UnScientific American: In Lionizing Curry, a Lion Loses its Way

Tue, 2010-10-26 12:23Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

UnScientific American: In Lionizing Curry, a Lion Loses its Way

Update: Curry Responds to SciAm article - Link below

An unreasonably puffy Scientific American profile of the climate confusionist Judith Curry is sowing fresh outrage in the climate science community - and creating sincere concern that new management is inserting a political slant into one of the bastions of serious science journalism.

The Curry piece, like Curry’s own position on this issue, is just silly. It falls into a complex on-the-one-hand/on-the-other hand narrative, promoting climate science as so full of uncertainty - and so badly reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - that we could all reasonably throw up our hands in confusion.

At no point does the article appear to address actual science. Rather, it wallows in the politics that, on this issue especially, have infected the scientific conversation. It’s the kind of article that you might reasonably have expected in Newsweek.

That may be no surprise. SciAm’s new Executive Editor Fred Guterl is a Newsweek alumni with a history of promoting both Curry and climate confusion. (Joe Romm at Climate Progress has commented on his Newsweek work here and you can read for yourself the familiar looking Curry puffery in a Discover mag profile here).

Perhaps our paranoia was made worse by the Shell ad pop-ups that made reading the article on line even more irritating, but from the religious reference in the headline (“Climate Heretic: Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues”) to the oversimplifications in the article itself, there seemed a constant thread of promoting the two central denier themes: that climate change is somehow an article of faith and that a legitimate debate yet rages in the scientific community, damped down only by the (Andy Revkin’s favourite trope) “tribal” reaction among scientists.

Consider SciAm writer Michael Lemonick’s contention that there are “two competing story lines (about Curry), which are, on the surface at least, equally plausible.”

“The first paints Curry as a peacemaker—someone who might be able to restore some civility to the debate and edge the public toward meaningful action. The alternative version paints her as a dupe—someone whose well-meaning efforts have only poured fuel on the fire.”

Lemonick overlooks a third option: that she is a grossly irresponsible attention seeker who is willing, in the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck tradition, to say any damn thing to increase her profile.

Or a fourth option: that she is getting so generously stroked by the charmers in the denier community that she has found, in the Frederick Seitz tradition, that a post-science career can be very enjoyable for a senior and once-highly credible academic.

Think seriously about Lemonick’s framing of Curry as a “peacemaker.” People like Christopher Monckton, Pat Michaels and Marc Morano have no interest in whether the purported “debate” is civil. They just want to continue stirring the pot and bolstering their bank accounts. Senator James (“global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”) Inhofe shows no interest in making sense on this issue, much less peace. But he seems pretty taken by the notion of keeping the oil money flowing into Republican campaign coffers.

It is also laughable for Curry (or Lemonick) to suggest that the bitterness in the denial fest arises because scientists like Michael Mann have responded angrily when people, without a shred of evidence, have accused them of corruption. How else should a scientist respond when you, like Steve McIntyre, steal their emails, take their words out of context in an effort to discredit them - and wind up congratulated as a helpful skeptic, advancing the cause of science?

As Joe Romm at Climate Progress pointed out, the final sentence of the Sci-Am piece is, in fact, devastating self-criticism. Lemonick writes: 

“It is perhaps unreasonable to expect everyone to stop sniping at one another, but given the high stakes, it is crucial to focus on the science itself and not the noise.”

And he says this after having devoted an entire article not to science, but purely, unhelpfully and with what appears to be obvious political inclinations, to noise.

We all had expected so much more from a publication with the respected history of Scientific American.

(HT to Mike Mann and to Joe Romm, whose own excellent take on this and on SciAm’s ridiculous and unscientific poll can be found here.

And Michael Lemonick has tried to justify his efforts in a rationalization that you can find here. Any time a reporter has to write a 900-word explanation for why and how he wrote another piece, he should accost the guy in the mirror and acknowledge that one of the two of you isn’t being straight with the other.)

Update

Dr. Curry posts an entertaining if logically impenetrable response to the SciAm piece on her blog, Climate etc.

Her funniest line, repeated twice, is that she lacks “hubris” - all evidence to the contrary. Her most revealing slip of the tongue is her reference to “warmist blogs.” For a woman who insists that she is all about science, and about “personal and professional integrity,” she somehow buys into the climate denial framing of people who acknowledge the overwhelming strength of the science as a political or religious group. While no one has dismissed Curry as a “denier,” she has no problem asserting that those who honor the evidence are “warmists.” This should settle the question of whether she is a dupe or a peacemaker; this is not a woman bent on making peace.

Previous Comments

As the evidence for climate change mounts, nature is shouting loud for those not deaf, and the science we know becomes more strongly supported the deniers and fossil fuel lobbies cannot tackle that high ground without looking stupid, as Monckton has discovered.

It is no surprise that such entities will descend to the lowest level of gutter street fighting and go in well below the belt in order to try to muddy the waters enough thus delaying action so as to preserve their bottom lines that bit longer.

Let us not make any bones about it, these entities are engaged in nothing less than crimes against humanity.

I have on my desk right now my renewal for SciAm. I was thinking of re-newing. I am saddened to hear these comments about the Curry article. I can’t disagree because the truth is I have not yet read the article.

I just wanted to say that I am saddened to hear this about a magazine that I have enjoyed and respected for many years. I will read the article straight away with greater scutiny.

“Lemonick overlooks a third option: that she is a grossly irresponsible attention seeker who is willing, in the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck tradition, to say any damn thing to increase her profile.”

Hi Richard,
Having met Judith Curry in person and discussed climate science with her in both formal and informal settings I find your characterisation of her to be at odds with my own experience.

Additionally, the ‘open to the public’ lecture she gave at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon clearly laid out her logical arguments for her views. If you or anyone else disagree with what she says, then a substantive rebuttal actually addressing the points she raises would have more credibility than a unsubstantiated rhetoric which seems to all that has been written so far.

People from both sides of the debate are free to post on her blog too, so don’t be shy.

[x]

This is a guest post by Climate Nexus.

Judith Curry’s latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal touts her new study co-authored with Nic Lewis. The takeaway of the piece - that the need for emissions reductions is “less urgent” than policymakers assume – is not even supported by her own study, much...

read more