Judith Curry’s Testimony: Where There’s Smoke…

January 20, 2014

The practice of marching out credentialed spokespeople to front for a destructive, rapacious industry is time honored, having been perfected by the Tobacco industry in past decades – as the nauseating video above reminds us.

These clips came to mind as I was reviewing recent hearings before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  I posted Dr. Andrew Dessler’s testimony in support of the scientific community last week.

Congressional Climate deniers have, in recent years, presented classics major “Lord” Monckton as their “expert” witness, so those of us that follow such things are always eager to see who will debase themselves by following in His Sublime Excellency’s exalted footsteps.

The selection of Dr. Judith Curry as tool of choice was not a huge surprise. Deniers will claim that Dr. Curry has some kind of status or respect from her peers, or that her views carry weight, or that she presents science in the spirit of inquiry and dialogue.

The video below, however, (posted by denialist “Steve Goddard”) of Dr. Curry receiving an award from a table full of the anti-science activists should speak volumes as to who she is, and how she views her own work – “dumpster diving”, as her new Tee shirt depicts.

Ok, I’ll start.
One of Dr. Curry’s early talking points is that “Increasing Antarctic sea ice extent” somehow weakens the science of global climate change.
You’re never surprised to hear this kind of thing from Marc Morano on Fox & Friends, but to see someone who should know better try to throw that against the wall is jarring, and revealing.
It’s a bald faced cut and paste of a popular, and not-too-bright – climate denial meme, that I took apart in a video some time ago – by interviewing specialists in the field who know well what Antarctic ice is doing, as well as what it means.

Rabbett Run adds:

..Prof. Curry really does not believe that increasing Antarctic sea ice extent casts any doubt of the AR5’s conclusions because she knows why the sea ice in Antarctica has been increasing (or perhaps not increasing as much, that may be another interesting tale of whom do you believe, theory or observation, as a recent preprint casts doubt on the magnitude).  In a 2010 PNAS paper, Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice Prof. Curry’s abstract reads:

The observed sea surface temperature in the Southern Ocean shows a substantial warming trend for the second half of the 20th century. Associated with the warming, there has been an enhanced atmospheric hydrological cycle in the Southern Ocean that results in an increase of the Antarctic sea ice for the past three decades through the reduced upward ocean heat transport and increased snowfall. The simulated sea surface temperature variability from two global coupled climate models for the second half of the 20th century is dominated by natural internal variability associated with the Antarctic Oscillation, suggesting that the models’ internal variability is too strongleading to a response to anthropogenic forcing that is too weak. With increased loading of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere through the 21st century, the models show an accelerated warming in the Southern Ocean, and indicate that anthropogenic forcing exceeds natural internal variability. The increased heating from below (ocean) and above (atmosphere) and increased liquid precipitation associated with the enhanced hydrological cycle results in a projected decline of the Antarctic sea ice.(emphasis added)

More below.


A key distinction in the two senate hearings was that Andrew Dessler focused on what we know, whereas Judith Curry focused on what we don’t know (though “AndThenTheresPhysics” made a good point that Curry goes far beyond that, by e.g. proclaiming confidence in certain benign outcomes (e.g. regarding sensitivity) while claiming ignorance in areas where we have a half-decent, if incomplete, understanding, e.g. regarding the hiatus). I have argued before that emphasizing (let alone exaggerating) uncertainties is not the road to increase people’s understanding of the issue, where what we do know is much more important to convey (if your goal is to increase the public understanding of scientific knowledge). Alongside that I argue that much more attention is needed to explain the nature of science, which is needed to e.g. place scientific uncertainties in a proper context.


Herman Daly said it as follows, in a quote I’ve used regularly over the past few years:

If you jump out of an airplane you need a crude parachute more than an accurate altimeter.


Judith starts off by signalling her intent with the following – all excerpts are from the first page of her testimony:

I am increasingly concerned that both the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified…

…My testimony focuses on the following issues of central relevance to the President’s Climate Change Program:

  • Evidence reported by the IPCC AR5 weakens the case for human factors dominating climate change in the 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • Climate change in the U.S. and the importance of natural variability on understanding the causes of extreme events
  • Sound science to manage climate impacts requires improved understanding of natural climate variability and its impact on extreme weather events

Right from the beginning you can tell that Judith is about to launch an attack on the science and sidestep the action plan itself.  She’s also going to misrepresent the science. For example, Judith’s first dot point is wrong, plain and simple. As each major IPCC report is published, the evidence that it’s human factors which dominate climate change emerge more strongly.

