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Pielke père et fils in Nature

Filed under: — gavin @ 29 March 2006

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…


64 Responses to “Pielke père et fils in Nature”

  1. 51
    Coby says:

    One side or the other has to overcome a credibility gap

    Sorry, Woody, as a member of a democracy this is your job, no one else’s.

    Just read here: http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/index.htm and come back with questions.

    (BTW, when you wanted to know why your kids needed braces, did you ask your financial advisor’s opinion?)

  2. 52
    Pat Neuman says:

    Here are a couple excerpts about Roger A. Pielke Sr. positions on global warming:

    2005 … “An article in Science Times last Tuesday about a climatologist’s resignation from a panel advising the Bush administration on temperature changes in the atmosphere misstated his position on global warming. The scientist, Roger A. Pielke Sr. of Colorado State University, says warming is caused mainly by human activities; he does not disagree with that widely held view. Where he differs with many scientists is on the amount of warming from the accumulation of gases like carbon dioxide, as opposed to other factors; on the reliability of temperature measurements on the earth’s surface; and on the value of computer projections that estimate future climate change.” …
    Correction: Panelist Who Dissents On Climate Change Quits. Aug. 2005
    http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0F1EFD3A5A0C708EDDA10894DD404482
    and: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClimateConcern/message/8940

    2002, The Royal Society article by R.A Pielke Sr. et. al. states … “Moreover, in regions of intensive human-caused land use change such as North America, Europe and southeast Asia, the local radiative-forcing change caused by surface albedo may actually be greater than that due to all the well-mixed anthropogenic greenhouse gases together (IPCC 2001).”
    http://blue.atmos.colostate.edu/publications/pdf/R-258.pdf

    In 2003 discussions I had with George Taylor, Oregon State Climatologist and others, I was not able to find out why IPCC 2001 was used to support the 2002 statement by Pielke et.al., above.

    Can anyone explain that for me now?

  3. 53
    Eli Rabett says:

    Ian K: IRCs or IRBs (Institutional Review Committees/Boards) work to ensure safety and compliance with radiation, biosafety, human, environmental and animal studies and other areas which have been specified by the granting agencies to require review. There are few climate (or even chemistry or physics) proposals that pass through an IRC. An example of one that would, would be proposals to study iron fertilization of the oceans by actually dumping iron into the oceans. OTOH, a modeling study of the same issue would not.

  4. 54
    Mark A. York says:

    All I can say is, wow. I feel like apologizing for starting this, but I did it to give an accurate illustration of the level of ignorance that exists. This is a guy with a huge house, and business in Atlanta. Unfortunately this is who we’ll have to convince. Is there a corrective brace for the human brain?

  5. 55
    Kirstin says:

    I would like to go back to Roger Pielke Jr´s statements at the beginning of this blog entry.
    RealClimate has been an invaluable resource to me. The authors are doing a great job and have helped me to understand more about the ongoing debate about climate change in the media. As there is a lot of misleading information about it is great to have such a direct and reliable source of information.
    As far as I understand, it has never been said that we don´t need adaptation to handle the climate change (at least not by the authors of this blog). But it is clear that adaptation alone will not suffice because of the climate change scenarios that we have to expect if we don´t cut down on greenhouse gas emissions (see #19. )I think we will have enough problems with a restricted climate change as it is. Adaption will definitely be necessary.
    On the other hand it sounds a bit cynical to me if people want to rely on adaptation alone to handle climate change (apart from the fact that it won´t be enough) because the poorer countries just won´t have the means and infrastructure to adapt very well. What about them?
    The scientific findings show us that we need mitigation and adaptation. If scientists express these conclusions, they are doing their job. I really don´t get Pielke Jr´s point at all. Does he want to say that scientists should only express conclusions which are agreable to all politicians and stop talking about the other ones? And if scientists have found that something which is disagreable to some politicians should be done, they should keep quiet and go on looking for other ways no matter how urgent the situation or how unlikely that they will find another way? That would seen irresponsible to me.
    The concept of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is certainly disagreable to some politicians. Nevertheless, scientists should talk about their findings, whether politicians enjoy them or not. That´s what scientists are there for.

  6. 56
    Woody says:

    Coby wrote in response to my comment, “One side or the other has to overcome a credibility gap.”: Sorry, Woody, as a member of a democracy this is your job, no one else’s.

    Coby, this makes no sense. If you’re saying that the scientists have given me the information and that it’s up to me to make the decision about how to use it (which I’m not sure that this is your meaning, but if it is….), then based upon what I’ve seen so far, I have to say go back to your labs and give me more facts rather than speculation before we dump tons of money into something that may result in little or no change to our Earth’s temperature.

    However, the scientists have made the politics their business by screaming that they gave us data and we’re not using it correctly. If their job was over by doing the research, then it is over and they need to be quiet. If they are not quiet and enter the political realm, then they need to be ready to be questioned and contradicted by people with other proof and views.

    Regarding my kids’ teeth and consulting a financial advisor, you can bet that considering finances is a factor in deciding whether or not to go ahead with treatment–just as finances are a factor in almost every decision. If I want a Ferrari, I better check my bank account first. (I just checked. I can’t afford it.)

