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Judith Curry: Applicability of “consensus” on climate change causation depends on whether the scientific problem is ‘tame’ or a ‘mess’

Judith Curry: Climate change: no consensus on consensus

Judith Curry is a climate scientist, who is sort of a ‘tweener’ in the scientific debate of whether or not human AGW are leading to catastrophic consequences. She’s criticized both sides, which has led to some of the more extreme members of both sides to say bad things about her.

I find her to be a breath of fresh air.

Just like you can’t understand the current state of anemic progressive and populist activism without understanding the “Veal Pen” (well, you could reasonably infer a “veal pen”, but that’s not the same as having proof of it), to understand how science can be so totally off, you also need to have knowledge of how science can get seriously distorted due to anthropological, sociological and career interests. To that end, I recommend reading “Not Even Wrong” and “The Trouble with Physics”. I also recommend learning about dissidence by qualified scientists in other fields. See, e.g.,

Curry has a recent meta type diary which is partly about the political aspect of the IPCC, but I found the more interesting part to be her characterization of the scientific problem domain of climate science, and the implications of this type of domain for accepting a consensus.

One of the memes I’ve seen repeated at MyFDL is that so-called “deniers” are trying to inject a degree of uncertainty into what Al Gore fantasizes is “settled science”, which shouldn’t be there. Insinuations of Exxon Mobil $$ or Koch Brother $$ are often floated as motivations for so-called “deniers” (which rhymes with Holocaust denier, don’t you know?) to bother pointing out uncertainties – not to mention false, baseless, and/or exaggerated climate catastrophism claims.

Judith Curry is arguing that the nature of climate science is far too ‘messy’ to rationally allow for any sort of scientific consensus to have any relevance.

Dutch social scientist Jeroen Van der Sluijs argues that the IPCC has adopted a ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach that sees uncertainty and dissent as problematic, and attempts to mediate these into a consensus. The ‘speaking consensus to power’ strategy acknowledges that available knowledge is inconclusive, and uses consensus as a proxy for truth through a negotiated interpretation of the inconclusive body of scientific evidence. The ‘consensus to power’ strategy reflects a specific vision of how politics deals with scientific uncertainties and endeavors to create a knowledge base for decision making following the linear model of expertise.

The linear model of expertise works well for ‘tame’ problems, where everyone essentially agrees on both the problem and the solution. Successes in managing tame problems are evident in the domains of engineering and regulatory science. Climate change has been framed by the UNFCCC/IPCC as a relatively ‘tame’ problem that requires a straightforward solution, namely the top-down creation of a global carbon market. However, climate change is arguably characterized better as a ‘wicked problem’ or a ‘mess’. ‘Messes’ and ‘wicked problems’ are characterized by multiple problem definitions, methods that are open to contention and solutions that are variable and disputed, and ‘unknown unknowns’ that suggest chronic conditions of ignorance and lack of capacity to imagine future eventualities of both the problem and the proposed solutions.

(emphasis mine)


Note: Curry makes an intriguing claim: “There are frameworks for decision making under deep uncertainty and ignorance that accept uncertainty and dissent as key elements of the decision making process.” but gives no details about these frameworks. If anybody finds a reference, please post it.

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