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Climate Hustle

The Trump administration wants to bail out failed contrarian climate scientists

Posted on 31 August 2017 by John Abraham

Climate contrarians, like Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, don’t understand how scientific research works. They are basically asking for a government handout to scientists to do what scientists are should already be doing. They are also requesting handouts for scientists who have been less successful in research and publications – a move antithetical to the survival of the fitness approach that has formed the scientific community for decades.

The helping handout would be through a proposed exercise called a “red team/blue team” effort. It is a proposal that would reportedly find groups of scientists on both “sides” of the climate issue (whatever that means), and have them try to poke holes in each others’ positions. I will explain why this is a handout but first let’s talk about the plan and how it interferes with the scientific process.

I say that Pruitt and Perry don’t understand how science works because we are already doing “red team/blue team” exercises everyday in our normal line of business. Science works by challenging each other and our ideas. If we think that a colleague has made an error, we tend to be merciless and tenacious to correct the errors. This is part of the premise of the concept of peer review – where we send studies and manuscripts to journals to have other experts objectively review them for errors.

So back to the basic premise of a red team/blue team exercise – basically the “red team” would critique some conclusion of a “blue team.” The blue team would be able to respond, and there would be this back and forth exchange. On its face it sounds pretty straightforward even though scientists are already doing that in the scientific literature. But how would this work in practice? 

First, how would the red team and blue team members be selected? Would they be picked by Pruitt and Perry who have already demonstrated a commitment to unbridled fossil fuel usage? The red team would almost certainly be selected from the very small but vocal group of contrarian scientists and non-scientists who have failed in the scientific arena. The fact is, there are no credible scientists who doubt that human emissions of greenhouse gases cause global warming. They just don’t exist. 

There are some “lukewarmist” scientists who think the problem won’t be that bad, but these “lukewarmers” have failed to provide compelling evidence in the scientific literature. In many instances, their work has been shown to be wrong, the mainstream scientists have evaluated their claims and found them lacking or faulty. And this is why 97% of the world’s top climate scientists agree with each other on climate change. 

So forming a red team would basically amount to a governmental helping hand to scientists who have not succeeded in the scientific arena. Since they cannot compete in the cut-throat area of scientific research, they would be given a free pass by the government to circumvent the normal peer review process. Let’s be clear, the red team cannot make the case in the scientific arena so they would be given a free pass to make their claims in the political arena.

What would the exercise look like? Well that isn’t clear. Some ideas have been floated such as a live debate. Perhaps a red team response to a summary article such as the National Climate Report made public recently by the New York Times? Would it be special earmarked funding for contrarians to perform research? Would it be an “official” U.S. government report that is written by the contrarians? We just don’t know.

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Comments 51 to 64 out of 64:

  1. NorrisM, just coming back to your point about climate sensitivity estimates varying from 1.5 - 4.5 degrees, as stated in the last IPCC report. You believed theres no agreement or consensus on climate sensitivity. In fact its not that simple.

    There are hundreds of climate sensitivity papers and most predict medium to high sensitivity so the consensus is actually tilted towards medium to high sensitivity. The majority of research is centred around 3 degrees. A small number predict low sensitivity down near 1.5 degrees, but these studies have had a lot of criticism. Some were based on the pause, which was not as deep as first thought when the studies were done, and the pause is over now anyway. It was always a dubious thing to base a conclusion on one single time period,  when we knew it could have been an anomaly, and was still within the boundaries of what models expected. All models expect slow periods of about 10 years, the pause was a bit longer but not particularly deep, and still within the boundaries of the models.

    But the IPCC being conservative felt duty bound to point out there is not 100% agreement on climate sensitivity and estimates do vary. This does not mean there was total disagreement or a 50 / 50 split, as I have pointed out!

    The vast majority of climate science opinion is towards  medium to high sensitivity and only a small number of papers claiming low sensitivity and they are unconvincing papers. So it seems artificial to have a debate with equal numbers of sceptics and warmists on the red and blue teams, as if theres a huge difference of opinion when there isnt.

    But if the red blue team confined things to debating areas of some level of uncertantly like climate sensitivity, that would at least make some small degree of sense. Theres no genuine disagreement over things like the MWP except from a  couple of total cranks.

