Hey, Let’s Try Public Debate and Open Inquiry


Readers may have noticed that I’m clearing out some built-up links from the Wall Street Journal, and I apologize for those unable to access full articles.  Nonetheless, the concepts are worth having floating around in your mind, even absent a subscription, so allow me to pass along theoretical physicist Steven Koonin’s suggestion for how the science world could improve climate science and public attitudes toward it:

Summaries of scientific assessments meant to inform decision makers, such as the United Nations’ Summary for Policymakers, largely fail to capture this vibrant and developing science. Consensus statements necessarily conceal judgment calls and debates and so feed the “settled,” “hoax” and “don’t know” memes that plague the political dialogue around climate change. We scientists must better portray not only our certainties but also our uncertainties, and even things we may never know. Not doing so is an advisory malpractice that usurps society’s right to make choices fully informed by risk, economics and values. Moving from oracular consensus statements to an open adversarial process would shine much-needed light on the scientific debates.

Given the importance of climate projections to policy, it is remarkable that they have not been subject to a Red Team exercise. Here’s how it might work: The focus would be a published scientific report meant to inform policy such as the U.N.’s Summary for Policymakers or the U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment. A Red Team of scientists would write a critique of that document and a Blue Team would rebut that critique. Further exchanges of documents would ensue to the point of diminishing returns. A commission would coordinate and moderate the process and then hold hearings to highlight points of agreement and disagreement, as well as steps that might resolve the latter. The process would unfold in full public view: the initial report, the exchanged documents and the hearings.

I was just thinking, while reading comments to my post on the “March for Science,” that it will be nice when the alarmists are able to start shifting their emphasis from what they project for the future to what they can show for the past (if they ever are).  Apart from that, though, it’s always a warning sign when an apparently organized movement insists that there’s no time, the consensus is overwhelming, those who still need convincing are “deniers” who should be shut out of debate, and the only solution is to shuffle more money to the researchers and their ideological allies.

Seems to me the alarmism approach isn’t gaining large numbers of converts.  Maybe the best way forward to save the planet is therefore to step back a little and begin with a new approach to putting the subject before the public.

  • BasicCaruso

    Yes, how “nice” it will be… well, assuming you’re on high ground.

    Coastal Flooding in 2100

    Of course it’s not as if they’re aren’t studies of the current effects. They’re out there for anyone interested in reading them…


    Now, a group of scientists have extended this field of research to a global scale. In a new study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they’ve analyzed the influence of global warming on extreme climate events, such as record-breaking temperatures or rainfall, all over the world. And they’ve found that climate change has had a substantial effect.

    The study suggests that anthropogenic global warming, as it has advanced, has had a significant hand in the temperatures seen during the hottest month and on the hottest day on record throughout much of the world. It finds that climate change substantially increased the likelihood of these record warm events occurring in the first place, and also made them more severe than they otherwise would have been, in more than 80 percent of the observed world.

    “This suggests that the world isn’t yet at a place where every single record-setting hot event has a human fingerprint, but we are getting close to that point,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University and lead author of the new paper. “Greater than 80 percent of those record hot events is a substantial fraction.”

  • Mike678

    Right on cue… Russ–repetition doesn’t replace logic and facts.

    • BasicCaruso

      Hey, read it. Don’t read it. Fine with me. I realize some won’t ever change their mind no matter how much research occurs. Eventually conservatives will care because continued inaction will be expensive.

      “R.I. sewage plants threatened by rising tide of climate change”

      For many plants on the coast, if up to 5 feet of sea-level rise is factored in, a storm surge would breach current protection measures and potentially reach vital equipment. Inland facilities would face a similar scenario if floodwaters reach 2 or 3 feet higher than current planning levels in the event of a bad rainstorm.

      Bill Patenaude, who directed the study for the DEM, said that as far back as the 1990s officials at the agency started noticing a higher frequency of heavier downpours that were overtaxing treatment plants.

      “Of course, climate change was the answer,” Patenaude, principal engineer in the Office of Water Resources, said on Friday. “That was what we were seeing.”

      • Mike678

        Oh, I read it. It was a joke. It has so many caveats “should/could/might and so forth) that it became meaningless. If this is “research” then you fit the profile in the attached….

        • BasicCaruso

          What’s funny is you link to an article that mentions the problem of overstating scientific certainty while at the same time commenting that there are too many caveats in real scientific findings.

