Judith Curry Ignites a Firestorm

Judith Curry, a Professor at Georgia Tech University, has been almost the sole climate scientist reaching out to the sceptics. Some time ago she invited Steve McIntyre to GTU to present his views, a decision that brought the ire of the ‘climate scientists’ down on her head.

Today she posted the second of her essays on the climategate issue at several blogs. Most interesting is the posting at WUWT that has attracted 530 comments at my last check. (“on the credibility of climate research part ii towards rebuilding trust.” thread)

She has certainly opened up a very interesting discussion. Some of the posts are outstanding (in my view) and the general tone is both informed, but somewhat critical of Judith’s stance, which is seen as a apologia for the ‘climate scientists’. The most damaging comments note that Judith was, along with all of the other ‘climate scientists’, silent when the various ‘problems’ with the science emerged over the past few years, largely as a result of Steve McIntyre’s efforts, and other skeptical bloggers.

The issues are intriguing indeed. However, our primary concern relates to censorship and moderation at climate blogs. Judith herself makes some comments, and there are further observations within the comments to that thread.


Steve McIntyre started the blog climateaudit.org so that he could defend himself against claims being made at the blog realclimate.org with regards to his critique of the “hockey stick” since he was unable to post his comments there. Climateaudit has focused on auditing topics related to the paleoclimate reconstructions over the past millennia (in particular the so called “hockey stick”) and also the software being used by climate researchers to fix data problems due to poor quality surface weather stations in the historical climate data record.

McIntyre’s “auditing” became very popular not only with the skeptics, but also with the progressive “open source” community, and there are now a number of such blogs. The blog with the largest public audience is wattsupwiththat.com, led by weatherman Anthony Watts, with over 2 million unique visitors each month.


And finally, the blogosphere can be a very powerful tool for increasing the credibility of climate research. “Dueling blogs” (e.g. climateprogress.org versus wattsupwiththat.com and realclimate.org versus climateaudit.org) can actually enhance public trust in the science as they see both sides of the arguments being discussed. Debating science with skeptics should be the spice of academic life, but many climate researchers lost this somehow by mistakenly thinking that skeptical arguments would diminish the public trust in the message coming from the climate research establishment. Such debate is alive and well in the blogosphere, but few mainstream climate researchers participate in the blogospheric debate. The climate researchers at realclimate.org were the pioneers in this, and other academic climate researchers hosting blogs include Roy Spencer, Roger Pielke Sr and Jr, Richard Rood, and Andrew Dessler. The blogs that are most effective are those that allow comments from both sides of the debate (many blogs are heavily moderated). While the blogosphere has a “wild west” aspect to it, I have certainly learned a lot by participating in the blogospheric debate including how to sharpen my thinking and improve the rhetoric of my arguments. Additional scientific voices entering the public debate particularly in the blogosphere would help in the broader communication efforts and in rebuilding trust. And we need to acknowledge the emerging auditing and open source movements in the in the internet-enabled world, and put them to productive use. The openness and democratization of knowledge enabled by the internet can be a tremendous tool for building public understanding of climate science and also trust in climate research.

As well as Judith’s comments, there are some interesting observations about RC and their censorship in the comments. Here are some examples:

Dave Eaton (7.54:39 on 24th February) said:

I have been watching the debate for several years, at RealClimate, ClimateAudit, and here, mainly, with stops all over. The level of discourse is low much of the time, but to the credit of those on the auditing side, the moderators/owners of the blogs seem to be even handed, even when a bit cranky. I cannot say the same for RCs moderators, who are censorious and testy beyond what is necessary to preserve the integrity of their presentation. Nevertheless, I find most of the best on both sides very useful.

Willis Eschenbach put up an impassioned post that is well worth reading. 12.50:30 on 24th February. Re RC he says: Willis Eschenbach at WUWT 13.50:30 24th Feb 2010. Extract

Ask every climate scientist to grow a pair of huevos and get outraged in public about the abysmal practices of far, far too many mainstream climate scientists. Because the public is assuredly outraged, and you are all assuredly silent … and that is extremely damaging to you.

A perfect example is you saying above: “Such debate is alive and well in the blogosphere, but few mainstream climate researchers participate in the blogospheric debate. The climate researchers at realclimate.org were the pioneers in this …”

For you to say this without also expressing grave concern about realclimate’s ruthless censorship of every opposing view is more of the same conspiracy of silence. Debate is not “alive and well” at realclimate as you say, that’s a crock. Realclimate continues to have an undeserved reputation that it is a scientific blog because you and other mainstream climate scientists are unwilling to bust them for their egregious flouting of scientific norms. When you stay silent about censorship like that, Judith, people will not trust you, nor should they. You have shown by your actions that you are perfectly OK with censoring opposing scientific views.

Ron House weighs in at 20.03:00 on 24th February.

And you say realclimate participated – even led – the “DEBATE”??!! Try posting skeptical material there; you yourself admit Steve McIntyre couldn’t do so. So stop granting credibility to an advocacy site. Sorry, you need to do a whole lot more in changing your own thinking if you want to be part of any kind of reconciliation.

All in all, more evidence relating to RC’s moderation policies. Further, some observations that their stance has actually been counterproductive for them. Oh well!


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