I’m not about to rebut every one of Judith’s denialist talking points. Most of them were just her misrepresentation of one or other IPCC report or highlighting some detail or other that is still the subject of research.  Her testimony had little or nothing to do with the topic of the hearing.  She appeared to be using the hearing to preach from the pulpit to her denier fans. However I will highlight a couple of points she made.
The first is that her whole argument seems to be a giant straw man.  The climate action plan is about action.  It has only a few paragraphs on the rationale in a section headed The Case for Action on pages 4 and 5.  Instead of referring to the rationale for action as set out in the action plan, Judith refers to a speech made by the President:

The premise of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is that there is an overwhelming judgment of science that anthropogenic global warming is already producing devastating impacts, which is summarized by this statement from the President’s Second Inaugural Address:

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

And then she goes into a long spiel about how the science is not settled.  It’s all uncertain. Her mostly unstated message is that the government should sit on its hands until every last bit of climate science is known, packaged and gift-wrapped with a pretty bow and passes the scrutiny of science deniers like herself. Fortunately governments don’t wait for 100% + certainty on any other matter before them or there would never have been a single policy initiative made by any government ever.  Unfortunately they do give science deniers like herself a platform.


77 Responses to “Judith Curry’s Testimony: Where There’s Smoke…”

  1. Dan Staley Says:

    Curry is this generation’s Sallie Baliunas, complete with dining on the Heritage Victory Tour.

  2. They had to do something. Spencer had to recant and say satellites show warming, Michaels admitted FF funding, Singer is Tobacco, Lenzen is retired, Muller Best study showed warming… Somebody noticed Monckton isn’t a scientist or a lord… I mean who’s left? There just aren’t that many left with a shred of credibility. And what’s left for them to do? Deny the science and flush their careers? No. The era of Baliunas and whathisname is over. Scientist deniers are left having to admit warming, but weasel something else into the conversation. The best they can muster is, yeah , but we don’t know everything. No kidding? As Elon Musk says, if there is a 5% chance that doing something is going to have dire consequences, should we ignore it? I know the mantra. But it costs too much. How much does the damage cost? Deniers are not interested. To them, insurance cos like Munich RE don’t know anything about disasters. They know better. Everyone has an opinion. That does not make it valuable, useful, valid, or connected with the real world. An insurance company must have all of those or face bankruptcy. All opinions are not equal to them. Neither are all opinions equal to us or our children, who face the consequences of our decisions.

  3. fortranprog Says:

    I have been reading through the posts on this topic, and we all have to make up our own minds on the value of Ms Curry’s perceptions. I find an interesting article on her in Nature that gives some insights/clues to her change of opinions (around 2005) after publishing a co-authored paper on global warming and increasing intensity of tropical cyclones .


    I would like to think that she just has some very strong anti-conformity traits in her personality (as I do), but I cannot understand how she can recommend such sites as Wattupwiththat (which in my opinion clearly distorts and cherry picks the truth and has an agenda to obfuscate) as she does in this interview.


    And she contributes and aligns with the NIPCC (a dreadful Heartland affiliated institution) … as well as David Rose of the Mail – a sower of the seed of doubt on climate change and a questionable history on Iraq . So definitely a big thumbs down from me when all things considered. I must give up my fascination with climate etc. it is addling my brain.

  4. […] deniers get to hear from a favorite witness, Prof. Judith Curry, who, as Peter Sinclair noted in an excellent debunking, brings to mind “The practice of marching out credentialed spokespeople to front for a […]

  5. andrewfez Says:

    Pretty funny word play happening over at ThinkProgress:

    Just six years ago, Curry took on confusionist Bjorn Lomborg in a Washington Post op-ed, criticizing him for downplaying the risks of inaction. She concluded, “I have yet to see any option that is worse than ignoring the risk of global warming and doing nothing.”

    Now Curry has herself become a Bjorn-again confusionist, actually arguing against her own research (!) on Antarctica to make her case that there is too much uncertainty to act. Now she concludes, “attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile.”


  6. Dennis Miller used to be a comedian. He found his career foundering. Then he came up with the bright idea of being a conservative comedian. He found an audience.

    Judith Curry the Dennis Miller of climate science. By being a contrarian she’s getting attention she would not be getting if she accepted the consensus. Not good enough at what she does to be a star otherwise.


    • greenman3610 Says:

      certainly true of Miller. Spectacularly pretentious, mean spirited guy, and not funny. Perfect for the conservative audience. Their very own pet SNL guy.
      If not for conservative radio, he’d be selling real estate.

  7. […] posted this past week on Judith Curry’s somewhat flawed testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works […]

  8. Glenn Klotz Says:

    You can sum up Judy’s pt. of view as this. Nobody has a crystal ball so there’s a chance everyone else is wrong and I’m right. So, given my .00001 % chance of being right is more important then everyone else and yes sometimes the consensus turns out to be wrong lets DO NOTHING. I won’t care anyway because I’ll be long dead if I’m wrong and in the mean time all my right wing friends will love me.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: