Judith Curry on How We Got into This Mess

I have previously referred to Dr. Judith Curry as a “rock star” of climate science. Her superb qualifications include IPCC authorship.

Today she has posted another essay on her web site explaining how we got into the global warming mess, i.e., the overselling of what we know about about the climate and its future state. I refer to the situation as a “mess” because so many in the media and politics approach the subject, about which there are huge uncertainties, with near-religious zeal.

While I strongly recommend reading the entire piece, here are some highlights…

Nevertheless, the policy cart was put before the scientific horse, justified by the precautionary principle.  Once the UNFCCC treaty was a done deal, the IPCC and its scientific conclusions were set on a track to become a self fulfilling prophecy. 
…at the heart of the IPCC is a cadre of scientists whose careers have been made by the IPCC.  These scientists have used the IPCC to jump the normal meritocracy process by which scientists achieve influence over the politics of science and policy.  Not only has this brought some relatively unknown, inexperienced  and possibly dubious people into positions of influence, but these people become vested in protecting the IPCC, which has become central to their own career and legitimizes playing power politics with their expertise.
When I refer to the IPCC dogma, it is the religious importance that the IPCC holds for this cadre of scientists; they will tolerate no dissent, and seek to trample and discredit anyone who challenges the IPCC…
Especially in the renascent subfields such as econology and public health, these publications and the media attention help steer money in the direction of these scientists, which buys them loyalty from their institutions, who appreciate the publicity and the dollars.

On two other occasions, I have posted an excerpt of President Eisenhower’s farewell address (the one where he warned of the “military-industrial complex”) that pertains to the global warming mess three decades before “global warning” entered the vernacular. In view of Judy’s comments above, Eisenhower’s warning rings especially true:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. 

Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.


Where do we go from here?

It is my hope that the next IPCC report is considerably more balanced than previous versions.

In the meantime, I wish to reiterate that global warming is hardly “settled science.” In July, I posted a piece on the “wisdom of inaction.” I stand by that advice.

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