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Hans von Storch’s talk last Friday, titled “Hockey sticks and the sustainability of climate science,” was divided into two parts. The second part of the talk dealt with the politicization of climate science and the possibility of negative effects stemming from this, while the first half focused almost entirely on technical details related to climate reconstruction and the algorithms of Mann, Bradley, and Hughes (MBH) that led to the hockey stick. More than a few people in the audience had no more than a passing interest in climate modeling or climate reconstruction. Their presence, and the presence of a crowd large enough to be standing room only, was indicative of one of von Storch’s major points. This point can be paraphrased as, “The political stakes for climate science are quite high, and thus we must be assiduous in presenting our science accurately and truthfully in order to ensure the science’s credibility and long-term sustainability.” von Storch was able to point to the crowded room as evidence for the amount of controversy and emotional investment surrounding the debate on the hockey stick. This made it easier for him to support one of his major points; overselling scientific results can have large consequences for public perceptions of science.
I agree with von Storch’s statement that how we present science can be important. Both von Storch and Roger Pielke Jr. point out that the prominent use of the hockey stick by the IPCC was the impetus for it’s manifestation as a symbol, which opened the door for the current debate. However, I do think that von Storch’s fear that this is damaging to the enterprise of climate science may be overblown.