    I don't want to speculate too much on where a red blue team debate would take climate senstivity, but given the whole red blue process is flawed any result would be suspect. It could also end up with a result that hugely embarasses Scott Pruit, despite his attempts to skew things in favour  of the sceptics. 

    But you still have a huge problem. The whole red blue thing is tainted with bias and people you have suggested to lead things are clearly biased. What public credibility do you think the process would have? Not much I would say.

    How do you resolve issues of bias? How do you convince the public  the process would be robust and thorough when the IPCC has hundreds of people working on the issues?

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  2. Such a debate would be pointless, as many above have indicated.

    As a non-scientist (let alone a non-scientist in any related field) I can see that climate, and in particular climate change, is possibly the most complicated area of scientific research.

    Given that the objective of any "debate" would be to show Joe Public the truth - whicever way it went - any real debate would involve such esoteric and complex issues that no-one except those involved in the research could possibly understand them. And abstracting them is being done now, daily, so those who choose to ignore the conclusions will do that regardless.

    It's just a "doubt" tactic.

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  3. Bob Loblaw @ 47 and Nigelj at 51

    Bob Loblaw, I understand your criticism of Steve Koonin reaching past his expertise but I have seen nothing to impact his integrity so your scenario of an effective kangaroo court I do not think is apposite. 

    But to the two of you, my question still remains, what do you do given the reality of a Republican White House for at least the next 3 years?  Why not, with the support of the Democrats, make sure this Red Team Blue Team is independent?

    There is clearly something that is driving conservatives and others "in the middle" when you look at the Pew Research results (I do not believe anyone is questioning the integrity of Pew Research).  I think you find a reluctance in much of the American public to accept the "scientific consensus" of major global warming and its effects because the costs are so drastic.

    When or where  else has the American public (or any democracy for that matter) been asked to make massive and costly changes to their lifestyle based upon predictions of the future?  Look how long it took the US to engage in both WWI and WWII when the danger was very obvious to Western liberal democratic order.  

    There is an expression used with religious claims that applies to other areas of human endeavour.  "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

    The facts remain that even with an Obama administration the "scientific consensus" was not able to convince the American public.  So this Red Team Blue Team approach, if the Trump administration goes along with it, is that opportunity to get that confidence level up so that it at least includes those in the middle.

    Because both the IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences are populated with climate scientists who have taken a clear position on the issue, this investigation has to be conducted by some other body.  I think there is an underlying distrust that climate scientists are consciously or subconciously misrepresenting the existing state of knowledge in their zeal to get people onside.  Climategate reinforced that view or perhaps caused it.   But leaving out "qualifying statements" in Summaries for Policy Makers etc that clearly has happened does not help.   Judith Curry suggests another US body which I think deals with national security which, as she says, does not have a "dog in the fight".  Perhaps this body would be better than the EPA.  I do not think this matters as much as the constitution of the body.

    The constitution of the body has to be equal otherwise you are deciding the issue before the contest.  I think you should again, recognizing the reality that the Republicans are in power,  "play the hand your are dealt".

     What I come back to is, what are your choices?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are now skating on the thin ice of sloganeering and ecessive repetition — both are prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  4. Moderator

    Just reread my last post.  Apologies for comments re public views expressed in Pew Research and Climategate.  This is repetitious.

    I highly respect  all of the climate scientists who have dedicated their life to this important issue including those contributing to this website, including Bob Loblaw (notwithstanding his irritation with me) and a number of others who I assume are climate scientists, although not specifically disclosed.  

    I am just trying to make the point that this Red Team Blue Team proposal is an opportunity which should be embraced as long as its independence is protected.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You have made your point. It's time to move on to a different topic.

  5. My comment @50 was done under a time constraint, and it shows ...

    To atempt to be clearer: Since climate science is a very robustly developed field of investigation/observation and establishment of a Good Explanations for all of the avaliable information (even though there is more investigation and understanding to be added), the currently developed and presented concensus explanations/understanding regarding the matter should be considered to be "The Objective Understanding/Explanation/Truth of the matter for everyone to understand and accept unless/until some new 'justified and robustly defendable information' is presented that results in Good Reason to revise a part of that developed understanding".

    Therefore, anyone who prefers to try to promote and believe things that are contrary to the "Developed Objective Understanding" without providing new 'justified and robustly defendable information' that is significant enough to result in Good Reason to change the understanding" deserves to be referred to as a Denier/Delayer.

    So the people NorrisM (and others) refer to as Warmists should be referred to as a sub-set of the Denier/Delayers. And the ones he refers to as Skeptics probably also deserve to be referred to as Denier/Delayers if they have not developed and delivered any new 'justified and robustly defendable information' that is significant enough to result in Good Reason to change the developed understanding.

    And a debate that gives a platform to Denier/Delayers will not be helpful. If a debate is to be held it should be True Skeptics with valid new information "Debated/Reviewed" by all of the knowledgable evaluators of the merit/legitimacy of the new information. And that process clearly does not occur in a "Debate", especially not in a broadcast Live Debate. My suggested process @18 (and @37) is one process that would achieve what is required then broadcast the results to everyone.

    It is umportant to understand that the IPCC process gave ample opportunity for people who prefer to believe and promote alternative facts/understanding to provide their input. The only restriction was that Good Reason consistent will all of the available information/observations (understandings that best explained all of the available information) was the basis for establishing conclusions, not the popular opinions/results measured after a broadcast Live Debate.

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  6. NorrisM @53

    "Bob Loblaw, I understand your criticism of Steve Koonin reaching past his expertise but I have seen nothing to impact his integrity."

    No, with respect you miss the point. Its not a question of integrity alone. S Koonin has a lack of grasp of the science, and an obvious sceptical bias which makes him totally unsuitable. Would you be happy with Al gore leading / organising the debate?

    "Why not, with the support of the Democrats, make sure this Red Team Blue Team is independent?"

    Its going to be very hard to do this, especially given your very own suggestions so far.

    "There is clearly something that is driving conservatives and others "in the middle" when you look at the Pew Research results (I do not believe anyone is questioning the integrity of Pew Research). "

    Yes on the science. But do you seriously believe conservatives would accept a red blue team result that found climate change was even more serious and proven than the IPCC claims? Really?

    "I think you find a reluctance in much of the American public to accept the "scientific consensus" of major global warming and its effects because the costs are so drastic."

    Maybe, maybe not. The pew research you yourself are fond of quoting shows the majority are uncertain on the science, but the majority actually want more done about the climate problem, and favour renewable energy. I think the scepticism about the science might be largely politically and ideologicall driven, so a sort of dislike of liberal elites who are generally support the science. Theres certainly some evidence of ideological factors behind it is you read for example The Economist which is pretty reliable.

    Of course commonsense suggests cost of renewable energy are at least some degree of concern, but your red blue team is not actually debating that aspect, so your point is irrelevant.

    "When or where else has the American public (or any democracy for that matter) been asked to make massive and costly changes to their lifestyle based upon predictions of the future?

    How is that relevant really? Theres a first time for everything. And plenty of environmental law has been passed that has had significant costs at least short to medium term. There's some precedent there even if the scale is different.

    "There is an expression used with religious claims that applies to other areas of human endeavour. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

    This is yet another meme copied and pasted from denier websites. I'm wondering how a busy lawyer like yourself has the time for all your commentary.

    Anyway we do have good evidence for climate science and perhaps you also need to take into account the "extraordinary scale and implications" of climate change.

    "So this Red Team Blue Team approach, if the Trump administration goes along with it, is that opportunity to get that confidence level up so that it at least includes those in the middle."

    By rehashing over studies of climate sensitivity, the mwp, sea level rise projections etc? I cant see it. They will probably conclude much the same as the IPCC . The red blue process is too tainted with bias to have much appeal to moderates in the middle.

    "Because both the IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences are populated with climate scientists who have taken a clear position on the issue, this investigation has to be conducted by some other body."

    So on that basis you would have to have a red blue team debate for every scientific issue in history. Just so absurd.

    And the people you have on the teams also have a "clear view" on the issue negating your argument.

    "I think there is an underlying distrust that climate scientists are consciously or subconciously misrepresenting the existing state of knowledge in their zeal to get people onside. "

    There will be considerably more distrust of a red blue team collection of scientists picked by a climate denying organiser.

    "Climategate reinforced that view or perhaps caused it. "

    Well it left a bad impression, but given the red blue team doesn't really address the climategate thing, I can't see how it changes the perception. Basically people need to read up on climategate carefully, and they will realise the scientists did nothing wrong or deceptive. Unfortunatly people are clutching at any reason possible, no matter how silly, or scurrilous or lying, to deny fossil fuels are a problem.

    "Judith Curry suggests another US body which I think deals with national security which, as she says, does not have a "dog in the fight".

    Actually they do, or at least the military do, because they have produced reports greatly concerned about climate change.

    Pleas also note the IPCC teams do include some sceptics. The IPCC makeup reflects weight of climate opinion but does make sure it always includes several sceptics, this is deliberate.

    "The constitution of the body has to be equal otherwise you are deciding the issue before the contest. "

    No it doesn't. Its not even supposed to be a contest of people like some silly school debate. Science is a contest of ideas and if most scientists support one idea, you can't force them otherwise.

    Public debates have their place, but are mere entertainment, and should not be used as alternatives for IPCC process on serious issues.

    "What I come back to is, what are your choices?"

    One of the real problems is money in politics. Your quoted pew reseaarch shows one important thing that people do generally want more done about climate change, even if they are sceptical of causation, but they are ignored by Trump and Congress, and I suggest this is money in politics and influence of lobby groups, and this is what needs to change.

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  7. NorrisM @ 53:

    What nigelj said in his first paragraph @56.

    Koonin gets enough stuff horribly wrong, and has already made his mind up, so he is a terrible choice to lead any investigation in any form. To draw another legal analogy, would you feel comfortable argung a case in court when the judge made public statements before the trial that you knew were horribly wrong and indicated that he had already passed judgement?

    Good scientists don't arrive on the scene with conclusions in mind. They let the evidence lead them to conclusions. My conclusions are not based on what I thought 40 years ago - heck, I started university during the supposed 1970s "cooling scare".  I've watched the science become more and more certain over the decades. What the "skeptics" present as doubt is largely balderdash.

    You are mistaken in thinking that the IPCC is a collection of like-minded scientists. The IPCC imply tries to summarize the existing science (predominantly in the form of peer-reviewed literature). If there is a legitimate publication with a differeing viewpoint, that will be included. The IPCC does not guide research. Eminent scientists are invited to participate in the writing of the reports, but as nigelj points out this has included "skeptics".

    As for what would I do? I am not a resident of the US. In Canada, we had a climate-change "skeptical" government in Harper. I voted against him.

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  8. Bob Loblaw @ 57 and nigelj.

    We are two Canadians and one New Zealander looking across the borders (and Pacific Ocean) and wondering what is going to happen next.

    We will just have to watch because we really are powerless.  I just think that the best chance the "consensus side" has is to "go with" the Red Team Blue Team approach (and do the best to ensure that it is as independent as possible) because in reality that is the best route for the next 3 years.  Who knows, if Trump "tones down" he could be here for another 7 years. 

    I sometimes wonder whether I should just "sign off" and see what happens over the next 5 years.  That has generally been my approach with the Arab/Israeli conflict.  It just goes on without resolution.  If after the conclusion of the Republican control of the White House (3-7 years?) global surface temperatures or the sea levels have risen dramatically then perhaps the American public will take note. 

    We are leaving our kids with a lot of problems (I am 71 and effectively retired). Although climate change is an issue there are, in my opinion, many more that could impact our next generation a way more dramatically.  Having a maniac in charge of North Korea seems to me much more existential than a possible 1-2 ft rise in sea levels by 2100.

    I am presently reading the Weisbach paper on EROI.  I think we have pretty well exhausted our discussion on this topic.

    PS I am not proficient enough on my computer to properly access the German alphabet to properly spell his name. 

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Sloganeering snipped.  No.Further.Warnings.

  9. NorrisM @58,

    "...to properly spell his name" you could simply replace the 'ß' with 'ss' which is what the 'ß' represents (although its origin was as a shorthand for 'sz')

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  10. I suspect a lot of people are still looking at science using politics as a guideline. Like we need to reach some compromise of sorts. So if we have one side arguing that the earth is flat, and the other shperical... let's all just agree that it's really a cube.

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  11. SDK @60, yeah good points.

    From what I have read we use world views, instincts and politics as a lens to simplify complex issues. This can be very troublesome no matter how tempting it is.

    In fact we just have to set politics aside, and not apply it with science. The science is telling us some things, even if some people dont like what it says.

    World view has more application to how we fix the problem and what we do with carbon taxes and renewable energy. I would argue we need to be careful we are not unfairly dumping a huge problem on future generations, but I admit this is a value judgement. But it needs a global debate about sustainable management goals. Clearly some people dont buy into the idea of sustainablity and fairness.

    Another thing going on. I think a lot of people look at the IPCC reports and the climate sceptics and conclude temperatures and sea level rise will probably be in the middle and no big issue, but they fail to realise the IPCC reports are quite conservative reports, understated especially on potential sea level rise, so peoples whole perception is flawed.

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  12. Basically, Congress already has a red/blue team debate and has had for years.  The blue team invites the most experienced and knowledgeable climate scientists, while the red team invites only AGW skeptics, some of which have no science background at all.  Its called the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

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  13. Here is an op-ed by Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who was the E.P.A. administrator from 2001 to 2003 (appointed by George W. Bush)  and the governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001.

    How Not to Run the E.P.A.

    Some relevant snippets:

    "[,,,] On the other side is a tiny minority of contrarians who publish very little by comparison, are rarely cited in the scientific literature and are often funded by fossil fuel interests, and whose books are published, most often, by special interest groups. That Mr. Pruitt seeks to use the power of the E.P.A. to elevate those who have already lost the argument is shameful, and the only outcome will be that the public will know less about the science of climate change than before.

    The red-team idea is a waste of the government’s time, energy and resources, and a slap in the face to fiscal responsibility and responsible governance. Sending scientists on a wild-goose chase so that Mr. Pruitt, Rick Perry, the energy secretary, who has endorsed this approach, and President Trump can avoid acknowledging and acting on the reality of climate change is simply unjustifiable. And truly, it ignores and distracts from the real imperative: developing solutions that create good jobs, grow our economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.[...]"

    and the final paragraph:

    "If this project goes forward, it should be treated for what it is: a shameful attempt to confuse the public into accepting the false premise that there is no need to regulate fossil fuels."

    Really says it all!

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  14. I think that a valid Red/Blue Team debate would be regarding:

    "The acceptability of a portion of current day humanity that is already quite fortunate pushing to continue to personally benefit more from the undeniably unsustainable and damaging burning of fossil fuels, an activity that creates costs and challenges and reduced opportunity for Others especially Future Generations"

    In fact, the debate could be generalized to more than just the climate change impacts. It could be debating:

    "The acceptability of a portion of current day humanity that is already quite fortunate pushing to continue to personally benefit more from any unsustainable and damaging activity"

    With Unsustainable including any activity that produces accumulating negative impacts on the planet's living life sustaining environment like "too rapidly harvesting any renewable resource" or any accumulating impacts, impacts made at rates faster than the environment can neutralize them.

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  15. Well, folks, looks like we are indeed going to have a Red Team Blue Team event!  And guess who is going to head it?

    Here is the following from a July 22, 2017 statement from Science Magazine:

    "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is considering a former official in President Barack Obama’s Energy Department to lead the agency's debate on mainstream climate science, according to a former leader of the Trump administration's EPA transition effort.
    Steve Koonin, a physicist and director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, is being eyed to lead EPA's "red team, blue team" review of climate science, said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Trump transition leader."

    Just happened to see this when I googled "Steve Koonin Climate Change" for another purpose.

    It will be interesting!

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  16. Yes, an interesting waste of taxpayers' money.

    Arranged by people who are hostile to the taxpayers' interests.

    Titanic . . . deck chairs . . . etc.

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  17. I doubt that it will be of any interest. It's going to be another useless pseudo debate of the TV type in which the better show person comes across as more convincing, regardless of the substance they present. Not to mention the audience will likely be far from having the ability to sort through all the stuff flung around, a lot of it will inevitably be long debunked nonsense. The only reason the instigators of this BS are going through with it is because they are reasonably sure that it will give them an edge toward continuing business as usual. Well thought out, carefully reasoned thoughts do not lok and sound good on TV. 

    The only real debate that is worth paying attention to has been going for years, it is conducted by the people who really know what they're talking about and it happens in the scientific litterature. That's where it's at. There is no stupid colored team there, only experts trying to better understand the physical world.

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