematic significance. And who could have imagined that at its core so much of the science was unsound?
Ravetz’s, shall we say, incomplete understanding of such basic concepts as climate sensitivity was on display as well:
In the course of the development of climate-change science, all sorts of loose ends were left unresolved and sometimes unattended. Even the most fundamental quantitative parameter of all, the forcing factor relating the increase in mean temperature to a doubling of CO2, lies somewhere between 1 and 3 degrees, and is thus uncertain to within a factor of 3.
Here Ravetz might have confused the sensitivity for CO2 doubling per se which is well established at ~1C, with the more usual measure of climate sensitivity taking into account all feedbacks, which is necessarily a more uncertain enterprise, but usually considered to be around 3C, albeit with much broader uncertainty. But it’s hard to tell what he meant.
Little noticed at the time, however, was this key part of Watts’s introduction.
Also, my thanks to WUWT regular “tallbloke” for his facilitation.
So even back then, “tallbloke” had reached out to Ravetz and presumably had already found common ground in the merit of the McIntyre-McKitrick “hockey stick” analysis and other esoteric subjects undermining the teetering house of cards known as climate science. And, even more importantly, a crucial connection between Ravetz and contrarian blogger had been forged.
Ravetz was back a few weeks later, with this announcement:
But I have been involved in the critical analysis of models of all sorts, and quite early on I good reason to suspect that the GCMs offered little basis for certainty of prediction. I also became aware of the hype and over-selling. A couple of years ago I came to the conclusion that this campaign would run into trouble, and I began to think about research projects that might be useful. One of them is now up for a grant; it’s an analysis of scientific disagreement, designed to bring together opponents and open the way to nonviolent communication. But it was totally implausible to me that the leading UK scientists were either gullible or complicit in a serious fraud at the core of the enterprise. Even when I heard about M&M and the hockey stick scandal, I didn’t connect that dot with the others. There’s a confession for you! Jerry Ravetz, arch-critical-scientist, suckered by the A(C)GW con for years on end. That really shows the power of plausibility. Even now I’m not all the way with my critics; the distinction between incompetence and blundering self-protection on the one hand (plus agenda-driven hype) and self-conscious scientific conspiracy on the other, may still be dividing us.
Here Ravetz charitably distinguishes between “incompetence and blundering self-protection … (plus agenda-driven hype)” and “self-conscious scientific conspiracy”, neatly seizing the middle ground between presumed “alarmists” and the outright “hoaxers” who believe that all climate science is sham. Even then, he does hold up the possibility of common cause with the “hoaxers” with respect to the “hockey stick” at least. Very nuanced indeed.
One would hardly think that this could be a reasonable basis to “bring together opponents”, but Ravetz proposed exactly this. Presumably, though, the grant application did not contain the WUWT essays. At least, let’s hope not.
Be that as it may, the workshop process progressed from there and culminated in firm plans for the Lisbon event some time late last year. The organizing committee consisted of Ravetz and four other prominent “post-normal” luminaries.
Silvio Funtowicz (now with the European Commission) and Ravetz go back to the 1980s and published the landmark Uncertainty and Quality in Science for Policy in 1990. In 2005, Jeroen van der Sluijs, James Risbey (CSIRO), Ravetz and Funtowicz all collaborated on Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Measures of Uncertainty in Model-Based Environmental Assessment: The NUSAP System. This applied the Ravetz and Funtowicz NUSAP system to a variety of case studies including an interesting sensitivity analysis of model parameters in emissions scenarios.
Funtowitz also presumably provided a bridge to the EU in the person of another post-normal luminary, Angela Pereira, of the Econometrics and Applied Statistics Unit at the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, part of the EU’s Joint Research Commission. Like Ravetz, Perira had had her own “climategate” epiphany. In a February 2010 comment at Nature.com, Pereira expressed her disillusionment (h/t Rabett at Judith Curry’s):
One of the major shames about what seems to be a climate change sham is really about the work some governmental and non-governmental organisations have done and citizenry commitment etc. to help with reducing our footprint in the planet. …
This whole charade regarding the science that underpins it is a major frustration for those who had embraced a battle about the most needed change of gestures, values and perceptions about the use of natural resources, justifying such change with that science. …
Ravetz and Pereira, the two newly-minted climate science critics, were ready to take the lead in “reconciliation”.
