Judith Curry Was For Me Before She Was Against Me

Read time: 5 mins

I first got to know Judith Curry—the Georgia Tech researcher who blogs at “Climate, Etc.,” and has been drawn into controversy for, in her words, “challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus”–when I was working on my second book, Storm World. I spent a fair amount of time with Curry, and with the other scientists profiled in the book—interviewing them in person, getting to understand their research. This is what science writers do.

At the time, Curry and her colleagues were just coming off a media feeding frenzy after having published papers linking hurricanes to global warming right in the middle of the devastating 2005 hurricane season.

When Storm World came out, it is no exaggeration to say that Curry gave it a rave review. I want to quote in full from her Five Star endorsement at Amazon.com, which is entitled “Science writing at its very best.” Bear with me, this will all become very relevant; and I've italicized a few important parts:

To provide a frame of reference for this review, I and my colleagues Peter Webster and Greg Holland are among the scientists that are featured prominently in Storm World. Our involvement in the issue of hurricanes and global warming began when we published an article in Science shortly before the landfall of Hurricane Rita, where we reported a doubling of the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes globally since 1970. When Chris Mooney first approached me with his idea for writing a book on this topic, I was somewhat skeptical. I couldn't see how this could be accomplished given the rapid changes in the science (I was worried the book would be outdated before it was published), the complexities of the technical aspects of the subject, a concern about how the individual scientists would be treated and portrayed, and a concern that the political aspects of the issue would be handled in a partisan way. Over the course of the past year and a half, it became apparent that Mooney was researching this issue extremely thoroughly and was developing a good grasp of both the history and technical aspects of the subject. Upon finally reading the book, I can only say Storm World has far exceeded any hope or expectation that I could have had for a book on this subject.

The book is surprisingly rich in technical detail, and Mooney has grasped the nuances of the breadth of scientific arguments and uncertainties. He provides a fascinating history with rich insights into the current controversy. The individual scientists are portrayed accurately as well as sympathetically and colorfully. The political aspects are treated in an insightful and nonpartisan manner. I am most impressed by the fresh insights provided by this book, which besides being a “good read,” Storm World is an important and timely contribution that deserves careful consideration in the dialogue and debate on hurricane policy in the U.S. Storm World is science journalism at its absolute best.

After Storm World came out, Curry also invited me to speak at Georgia Tech, where she works.

Given that I got to know Curry and greatly appreciated her support for my endeavors, I avoided criticizing her in subsequent years–even though we were increasingly on different “sides” of the highly polarized web battle over global warming. And for the most part, she didn’t really seem to criticize me either (or at least, not that I noticed).

So imagine my surprise when I came across this post at Curry’s blog, about my new book The Republican Brain. Unlike Storm World, Curry admits she has not read the book. Nevertheless, she cites a variety of critics—none of whom seem to have read the book, either–and uses labels like “neurotrash” and “neurobabbling” to describe what, she seems to think, I am up to.

In the process, Curry repeats a common but fundamental misunderstanding of the research on the psychological or biological underpinnings of ideology–suggesting that I’m claiming that “a defensive ideology is hardwired into [conservatives’] brain.” Nope. Wrong.

Continuing her misunderstanding of the subject matter, Curry posed a classic false choice:

Multiple choice test: Republicans are more skeptical than Democrats about climate change because:

a)  A defensive ideology is hardwired into their brain

b)  A growing distrust of scientific institutions because of the politicization of science

First, and to repeat, there is no “hardwiring.” That is not the “psychology of ideology” thesis. But there is such a thesis, and it is based on a great deal of research.

Second and more important, the conservative distrust of science is America a combination of both conservative psychology and also developments in the political environment. This is something I explain in detail in the book that Curry has not read. It is also something I explain in a new item today at Salon.com.

To draw an analogy with the hurricane climate debate, these sorts of errors are roughly on par with saying that global warming “caused” an individual hurricane (nonsense), and with saying that if we have a quiet hurricane season, then there must be no global warming, or no global warming effect on hurricanes (nonsense). The hurricane-climate issue is scientific complex and characterized by uncertainty, and so is the psychology-politics issue–but that doesn't mean there isn't serious science on both topics, or a need to report on it.

I fully expect dismissive reviews from ideologues who have not read my book, and from  contrarians who don’t want to admit what the science has to say about political ideology. But from someone who has called my previous work “science writing at its absolute best”, and extolled me for grasping “the nuances of the breadth of scientific arguments and uncertainties”? 

