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October 06, 2004

Scientists and the Politics of Global Warming


Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change

Let’s do an experiment …

Last week Von Storch et al. published a paper (registration required, PDF) in ScienceExpress that claimed that the so-called “hockey stick” temperature record of the past 1,000 years is flawed (for a popular summary of the “hockey stick” see this BBC story and for scientific details see the home page of Michael Mann. Yesterday in the New York Times Andy Revkin provided a nice summary of the new paper and its scientific significance.

Last year when a paper by Soon and Baliunas (PDF) was published in the journal Climate Research that criticized the so-called “hockey stick” record of global temperature trends, I commented in an article by David Appell in Scientific American, “You'd be challenged, I'd bet, to find someone who supports the Kyoto Protocol and also thinks that this paper is good science, or someone who thinks that the paper is bad science and is opposed to Kyoto."

(Aside: Von Storch resigned (Thanks to D. Appell for the link) as incoming editor of Climate Research over CR’s handling of the Soon/Baliunas paper, and was paraphrased saying of Soon/Baliunas “[Their conclusions] may be true, Von Storch said, but it is not supported by evidence cited in the paper.”)

And I wrote of the CR dust up in a recent paper (PDF) on the politicization of science by scientists, “… advocacy groups opposed to the Kyoto Protocol predictably hailed the [Soon/Baliunas] research as “sound science,” while advocacy groups in support of the Protocol called the paper “junk science”. In this case, more troubling than the “cherry picking” of scientific results by advocates is that many scientist’s evaluations of the scientific merit of the Climate Research paper correlated perfectly with their public expressions of support or opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. Acceptance of the paper’s conclusions was equated with opposition to Kyoto, and correspondingly, rejection of the paper’s findings was equated with support for Kyoto.”

Today one advocacy group funded by the fossil fuel industry and on record as being against emissions reductions states bluntly in a moment of candor their view why this putatively scientific debate matters: “Why are so many researchers concerned with reconstructing a thousand years of Earth's climate history? Some will argue it's actually a political debate; to the winner goes the spoils - passage of or withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol by governments worldwide.”

So, in this highly politicized atmosphere, given how many scientists spoke out in support of or against Mann et al.’s “hockey stick” it will be very interesting to see reactions among scientists to Von Storch’s new paper. (It won’t be so interesting to see how advocacy groups react, as it will be completely predictable.) Specifically, given the close connection of support or refutation of the earlier paper with explicit political agendas, scientists who were critical of Soon and Baliunas may be very hesitant to comment on Von Storch et al., except in a negative way. Conversely, we can expect howls of support from those scientists who supported Soon/Baliunas. So, this suggests a few hypotheses to test in our little experiment:

1. From scientists critical of Soon/Baliunas and supportive of Mann et al. (and for the most part supportive of Kyoto), expect very little in the way of public comment on Von Storch et al.

2. From scientists supportive of Soon/Baliunas and critical of Mann et al. (and for the most part opposed to Kyoto), expect to be hearing lots of reaction to Von Storch et al.

In other words, let’s see if the scientists behave just like the advocacy groups. If these hypotheses are anywhere close to reflecting what goes on, we’ll have some good evidence for how it is that politics influences that practice of climate science. Here at Prometheus we’ll be watching and will report back soon.

Posted on October 6, 2004 08:53 AM

Comments

It is my impression that the prediction

"1. From scientists critical of Soon/Baliunas and supportive of Mann et al. (and for the most part supportive of Kyoto), expect very little in the way of public comment on Von Storch et al.

2. From scientists supportive of Soon/Baliunas and critical of Mann et al. (and for the most part opposed to Kyoto), expect to be hearing lots of reaction to Von Storch et al."

is true - but the response of the 'skeptics' is also rather muted.

Posted by: hans von storch at November 20, 2004 10:07 AM


I would like to see a von Storch explain the von Storch paper. I have tried to figure it out a number of times, but it still sounds like he hit the pin ball machine too hard then shows surprise when it defaults into "tilt".

These guys can"t slam each other, as von Sorch has slammed the Mann bunch in the media, then grandly pad back into their labs behind closed doors. They will have to tell the rest of us what they are doing in a way we can understand.

It ain't Kansas Toto, and it ain't nice, but such is the age of the scientist showman. One can say, "Come on down, von Storch!"

Posted by: gculhane at November 22, 2004 01:47 AM


The problem is that the Von Storch paper doesn't say "Mann is wrong, the sceptics are right". It says "You're all wrong - and you always will be". This is a much harder message to swallow. If von Storch is right (as I understand it), then there is no way to reliably reconstruct past climate on a global scale.

Posted by: Tom Rees at November 24, 2004 04:57 AM




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