    Neither can we afford to take money from schools and medical research to fund global warming “cures” without some idea that this is a better use of money that will give a greater return in benefits.

  7. 57
    Coby says:

    Woody, what I meant was when faced with conflicting viewpoints that affect your future, in a democracy it is everyone’s responsibility to figure out for themselves what they believe and what they want. You have already conceded that you are not familiar with the science that is already established, so it is premature for you to say “back to your labs”, you have not yet read the results so far.

    I understand that this is largely because the mainstream media long ago abdicated its responsibilities as a crucial institution for a functioning democracy, but that is where we are, and for people like you and me who can effectively use the internet it does not pose the barrier that it once did. All the information you need is easily available and all the meta-information you need to wisely choose who you want to trust (in the very limited instances where you must rely on trust) is similarily available.

    You should read at least the Summary for Policy Makers and the introductions to most of the chapters in the IPCC TAR. For a quick and dirty source of answers to many of the objections you have undoubtably come to believe, please see here.

    As for the braces-financial advisor analogy, you did not read what I wrote carefully. By all means look at your bank account and insurance policies when deciding what to do but I asked did you consult your financial advisor about why you may need to do something?

  8. 58
    Mark A. York says:

    “then they need to be ready to be questioned and contradicted by people with other proof and views.”

    And when the “other proof and views” are proven to be bogus they’ll just have to either accept reality or walk away in denial.

  9. 59
    Coby says:

    Woody, what I meant was when faced with conflicting viewpoints that affect your future, in a democracy it is everyone’s responsibility to figure out for themselves what they believe and what they want. You have already conceded that you are not familiar with the science that is already established, so it is premature for you to say “back to your labs”, you have not yet read the results so far.

    I understand that this is largely because the mainstream media long ago abdicated its responsibilities as a crucial institution for a functioning democracy, but that is where we are, and for people like you and me who can effectively use the internet it does not pose the barrier that it once did. All the information you need is easily available and all the meta-information you need to wisely choose who you want to trust (in the very limited instances where you must rely on trust) is similarily available.

    You should read at least the Summary for Policy Makers and the introductions to most of the chapters in the IPCC TAR. For a quick and dirty source of answers to many of the objections you have undoubtably come to believe, please see here.

    As for the braces-financial advisor analogy, you did not read what I wrote carefully. By all means look at your bank account and insurance policies when deciding what to do but I asked did you consult your financial advisor about why you may need to do something?

  10. 60
    Kirstin says:

    Hello Woody,
    the scientists can´t give you more than predictions of 2090 at the moment because we are still in 2006. Unfortunately, we haven´t got another earth on which we could run a test (and I suppose the people on that planet would protest). However, the predictions about climate change and conclusions about the ways of restricting it are not based on what you call “speculation”. They are based on solid research and bascic physics.
    I can´t really see why someone who – two days ago – hadn´t even read basic literature on climate change yet (see # 29,30,31) insists on insulting climate scientists by telling them that they falsify facts and results for purposes of gaining money (#31) or telling them that their research results and conclusions are speculation only (# 56) when they have been confirmed by every important scientific body. This behaviour seems strange, inadequate and out of place. Shouldn´t you be asking questions and get some basic background together?
    By the way, if a scientist wants to trade his conscience for a lot of money, he/she would be better of telling everyone that climate change is a minor matter that we needn´t be concerned about and can´t do anything about. I am sure some fossil fuel company or other would make them very rich as they are desperately looking for such people.

  11. 61
    Woody says:

    Kirsten, I have read plenty about global warming–just not the sources recently linked to me by another commenter. There are conflicting opinions by respected people. You may be smart enough to tell who is right and who is wrong, but I have to consider the degrees and qualifications of scientists on the other side from you. In the meantime, I’ll pursue my education on the subject; but, until I’m convinced, I will want to hold back on funding expensive speculative ventures.

  12. 62
    Chris Reed says:

    Re #19 Coby and Stefan,

    My phrasing in the last para was not ideal, apologies, I should have taken more care.

    Yes in principle mitigation ‘could’ work, obviously. One just has to consider what would happen by taking it to the limit of mitigation as a 100% reduction in human CO2.

    What I should have said is “I don’t think that the steps towards mitigation, that we can reasonably expect our species to take, will have any measurable impact.”

    Sorry for not getting back sooner, I’d forgotten I’d even posted!

  13. 63
    Juan Freire says:

    La politización de la ciencia: como se puede usar la ciencia como un caballo de Troya político
    Los científicos tienden (tendemos?) a situarse por encima del bien y del mal. Es fácil escuchar argumentos científicos que se plantean como absolutamente objetivos y nacidos de untrabajo totalmente aislado de necesidades y objetivos más terrenales….

  14. 64
    Cosmic Log says:

    Al Gore for science czar?…

    Paramount Pictures Classics

    Al Gore for science adviser? He has a great resume, but the job might call for something other than advocacy.

    As experts issue their latest assessment of global warming, and President Bush’s science adv…


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