There’s an interesting profile on Roger Pielke Jr. and Sr. in Nature this week. As readers here are probably aware, both of them have blogs (Prometheus for Jr., Climate Science for Sr.) and both have contributed to the discussions on RealClimate. Readers will also be aware that the discussions have at times been heated, though have usually remained collegial. There have been a few times when the discussion may have seemed to be at cross-purposes, but overall the exchanges have been enlightening.
As it happens, I was interviewed for the article as well and was quoted in this passsage:
In the example of climate change, Pielke Jr says, many researchers have taken one of two sides: backing either mitigation policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, or adaptation policies to deal with climate change as it occurs. “One of the most important roles science can play is to invent new options and introduce them to decision-makers,” he says. “When scientists take sides, they are giving up that role.” He persistently challenges scientists who he thinks are acting as advocates for a particular position, including members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientists who run a blog called RealClimate.
“To be frank, that irritates the hell out of me,” says Gavin Schmidt, co-founder of the RealClimate site and a climate researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “What he considers to be advocacy, to me, that’s just interacting in the public realm.”
Lest anyone take offence, I should be clear that this refers to a longstanding discussion/disagreement that I have had with RP Jr. relating to whether the mere existence of RealClimate and its public outreach on the science of climate change is necessarily advocating for any particular policy. I have argued that it isn’t, but RP disagrees (see here, here and links therein).
Personally, I see our role (as scientists) to be providers of more context to scientific discussions (that are going on in the public domain regardless) and to be correctors of examples of bad scientific arguments used by others. This is not per se political (in anything other than the absolutely broadest sense) and it certainly isn’t partisan. We do not criticise only those who have policy agendas we might disagree with, but have criticised abuses of the science both by those who would like climate change to disappear as an issue and those who would exaggerate the threat or our level of scientific certainty. This can be a difficult tightrope to walk sometimes, but I think we have done a reasonable job.
I don’t doubt however, that there will be more discussion on these points in the future…