Getting ready for Lisbon
In November 2010, Ravetz and Pereira produced a “statement of purpose” for the Lisbon “Reconciliation in the climate debate” which was eventually posted at the WUWT site. The opening did echo the contrarian “the science is (not) settled” meme, but the pair’s previous rhetoric of “climate sham” and “illusions” was considerably toned down (presumably in a spirit of reconciliation).
In the politics of climate change, we cannot say that ‘the science is settled’ or ‘the debate is over’. …
We believe that the possibility of harmful climate change is real, and that the resolution of the science (even recognition of its inherent uncertainties) is urgent. We suggest that this is an occasion when the approach and techniques of conflict resolution can be applied to a scientific dispute.
The statement focused on issues at the interface between science and politics. The only specific scientific issue raised was that of the “management of uncertainty”, for which the organizers at least had some expertise, even if none of the eventual other participants did.
The workshop would start with a review of the climate change dispute as a scientific-political phenomenon. As in any contentious issue, there are not just two sides but a spectrum of positions, perhaps on several dimensions. At the extremes are those who are not prepared to dialogue; we hope that there is now sufficient middle ground for some progress to be made. The workshop would then proceed to the identification of some key scientific issues (possibly including the management of uncertainty) whose resolution could be crucial in moving the issue forward.
But by the time that Gavin Schmidt was contacted, somehow the four supposed key scientific issues had already been identified and uncertainty per se was no longer one of them! As his letter of invitation noted:
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.
Sounds like the top rotation subjects at WUWT and ClimateAudit – surely just a coincidence. But here we see that the morphing of the conference from a conventional PNS exploration of uncertainty at the science-politics interface into a Heartland-style exploration of climate science “issues” was well underway.
At this point, “tallbloke”, the fringe science blogger who had originally hooked up Ravetz with Watts, was now “an ad hoc member of the invitation committee”. So we’ll let him pick up the story of the exciting runup to the Lisbon workshop:
The three day workshop is entitled “Conflict Resolution in Climate Science”. This event is being hosted by the European Commission Joint research Centre’s Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.
It is being attended by some of the world’s foremost climate scientists, as well as experts in policy formulation and conflict resolution, and some laymen and women with an interest in climate science, including yours truly – me!
The program has yet to be finalised, so there will be more updates here once the details become available.
Revealing change there from “climate debate” to “climate science debate”. But the responsibility was not without its hard choices:
Nasif Nahle says: Congrats, Tallbloke!!! Don’t let those b… bring you down!
Thanks Nasif. I tried to get an invite for you but apparently, because some very high profile people such as the Pielke’s are attending, some of the warmers have decided not to attend and effectively ceded the field. The organisers are trying to find more people from ‘the consensus of 98% of all climate scientists’ but it’s proving to be difficult. Maybe they’re not so confident about defending their science on neutral ground as we are.
There’s no word yet on why the Pielkes, in their turn, were also no-shows. But later that evening, things are even better:
Judith Curry will be attending, and I hope Steve Mosher will be as well. A chance to discuss half baked ideas over a friendly beer.
Indeed. Mosher did make it, as a replacement for “Science blogger of the year” Anthony Watts. Various concerns are aired, including “settled science”.
P.G. Sharrow says:
All they have to do is admit that the science is not settled. I would settle for that.
“Tallbloke” proudly quotes the statement of purpose which, as we have seen, addresses that very concern up front:
The document I’ve been sent (which has the filename ‘reconciliation-rationale’) says:
“In the politics of climate change, we cannot say that ‘the science is settled’ or ‘the debate is over’.”
No need to worry!
Although they probably do recognize that – in order to give some semblance of credibility to their dismissals (without appealing only to their own authority!) – they do need a “designated disser” in attendance … and Gavin got the short straw!
Gavin isn’t coming. It is not good etiquette to quote from private correspondence, so I’ll just say that he didn’t see the point in attending if the policy dimension was to be excluded and we are just going to discuss the science, because his side’s science is right and all the sceptic’s scientific arguments are just a smokescreen for their agenda.