          • Mike678

            Glad you enjoyed it. What I find less funny, and somewhat pathetic, is your certainty that what you post is “real.”

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Al Gore Group Demands $15 Trillion To Fight ‘Warming’…
    Doesn’t this tell you something? There is money in it.

    • Mike678

      Spot on. I see Al is making another movie…perhaps this one will be more factual so his new predictions might prove true. I’m not holding my breath…

    • BasicCaruso

      A little closer to home, doing nothing means you’ll likely pay much more to ensure energy companies continue to pay a less. The irony is that conservatives take quite an unconservative position on this, huge longer term risks for small short term benefits.

      “This means that climate change adaptation is going to be more expensive than we thought. And so mitigation efforts become more valuable—more worthwhile—because they can prevent these costs,” said Hausman. “Our findings should inform the cost-benefit calculations of climate change policy.”

      I think of it similarly to Pascal’s Wager. If the majority of scientists are wrong, we gain a small amount of benefit in lower energy costs, cost of goods, etc. by continued inaction, but if the contrarians are wrong we risk massive long-term costs, wars, natural disasters. It’s not alarmism. It’s realism and simple pragmatism.

  • Honesty Broker

    “it will be nice when the alarmists are able to start shifting their emphasis from what they project for the future to what they can show for the past (if they ever are). ”

    What do you mean by this?

    • Justin Katz

      Just that it seems we’re always getting dire projections, but evidence from what’s actually happened is non-existent or questionable.

      • Honesty Broker

        Seems like most of the “questioning” comes from think-tanks, etc. that are funded by fossil-fuel industry. Not unlike the tobacco industry sewing doubt about facts regarding smoking and health.

      • Honesty Broker

        Besides climate change, what other sciences do you not believe in?

      • Honesty Broker

        I do realize that you say “it seems”, but you are also rather adamant in your position. I have to ask what dire projections seem to have not happened or seem to be questionable?

    • Mike678

      Great screen name. It will be interesting to see if it is merited.

      • Honesty Broker

        hey thanks – but my screen name is not about me….

  • BasicCaruso

    “The irony is that conservatives take quite an unconservative position on this, huge longer term risks for small short term benefits.”

    I stumbled on an interesting take on that point…

    In our business, talking to Republican and conservative elites, talking about the science in a dispassionate, reasonable, non-screedy, calm, careful way is powerful, because a lot of these people have no idea that a lot of the things they’re trafficking in are either the sheerest nonsense or utterly disingenuous.

    I also make the conservative case for climate change. We don’t call people conservative when they put all their chips on one number of a roulette wheel. That’s not conservative. It’s pretty frigging crazy. It’s dangerous, risky. Conservatives think this way about foreign policy. We know that if North Korea has a nuclear weapon, they’re probably not going to use it. But we don’t act as if that’s a certainty. We hedge our bets. Climate change is like that. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Given that fact, shouldn’t we hedge?

    — Jerry Taylor, former staff director for the energy and environment task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and former vice president of the Cato Institute

  • BasicCaruso

    Meanwhile, another study of the current effects. What would a conservative response be to that type of risk?

    A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water — an important measure of ocean health — has been declining for more than 20 years.

    Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology looked at a historic dataset of ocean information stretching back more than 50 years and searched for long term trends and patterns. They found that oxygen levels started dropping in the 1980s as ocean temperatures began to climb.

    “The oxygen in oceans has dynamic properties, and its concentration can change with natural climate variability,” said Taka Ito, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who led the research. “The important aspect of our result is that the rate of global oxygen loss appears to be exceeding the level of nature’s random variability”…

    “The trend of oxygen falling is about two to three times faster than what we predicted from the decrease of solubility associated with the ocean warming,” Ito said. “This is most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and melting of polar ice.”

    The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface — another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean stratification.

  • BasicCaruso

    More current effects. Interesting stuff. Farmers don’t need peer review to tell them the climate is impacting weather.

    Cranberries Can’t Hide From Climate Change

    As warmer winters and less predictable weather patterns become the norm, local cranberry growers are beginning to analyze what climate change means for this classic New England industry.

    “It’s changed a lot in thirty years,” said Stephen Ashley, a third-generation cranberry grower and owner of 18 acres of bogs at Puddingstone Farms in Freetown. “You’re irrigating a lot more. You’re frost-protecting a lot more. Now it’s harder, because the weather changes so much now.”