|Post-Climategate: debating the end of tribalism|
From an article in the New Scientist by Fred Pearce, written in Sept 2009:
One of the world’s top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter one or even two decades during which temperatures cool. “I am not one of the sceptics,” insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. “However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it.”
As usually, Judith Curry sums up the discussions surrounding this statement, pre- and post- Climategate, and provides some interesting links. But her main focus is on the term nasty. She writes:
Things changed somehow after Climategate. The reconciliation meeting in Lisbon maybe was of help, too. And Judith Curry's flashback also sheds some light on the role of the blogosphere:
- Asking questions is at the heart of the scientific method, and science has been characterized as ‘organized scepticism.’
- The questions are referred to as ‘nasty’, since presumably they are inconvenient for the audience (the UN).
- Not wanting to be identified as a ‘sceptic,’ in spite of the fact that the perspective that he presents is consistent with with what many sceptics say.
- There is a ‘we’ versus ‘other people’ , in terms of who is acceptable in terms of asking questions. If this doesn’t define climate tribalism, I don’t know what does.
Latif’s comments were made prior to Climategate. I think that Climategate was a watershed event for climate science in the sense that the UN tribe of climate scientists started to realize that ‘other people’ were important in the public debate about climate change. And that some of the questions being asked were important questions. Some climate scientists are starting to engage with ‘other people’ in the blogosphere.
For sure, Klimazwiebel "engages with other people"; and the Süddeutsche Zeitung a few days ago quoted her as an authority concerning the relation between the melting of the arctic ice and climate change: "Für Judith Curry vom Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, die sich als Klimaforscherin um differenzierte Erklärungen ohne alarmistische Töne bemüht, liegt der Anteil der Treibhausgase bei 50 Prozent." (For Judith Curry, a climate scientist known to provide detailed explanations without alarmism, greenhouse gases contribute about 50%). This sounds pretty different from labeling her as a denier or skeptic, as it happened to her many times before.
Maybe post-Climategate, tribalism in the climate debate has lost some of its power, and skepticism is re-gaining its meaning as a scientific virtue. If so, both Mojib Latif and Judith Curry contributed to this development; one in being courageous enough to make such a non-alarmist statement (as a member of the "UN tribe"!); and the other for analyzing tribalism and giving credibility to skepticism. Maybe it's too early to state that the climate wars are over; but there are indeed signs that the science-based climate debate is on its way back to the status of "organized skepticism".