I am not asking Curry to suddenly become an expert in political psychology. All I’m asking is this: Doesn’t a writer who, in your own words,  practices “science journalism at its absolute best,” merit a more, shall we say, engaged treatement?

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Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see where Curry provides any assessment whatsoever about Mooney’s arguments in The Republican Brain.  She posts links to evaluative and critical essays, and then asks her readers “what do you think?” 

I think the blog post title “Judith Curry Was For Me Before She Was Against Me” is overly dramatic and needlessly adversarial.  

It was a false choice, a loaded question, a rhetorical question.

The insinuation is that thousands of scientists worldwide have broken the rules of professional behavior and somehow let political goals drive the science. With dozens of political systems across the scientific world, it would truly be amazing if this were anything but a wispy fiction.

Judith Curry seems to have gone emerita, as the saying is these days.

Somewhat dissapointed to see you attacking Dr. Curry as hers is one of the few blogs that looks at all sides of the debate in a fair and thoughtful way. There’s a lot of wonderful discussions in the comments there and very little ad hom.

The debate would be much better off with more Climate scientists/advocates like her around.

So Chas is stupid and a liar for giving his opinion regarding Chris Mooney’s opinion of Judith Curry?? Are these personal attacks the best you can do?

As Phil is want to do on occasion, I quote the Desmog comment policy for your benefit;

“Petty name-calling and/or a pattern of disrespect towards other DeSmogBlog users will also result in account deactivation.”

I don’t think I need to read very much of Judith’s work to realize that;

A) She does not look at any material other than what she is paid to look at.

B) Her job is to debate climate scientists and certainly not look at any reasonable facts on the matter.

So… personal attacks aside… Ian speaks the truth, Chas lies.  Judith is not paid to reasonably look at anything, and I’m not sure GWPF can afford to keep buying more opinions for its PR campaign and lobbying efforts.

Lara whined:

“So Chas is stupid and a liar for giving his opinion regarding Chris Mooney’s opinion of Judith Curry??”

No, that is not why chas is stupid. He is stupid because if he had any knowledge of climate science he would know that there is very little science discussed at Curry’s blog. It is mostly an echo chamber for denier rubbish and a meeting place for the nasty cabal of anti-science nasties who slander and smear honest climate scientists.

I suggest that you should at least try and understand what some one has actually posted before you go off half cocked with your nastiness. I guess that what you and your buddy chas say on this blog is only to be expected from stupid and ignorant AGW deniers.

Go and get a life and quit your dishonest babbling.

That long rant and you’re calling Lara nasty?

Pot, meet kettle…….  The people who frequent the comment section here are truly amazing in their attitudes towards ANY person that doesn’t spout the current warmist mantra, haha!

I don’t think you even understand what “nasty” is. When you and the likes of lara slander and smear honest scientists and write disparaging comments about their science, that is “nasty” and shows a level of stupidity and ignorance which I find hard to understand in a supposedly educated society. It is not nasty of me to point out these gaps in your education and social upbringing. Hopefully you and lara might learn something from my “rants” and become better citizens for it.

What we don’t like is dishonest smears and distortion of the science.

Let’s not forget that this not just about the science.

Chris, while carefully researching and documenting his materials, does have a tendency to overinterpret the science. He can do that, he is not a scientist. Journalist do that with our work all the time, for better or worse. Chris grills the scientists he interviews (just listen to PoI) and pushes their knobs on interpretations. Few scientists go as far in interpreting their data than he goes; they have a reputation to loose, he does not. In fact, he promotes his books well (e.g. on this blog …) and probably stands to profit from more rather than less controversy. So attacks on his work are probably welcome, in a sense. Scientifically, his is but one hypothesis to explain the data. You have to come up with a better one though if you want to make a difference. Maybe people will once they read the book, maybe there is a better one already. What I have read on Curry’s site so far, is not convincing (me).

And Curry? As a scientist, she is not “supposed to” overinterpret, least comment on things she does not know much about. So at times she acts more like an advocate. Nothing wrong with that as long as you can tell the difference. As a scientist her intro-question was indeed a no-starter. It looks more like her (scientific) ego was somehow hurt (it was cuddled before as her book review reveals) ?!  Would also not a big thing, happens to us scientists all the time, especially when that ominous third review of our manuscript comes in ;)

We are all affected by confirmation bias. The trick is to realize WHEN that happens, step back, and reevaluate. Chris is not neurobabbling, and Curry is not really “against him”.

Maybe he should have her on PoI ?

FWIW Eli thinks you have the wrong end of the stick.  The Republicans made a concious choice to pursue the tiger, and the tiger swallowed them.