People with closed minds are by definition non-scientists as I see it. Gavin is a computer programmer, who by definition go about their work by defining the variables before they start. See Feynman on scientific method.
I wonder if “tallbloke” let Pearce or the organizers in on his expose of Gavin Schmidt as a “non-scientist”. Who needs him anyway?
There’s plenty more, but now it’s on to the follow-up post where the nitty-gritty of the agenda gets pawed over, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the E.U. bureaucracy.
I’d like to help represent as many views as possible from the blogosheric climate community, so please put forward your views so I can raise issues at the conference.
In my response to the document which came with the invite, I inserted a bullet point list of desirable actions as I see it. I’d appreciate your comment and criticism of those, as well as additional ideas I’ve missed. Here are the Bullet points:
- The inputs, methodological steps and outputs of climate science have to be publicly re-appraised by all interested parties.
- The level of uncertainty and consequent assessments of risk and urgency versus cost and benefit, have to be reappraised by experts and policy makers.
- The issue of financial interest at the personal, institutional and political level has to be addressed by funding agencies and political representatives.
- The possibilities for a deliberate realignment of research effort in the testing of multiple hypotheses concerning the causes and consequences of climate change must be considered.
- The training and composition of media organisations such as the Society of Environmental Journalists must be addressed so its outputs can reflect the state of knowledge correctly.
On the E.U. “behemoth” and the role of “oceanic oscillations”:
I empathise with your impatience. The good ship (!) E.U. Policy is a behomoth which takes time to steer onto a new course. This conference is starting from the root of the issue which is the science. We believe that this is the right place to start, because it underpins the policy and is subject (in theory) to rigorous rules of appraisal, using the scientific method. So from the sceptical side of the debate we seek to demonstrate that the science is not sufficiently certain to make climate scenarios or state that climate changes have been caused by anthropogenic activity to any significant degree.
If we try to attack at the policy level, we will be mired in argument which rests on opinion, and this plays into the hands of bureaucrats who have vested interest in disconnecting the public from the debate. I will certainly be making the point about the downturn in temperatures worldwide, and their connection with natural processes such as the major oceanic oscillations. If these natural forces can cause rapid and deep changes in climate patterns, the question of how much of the warming they were responsible for during the late C20th needs to be addressed. This is the question all pro co2 causation proponents shy away from. At last we get an opportunity to ask the questions directly.
So we have here the agenda of at least one exalted member of Ravetz’s special “extended peer community” – an ambitious program indeed. But the “extended peer community” can do anything! Good thing too – it turns out that all science, not just climate science, must be questioned and scrutinized.
One idea I think should be considered is a request to the IPCC that they issue two Assessment Reports – A Majority Report and A Minority Report. This one step would do more to keep the Majority Report honest than anything else. AR4 took an extreme view on almost every debated point of science. The Minority Report would show the result of a more balanced assessment.
tallbloke: Good idea Ron,
That is also what I was getting at with my bullet point 5. Funding research aimed at alternative explanations.
Hold that thought. In part 2, “tallbloke” takes us inside the crucial “temperature data” session, which has an interesting connection to that “minority” report idea. I’ll cover other workshop highs and lows, including an analysis of the participant list and an update on the Fred Pearce-New Scientist kerfuffle.
And I’ll also take a closer look at post-normal science itself, which appears to have been highjacked here. Indeed, PNS is now in need of its own “extended peer community”. Let the PostNormalAudit begin!
[Update: Fred Pearce's New Scientist post on Lisbon has been amended to add Gavin Schmidt's reply to the organizer's invitation in toto and to strike out the original incorrect paraphrase. No word yet on whether Pearce has apologized for his error.]
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.[Gavin Schmidt has asked us to clarify his reasons for not attending: see the bottom of this post.]
Before the update with Gavin’s response, here is the key excerpt from the Lisbon organizers’ letter of invitation (not provided by the New Scientist).
“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.”
Here is the New Scientist update, with Gavin Schmidt’s reply:
Update: Gavin Schmidt has asked us to clarify his reasons for not attending the meeting. We are happy to reproduce the email in which he declined:
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’.