Debunked: climate hypothesis elevated to ruling theory

By Andrew L. Urban.

Even as President Donald Trump was rescinding Obama era climate policies last week, respected and disenchanted climate scientist, Dr Judith Curry, was giving evidence to the US Congress as to why climate science has failed public policy, with its one eyed, unscientific focus, while another witness, John R. Christy, proposed a levy to fund research into alternative hypotheses.

“Motivated by the mandate from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to address dangerous human-caused climate change, the climate community has worked for more than 20 years to establish a scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, which has prematurely elevated a scientific hypothesis to a ruling theory,” said Dr Curry. The policymakers bear responsibility for this outcome: a more disciplined logic is needed, she added.

Giving evidence to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space & Technology (Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method, March 29, 2017), Dr Curry deconstructed the history of climate science to show how the singular focus on research into man made causes destroyed the usefulness of the science from the beginning.

At the same hearing, Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Alabama’s State Climatologist and Director of the Earth System Science Centre at The University of Alabama in Huntsville made a proposal. He repeated his earlier call for a way to deal with the engineered consensus: “Since the IPCC activity is funded by US taxpayers, then I propose that five to ten percent of the funds be allocated to a group of well-credentialed scientists to produce an assessment that expresses legitimate, alternative hypotheses that have been (in their view) marginalized, misrepresented or ignored in previous IPCC reports (and thus EPA and National Climate Assessments). Such activities are often called “Red Team” reports and are widely used in government and industry . . . In other words, our policymakers need to see the entire range of findings regarding climate change.”

This imposed consensus has become so entrenched, Dr Curry retired early (on January 1, 2017) from Georgia Tech, as Emeritus Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. She is also President of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN).

Her experience at Georgia Tech highlights the cultural problem within the climate science community. “A deciding factor (for retiring early) was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the craziness in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment — funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc. How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide.”

Scathing in her evidence about the failures of scientists themselves, she said the challenges to climate research have been made more difficult by scientists who play power politics with their expertise in trying to silence scientific disagreement by denigrating those who do not agree with them. “Sound argument doesn’t need to denigrate its opponents.” She also slammed professional societies who write policy statements endorsing the consensus and advocating for specific policies.

Scientists often fool themselves, as Dr Curry found in an investigation she undertook after the 2010 ClimateGate revelations, prior to which she accepted and supported the consensus conclusions from the Assessment Reports published by the IPCC. “I realized that I had fallen victim to ‘groupthink’ – a pattern of thought characterized by conformity to group values and the manufacture of consensus that results in self-deception.”

The result of such self-deception on a grand scale is vast dislocations of public policy at enormous cost. Growing energy-security risks have been undertaken driven by the fatal reliance on climate science models that simply do not work. “The climate modelling community, the funding agencies and policy makers have locked themselves into a single climate modelling framework that has been very expensive in terms of funding and personnel.”

In her evidence, Dr Curry, effectively deconstructed the interface between climate science and policy, and lamented the absence of real scientific processes.

“The hope, and the potential, of climate models for providing actionable information for policy makers have not been realized. With the failure of climate models to reduce uncertainty about the sensitivity of the climate system to CO2 and the failure to accurately simulate decadal and regional climate variability, we have arguably reached the point of diminishing returns from this particular path of climate modeling – not just for decision support but also for scientific understanding of the climate system.”

She makes the central point that it is “an empirical fact that the Earth’s climate has warmed overall for at least the past century. However, we do not know how much humans have contributed to this warming and there is disagreement among scientists as to whether human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases is the dominant cause of recent warming, relative to natural causes.”

Christy’s evidence shows that observed warming has been significantly less than models have predicted. “ … if one follows the scientific method … the average model trend fails to represent the actual trend of the past 38 years by a highly significant amount. As a result, applying the traditional scientific method, one would accept this failure and not promote the model trends as something truthful about the recent past or the future. Rather, the scientist would return to the project and seek to understand why the failure occurred. The most obvious answer is that the models are simply too sensitive to the extra GHGs [green house gases] that are being added to both the model and the real world.” In other words, human made emissions of CO2 have less impact than feared.

The implications of avoiding the scientific method for policy making and allocation of resources are profound and long lasting.

Dr Curry claims that “Current global climate models are not fit for the purpose of attributing the causes of recent warming or for predicting global or regional climate change on timescales of decades to centuries, with any high level of confidence. Concerns about the utility of climate models include:

– predictions of the impact of increasing CO2 on climate cannot be rigorously evaluated for order of a century;

– failure of climate models to provide a consistent explanation of the early 20th century warming and the mid century cooling;

– extremely large number of unconstrained choices in terms of selecting model parameters and parameterizations.”

Dr Curry believes that cognitive bias has led scientists astray. “A scientific argument can evolve prematurely into a ruling theory if cultural forces are sufficiently strong and aligned in the same direction. I have argued that cognitive biases in the context of the IPCC’s consensus building process surrounding human-caused climate change have resulted in the consensus becoming increasingly confirmed in a self- reinforcing way, to the detriment of the scientific process.”

Premature theories enforced “by an explicit consensus building process harm scientific progress because of the questions that don’t get asked and the investigations that aren’t undertaken,” she states.

“Simply, scientists are human and subject to biases. Further, they have personal and professional stakes in the outcomes of research – their professional reputation and funding is on the line. Assuming that individual scientists have a diversity of perspectives and different biases, then the checks and balances in the scientific process including peer review will eventually see through the biases of individual scientists. However, when biases become entrenched in the institutions that support science – the professional societies, scientific journals, universities and funding agencies – then that subfield of science may be led astray for decades and make little progress.”

An edited version of this article appeared in The Weekend Australian, April 1-2, 2017 (page 13) under the heading: ‘Climate warriors tilt at orthodoxy’

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