Sunday, June 25, 2017

The unquotable Judith Curry

Judith Curry's Twitter avatar.
A reader tipped us to the fact that climate research expert Judith Curry has posted interview questions she received from PolitiFact's John Kruzel, along with her responses to those questions.

Kruzel solicited Curry's views in the context of fact-checking a statement about carbon dioxide's role in climate change. Kruzel's fact check lists his email interview of Curry in its source list, but the fact check does not quote, paraphrase or summarize Curry's views.

In accordance with its Creative Commons licensing, we present Curry's account of her PolitiFact interview, following the format she used at the blog she hosts, Climate Etc. (we added a bracketed explanation of the IPCC acronym):
On June 20, John Kruzel, the author of the Politifact article, sent me an email:

We’re looking into Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s recent claim that the main cause of climate change is most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.” We’ve asked the Department of Energy why Perry disagrees with the IPCC  [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] that human activity is the main cause of climate change; we’ve received no response so far.

I’d be grateful if you’d consider the following questions:

Questions from Politifact to JC, and JC’s responses:

Do you consider the IPCC the world’s leading authority on climate change and why?
The IPCC is driven by the interests of policy makers, and the IPCC’s conclusions represent a negotiated consensus.  I don’t regard the IPCC framework to be helpful for promoting free and open inquiry and debate about the science of climate change.
Do you agree with the IPCC that effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions “are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
It is possible that humans have been the dominant cause of the recent warming, but we don’t really know how to separate out human causes from natural variability.  The ‘extremely likely’ confidence level is wholly unjustified in my opinion.
How solid is the science behind the conclusion that human activity is the main cause of climate change?
Not very solid, in my opinion.  Until we have a better understanding of long term oscillations in the ocean and indirect solar effects, we can’t draw definitive conclusions about the causes of recent warming.
What is your response to Perry’s statement?
I don’t have a problem with Perry’s statement.  There is no reason for him to be set up as an arbiter of climate science.  He seems clearly committed to a clean environment and research to developing new energy technologies, which is  his job as Secretary of Energy.

JC question:  So what are we to conclude from PolitiFact’s failure to even mention or consider my responses, after explicitly asking for them?
We suggest it's safe to conclude Kruzel had his mind made up on this fact check before contacting his expert sources. Asking experts if they agree the IPCC is the leading authority on climate change qualifies as a classic leading question, and offers a strong indication that the IPCC's leading role in the story was central before Kruzel contacted Curry. The second question counts as another leading question, set up by the first leading question.

It looks like Kruzel was trying to lead the experts toward giving quotations to back what he had already decided to write.

Kruzel's third and fourth questions are fine. A serious fact check could have worked based on those questions alone, dropping the leading questions and Kruzel's/PolitiFact's confident proclamation regarding the IPCC (bold emphasis added):
The world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has concluded that human activity is "extremely likely" to be the main driver of warming since the mid 20th century.

While it’s still possible to find dissenters, scientists around the globe generally agree with this conclusion.
Kruzel might have added: "We actually found one such dissenter without even really trying!"  But since PolitiFact does not publish its email interviews (unlike one transparent fact checker we know of), there's no telling whether PolitiFact found more than one such dissenter in its small pool of expert sources.

Seriously, what is the basis in fact for calling the IPCC "the world's leading authority on climate change"? Such designations stem from popular or expert opinions, don't they? Objective reporting makes such distinctions clear. What Kruzel did was not objective reporting.

Correction June 28, 2017: Belatedly added a hyperlink to the PolitiFact fact check that cites Curry without quoting Curry


  1. Professor Judith Curry's comments are squarely on target. That is presumably why they were not quoted.

    The ignorant media do not want to acknowledge that there are a great number of scientists who now openly oppose the climate nonsense. We are united in our opposition to the prevailing stupidity and want the media to stop misrepresenting our opinions.

    Political organizations like the UN IPCC DO NOT SPEAK for the scientific community. We never granted them the right to speak for us and never will. But that has not stopped them from pretending that we have.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

  2. "Seriously, what is the basis in fact for calling the IPCC "the world's leading authority on climate change"? Such designations stem from popular or expert opinions, don't they? Objective reporting makes such distinctions clear. What Kruzel did was not objective reporting."

    Appeal to authority fallacy.

    1. That's what readers probably ought to conclude after considering the potential epistemological support for the claim.

      It's conceivable that a legitimate authority could make the call, for the appeal to authority is not necessarily fallacious.

      But it's not likely any such authority exists, and even less likely that PolitiFact's John Kruzel could name it.


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