Archive for January, 2008

Climate Experts Debating the Role of Experts in Policy

January 31st, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In Spring, 1997 a group called Ozone Action issued a statement signed by six prominent scientists calling for action on climate change. The letter prompted an interesting public exchange among leading scientists about who has the authority and credentials to call for political action on issues involving science, and whether or not the IPCC is the sole legitimate voice. The exchange is worth reviewing and considering, and I’ve reproduced parts of it below..


Witanagemot Justice And Senator Inhofe’s Fancy List

January 30th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


Anyone interested in the intersection of science and politics has to be watching with some amusement and more than a little dismay at the spectacle of professional immolation that the climate science community has engaged in following the release of Senator James Inhofe’s list of 400+ climate skeptics.


Eugene Skolnikoff on The Honest Broker

January 29th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

It is really an honor to see MIT’s Eugene Skolnikoff review The Honest Broker in the January Review of Policy Research of the Policy Studies Organization. Professor Skolnikoff has been a leading scholar of science and technology policy for more than four decades. He served on the staff of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and as a consultant to President Carter, in addition to playing many other roles in the academic and applied communities.

He has these nice things to say about the book:


Two New Blogs to Check Out

January 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Like anyone needs a longer personal blogroll, but here are two that might be worth a look.

William Briggs is a statistician, a delightful writer, and provocatively skeptical about all sort of subjects in exactly the way that scientists should be skeptical. His new blog is extremely thoughtful. For example, he has a post up today titled, “Is climatology a pseudoscience?” and provides a nuanced, and yes, provocative answer.

A new group blog called Science Policy Development has just started up on the heels of the recent NAS Science and Technology Policy Graduate Student Forum. There is plenty of room in the blogosphere for more discussions of science policy and I am hopeful that this group maintains an active presence in science policy discussions.

Updated IPCC Forecasts vs. Observations

January 26th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

IPCC Verification w-RSS correction.png

Carl Mears from Remote Sensing Systems, Inc. was kind enough to email me to point out that the RSS data that I had shared with our readers a few weeks ago contained an error that RSS has since corrected. The summary figure above is re-plotted with the corrected data (RSS is the red curve). At the time I wrote:

Something fishy is going on. The IPCC and CCSP recently argued that the surface and satellite records are reconciled. This might be the case from the standpoint of long-term linear trends. But the data here suggest that there is some work left to do. The UAH and NASA curves are remarkably consistent. But RSS dramatically contradicts both. UKMET shows 2007 as the coolest year since 2001, whereas NASA has 2007 as the second warmest. In particular estimates for 2007 seem to diverge in unique ways. It’d be nice to see the scientific community explain all of this.

For those interested in the specifics, Carl explained in his email:

The error was simple — I made a small change in the code ~ 1 year ago that resulted in a ~0.1K decrease in the absolute value of AMSU TLTs, but neglected to reprocess data from 1998-2006, instead only using it for the new (Jan 2007 onward) data. Since the AMSU TLTs
are forced to match the MSU TLTs (on average) during the overlap period, this resulted in an apparent drop in TLT for 2007. Reprocessing the earlier AMSU data, thus lowering AMSU TLT by 0.1
from 1998-2006, resulted in small changes in the parameters that are added to the AMSU temperatures to make them match MSU temperatures, and thus the 2007 data is increased by ~0.1K. My colleagues at UAH (Christy and Spencer) were both very helpful in diagnosing the problem.

It is important to note that the RSS correction does not alter my earlier analysis of the IPCC predictions (made in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007) and various observations. Thanks again to Carl for alerting me to the error and giving me a chance to update the figures with the new information!

New Measures for Innovation

January 23rd, 2008

Posted by: admin

I posted before about the Advisory Committee on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century, an effort of the Department of Commerce to adjust the economic statistics to better reflect the nature of current innovation. The challenges of effective measurement (and the corresponding analyses) can be demonstrated by the lack of effective data on the services in the economy, and the limits of patent measures as an indicator of innovation.

As an unfortunate indicator of the perceived value of the project, the committee’s report was released this past Friday (a time guaranteed to get limited attention from the media). You can read the press release, as well as key quotes and facts, from the Committee’s homepage –

The project will continue through a series of workshops on the drivers of innovation. The Commerce Secretary committed to developing measures for innovation through the Bureau of Economic Analysis, with help from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and relevant Department of Commerce agencies. The plan is to develop an innovation account that would include measures of intellectual property and human capital that would help measure the impact of investments in innovation on productivity. They will encourage the National Science Foundation to continue its efforts to improve R&D measures connected to innovation. The first new account (the official parlance for a collection of measures in the economic indicators) is expected by January of next year. In the meantime, interested parties should check back with the website to learn about the workshops and other efforts of the committee.

The Authoritarianism of Experts

January 23rd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Have you ever heard anyone make the argument that we must take a certain course of action because the experts tell us we must? The issue might be the threat of another country or an environmental risk, but increasingly we see appeals to authority used as the basis for arguing for this or that action.

In a new book, David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith take the appeal to experts somewhat further and argue that in order to deal with climate change we need to replace liberal democracy with an authoritarianism of scientific expertise. They write in a recent op-ed:

Liberal democracy is sweet and addictive and indeed in the most extreme case, the USA, unbridled individual liberty overwhelms many of the collective needs of the citizens. . .

There must be open minds to look critically at liberal democracy. Reform must involve the adoption of structures to act quickly regardless of some perceived liberties. . .

We are going to have to look how authoritarian decisions based on consensus science can be implemented to contain greenhouse emissions.

On their book page they write:

[T]he authors conclude that an authoritarian form of government is necessary, but this will be governance by experts and not by those who seek power.

So whenever you hear (or invoke) an argument from expertise (i.e., “the experts tell us that we must …”) ask if we should listen to the experts in just this one case, or if we should turn over all decisions to experts. If just this one case, why this one and not others? If a general prescription, should we do away with democracy in favor of an authoritarianism of expertise?

I’m So Confused

January 20th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I received an email from our Chancellor, Bud Peterson, warning me and my CU colleagues of the perils of engaging in political advocacy activities as a university employee. Here is an excerpt:


Science Budget Trouble Is Becoming a Habit

January 18th, 2008

Posted by: admin

While I completely agree with Dan Sarewitz’s criticism that science policy is often reflexively treated as only science budget policy, sometimes you need to talk about the budget. Over the holidays, the Democratic-led Congress continued to demonstrate its strong leadership and forceful action by rolling over to the Administration’s insistence final budget numbers for Fiscal Year 2008 (finally approved nearly three months into the year). While of a kind with other failures of Congressional leadership, the casualties of this compromise include the authorized doubling of research accounts at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (was there no hue and cry in Boulder?).

This doubling was constructed as a key part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, the COMPETES Act passed by Congress last year, and the continuing perception of the physical sciences as the mistreated younger sibling jealous of the doubling of NIH in the 1990s (and blissfully ignorant of the older sibling’s hard fall to earth once the growth rate returned to earth). Details can be found in a few places, including the blog of my colleagues at the Computing Research Association, and the always thorough AAAS analysis.

This marks the second consecutive fiscal year where the proposed increases outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative were not fully funded (FY 2007 was funded at FY 2006 levels for nearly everything when both parties opted to not pass most of the appropriations bills). The doubling is off track, and I’m kind of surprised at the relative lack of outrage. Perhaps the timing has something to do with it (I was on vacation at the time, or I’d have posted earlier), or there may be a sense of resignation that while the House Science and Technology Committee is very supportive, there are plenty of other goals that crowd research funding out.

So, what to do?


Temperature Trends 1990-2007: Hansen, IPCC, Obs

January 18th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The figure below shows linear trends in temperature for Jim Hansen’s three 1988 scenarios (in shades of blue), for the IPCC predictions issued in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007 (in shades of green), and for four sets of observations (in shades of brown). I choose the period 1990-2007 because this is the period of overlap for all of the predictions (except IPCC 2007, which starts in 2000).

temp trends.png

Looking just at these measures of central tendency (i.e., no formal consideration of uncertainties) it seems clear that:

1. Trends in all of Hansen’s scenarios are above IPCC 1995, 2001, and 2007, as well as three of the four surface observations.

2. The outlier on surface observations, and the one consistent with Hansen’s Scenarios A and B is the NASA dataset overseen by Jim Hansen. Whatever the explanation for this, good scientific practice would have forecasting and data collection used to verify those forecasts conducted by completely separate groups.

3. Hansen’s Scenario A is very similar to IPCC 1990, which makes sense given their closeness in time, and assumptions of forcings at the time (i.e., thoughts on business-as-usual did not change much over that time).

The data for the Hansen scenarios was obtained at Climate Audit from the ongoing discussion there, and the IPCC and observational data is as described on this site over the past week or so in the forecast verification exercise that I have conducted. This is an ongoing exercise, as part of a conversation across the web, so if you have questions or comments, please share them, either here, or if our comment interface is driving you nuts (as it is with me), then comment over at Climate Audit where I’ll participate in the discussions.