Further Down the Denial Hole

Time to wander down another global warming denial rabbit hole. I was presented with a video of Judith Curry (who’s been covered here before) bemoaning the funding of climate science. It is political, she claims, because too much goes to research into the human causes of global warming and not enough into natural causes. This is bullshit. It doesn’t even require a great deal of investigation to see that it is bullshit we just need to apply what we know about global warming science.

Let’s take her claim literally. It is true that changes in climate can occur for non-human reasons and as a result of human actions. However, Curry’s characterization requires us to imagine a bizarro world of climate research in which some people are just looking at possible human causes and others are looking at natural causes. In reality, there isn’t a great deal of mystery about human causes as such – the main one is anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and of those the big culprit is CO2. It isn’t as if the bulk of researchers out looking for some alternative human causes (not that nobody is looking at other human impacts – it’s just not the main focus).

The reality is that people investigating anthropogenic global warming NECESSARILY investigate natural drivers of climate. You can’t investigate the one without the other. The very nature of trying to find the impact of human action on the climate involves trying to distinguish between natural variability and changes from human action PLUS the interaction between the two. Worse, Curry knows this.

Ah, but that isn’t what Curry means exactly. What she is cross about is that more money goes to researchers who think humans are impacting the climate than ones who don’t. The problem here is that what she is actually asking for is not less politics in the funding but more. After all, NORMALLY in science funding you’d expect more funding in mainstream positions and less in fringe positions. That doesn’t mean no fringe position ever becomes mainstream or that fringe positions are necessarily false – it just means that funding tends to go to places where evidence and expert opinion suggests that the answers are.

It gets worse though.We know that the bulk of active climate scientists genuinely believe that global warming caused by anthropogenic global warming is real. So to achieve the supposedly unpolitical increase in research of alternative hypotheses, Curry would need the more fringe views to receive disproportionate funding.

It gets even worse. What exactly would get funded? While proportionately small compare with climate science as a discipline, there are number of scientists of one kind or another who dispute the more generally accepted position. I’ve covered several here and given their views some airing. The problem is that while they have strong things to say about how they disagree to some extent with the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis they have very little in the way of alternative hypotheses. What these other approaches amount to tends to be very had wavy speculation and a vague appeal to more data.

Nor is the government the only source of funding. Interestingly all those conservative think tanks paying out cash on the topic global warming prefer to spend it on people claiming the data is wrong somehow rather than pooling their resources into alternative hypotheses. Some private funding from conservative sources (e.g. the Koch brothers) has helped aid some serious climate-science though, just not very often. Curry herself participated in one such project – the BEST study of the temperature record. I’ve discussed it before. It was widely promoted by conservative climate blogs when it started…but when the results came in and the BEST study confirmed that yes, things have got warming and yes it looks like we are to blame, it suddenly got less popular in certain quarters.

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6 comments

  1. The Deplorable Phantom

    Your use of the word “denial” in the title of this piece is instructive, Camestros.

    “Judith A. Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.”

    So she’s not some broad who works at McDonalds, right? Scientific American called her a heretic. That’s all I need to know.

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      • The Deplorable Phantom

        Denile: It’s not just a river in Egypt.

        Also not a word generally used to describe a difference of scientific opinion. Guys who disagreed with Quantum Chromodynamics in favor of String theory were not called “deniers”, their pronouncements were not posted with titles like “Further Down the Denial Hole.” They did not get death threats, their speaking engagements did not require huge police presence to prevent rioting and possibly murder.

        If Judith Curry can’t come forward and object to the patterns she sees in funding and research design without getting death threats, it ain’t Science anymore. It’s religion. That’s what it means when people start using words like denial, heretic, and so forth.

        You can pretend this is all perfectly fine and normal if you like, but we both know it’s not.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        //Also not a word generally used to describe a difference of scientific opinion//

        Correct – for the reasons I gave. He position was a political one.

        //If Judith Curry can’t come forward etc//

        Nothing is stopping Judith Curry from speaking. She gets disproportional coverage for her position.

        //You can pretend this is all perfectly fine//

        I don’t think it is perfectly fine – I’ve been pointing out that it is an active political campaign by the right to attack science on multiple fronts.

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      • The Deplorable Phantom

        Quoth Camestros: “Nothing is stopping Judith Curry from speaking. She gets disproportional coverage for her position.”

        If being burned as a witch is “coverage.”

        Scientific American: “Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues. Why can’t we have a civil conversation about climate?”

        I agree. The coverage seems most disproportionate. “Climate Heretic,” forsooth. Very collegial indeed. Civil, even.

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