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The loooooong road to regaining trust?

POSTNOTE (2011): In hindsight, this was probably a critical moment for Judith Curry, known henceforth as a Judith-Curry-moment). She has gone on to set up an excellent blog [Climate etc], where you can see many details of climate science debated openly with insight and honesty.


Just in case anyone out there has missed it, there is one of those landmark posts on Watts Up this weekend. Judith Curry tried to explain how Climate Scientists need to rebuild trust, and made the mistake of using the “Denier” insult (even though she thinks of it as just a label, rather than a perjorative term). She is still trying to blame poor communication or poor strategies to explain why Climate Science is looking so shonky at the moment. Then Willis Eschenbach diplomatically fries that idea, and points out that the only way to regain trust is not to look like honest scientists but to be honest scientists: to disavow the bad practices and disown the people who have failed science so badly.

Judith Curry responds graciously

To her credit she is engaging skeptics, and she points out in the comments to Willis’ post that:

… by staking this middle position, i pretty much am getting tomatoes thrown at me from both sides, but I am hoping to provoke both sides to think about productive ways of moving forward in getting climate science back on track.

And I agree. She is in a “wedged” position, and importantly she also makes the point that she feels angry too…

“… since I may have been using unnecessarily inaccurate surface temperature data in my research. Ecologists, chemical engineers, etc. who have made career decisions in directing their research toward climate change impacts or mitigation have been trusting the system to work. Etc.”

The point is nigh when the single mass of “climate scientists” (that never really was one mass) fractures into opposing groups. Honest scientists who rode the gravy train will have to admit that it’s never OK to withhold data, dodge FOI’s, exaggerate scares, and make thousands of adjustments to data without explaining the details of what they did and why they did it. In short: it’s not just high time to throw the corrupt scientists under a bus, it’s about five years too late.

All in all, this interchange is a good step forward.

My thoughts

I would add two things to Willis’ prosaic comments (some copied below).

One: Judith has also been taken in that there ever was a “Denial Machine”. Big-Government outspent Big-Oil 3500 to 1. The paltry $2 million or so a year that was available to some skeptics was vastly outweighed in every sense by the monster funding from government, the UN, and the Greens devoted to smearing and crushing dissent.

Two: I would also add that “denier” is one of the worst insults that can be thrown at a scientist, and while this exchange is a step forward, there can be no real conversation until the “denier” label is dropped in all shapes and forms, which is why I insist it can not be used as a group label in comments on my blog. After all, who would listen to a denier?

Following is a shortened edited version from Willis’ brilliant response:

Judith, I love ya, but you’re way wrong …

25 02 2010

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Can The Trust Be Rebuilt?

First, let me say that the problem is much bigger than Judith seems to think. Wiser men than I have weighed in on this question. Abraham Lincoln said:

If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

So it will not be easy. The confidence is forfeit, that ship has sailed.

The biggest problem with Judith’s proposal is her claim that the issue is that climate scientists have not understood how to present their ideas to the public. Judith, I respect you greatly, but you have grabbed the wrong end of the stick. The problem is not how climate scientists have publicly presented their scientific results. It is not a communication problem.

The problem is that 71.3% of what passes as peer reviewed climate science is simply junk science, as false as the percentage cited in this sentence. The lack of trust is not a problem of perception or communication. It is a problem of lack of substance. Results are routinely exaggerated. “Scientific papers” are larded with “may” and “might” and “could possibly”. Advocacy is a common thread in climate science papers. Codes are routinely concealed, data is not archived. A concerted effort is made to marginalize and censor opposing views.

And most disturbing, for years you and the other climate scientists have not said a word about this disgraceful situation. When Michael Mann had to be hauled in front of a congressional committee to force him to follow the simplest of scientific requirements, transparency, you guys were all wailing about how this was a huge insult to him.

An insult to Mann? Get real. Mann is an insult and an embarrassment to climate science, and you, Judith, didn’t say one word in public about that. Not that I’m singling you out. No one else stood up for climate science either. It turned my stomach to see the craven cowering of mainstream climate scientists at that time, bloviating about how it was such a terrible thing to do to poor Mikey. Now Mann has been “exonerated” by one of the most bogus whitewashes in academic history, and where is your outrage, Judith? Where are the climate scientists trying to clean up your messes?

The solution to that is not, as you suggest, to give scientists a wider voice, or educate them in how to present their garbage to a wider audience.

The solution is for you to stop trying to pass off garbage as science.

I was disgusted with the response of mainstream climate scientists to Phil Jone’s reply to Warwick Hughes. When Warwick made a simple scientific request for data, Jones famously said:

Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?

Looking back, I was incredibly naive. I was so naive that I actually thought, “Well, Phil’s gonna get his hand slapped hard by real scientists for that kind of anti-scientific statements”. Foolish me, I thought you guys were honest scientists who would be outraged by that.

So I waited for some mainstream climate scientist to speak out against that kind of scientific malfeasance … and waited … and waited. In fact, I’m still waiting. I registered my protest against this bastardisation of science by filing an FOI. When is one of you mainstream climate scientist going to speak out against this kind of malfeasance? It’s not too late to condemn what Jones said, he’s still in the news and pretending to be a scientist, when is one of you good folks going to take a principled stand?

But nobody wants to do that. Instead, you want to complain and explain how trust has been broken, and you want to figure out more effective communication strategies to repair the trust.

You want trust? Do good science, and publicly insist that other climate scientists do good science as well.

Judith, again, my congratulations on being willing to post your ideas in public. You are a rara avis, and I respect you greatly for it.


PS: You want trust? Disavow Schneider, and STOP WITH THE SCARY SCENARIOS. At this point, you have blamed everything from acne to world bankruptcy on eeevil global warming. And you have blamed everything from auditors to the claimed stupidity of the common man for your own failures. STOP IT! We don’t care about your pathetic justifications, all you are doing is becoming the butt of jokes around the planet. You seem to have forgotten the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Read it. Think about it. Nobody cares about your hysteria any more. You are in a pit of your own making, and you are refusing to stop digging … take responsibility.

Because we don’t want scientists who are advocates. We’re not interested in scientists who don’t mention their doubts. We’re sick of your inane “simplified dramatic statements”. We laugh when you cry wolf with your scary scenarios. Call us crazy, but we want scientists who are honest, not scientists who balance honesty and effectiveness. You want trust? Get honest, kick out the scoundrels, and for goodness sakes, get a clue about humility.

The full postJudith’s original post, and Judiths reply in comments are on Watts Up. I highlighted Willis’s second last para because I liked it so much.

Commentors note: Obviously people can discuss the term “denier” in the comments below, but there is still no license here for anyone to refer to skeptics as “deniers” and as usual, any commenters who do that will be asked to name and explain the evidence that we deny or apologize before they can post again.

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