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Curry the Apostate

By Keith Kloor
Oct 26, 2010 11:42 PMNov 20, 2019 4:42 AM


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To fully understand the enduring Judith Curry Phenomenon, you have to appreciate the power of a storyline that is not much discussed: Curry as climate apostate. I realized this last year, after seeing some of the incredulous response to my first Q &A with Curry, which is why I immediately followed up in a second Q & A, asking her to explain why people such as Joe Romm felt like she was no longer the Judith Curry he thought he knew. (A third and final Q & A, trying to make sense of all the criticism of her prompted by the first two interviews, shortly followed.) The latest blogstorm involving Curry is triggered by this Scientific American article by Michael Lemonick, who explores "two competing" storylines: whether Curry is a well-intentioned peacemaker in the climate wars or a "dupe" of climate skeptics. Understandably, the focus was on climate science issues; after all, the piece appeared in Scientific American. And this emphasis is reinforced by Lemonick's ending:

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.

But that's not likely to happen anytime soon, because there is a compelling human angle to this Judith Curry story, one which can only be truly grasped in a New Yorker or New York Times magazine type of piece. After Judith wrote her response to the SciAm article, one reader correctly identifies this third, enduring storyline:

IMO the heat you are feeling from the establishment, and its intensity compared with that directed at other "heretics" such as Dick Lindzen, is mainly due to your being seen as an apostate, rather than merely a heretic. Some in the mainstream camp clearly feel betrayed.

How so? Well, as Judith acknowledges in her latest post, she has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years, from"high priestess of global warming" to "critic of the IPCC" and respectful sparring partner of skeptics. I think that the sense of betrayal felt by some of Judith's colleagues would not have turned so bitter had she not continued to vocally criticize the climate science community since "Climategate." The anger might have been fleeting, akin to what British journalist George Monbiat experienced after writing this column and several others that were also critical of climate scientists last November. But Monbiot let the issue go after a few months, and besides, his larger worldview on the severity of the threat of climate change remains fundamentally unchanged. Judith's case, in contrast, strikes me as having more in common with the kind of political apostasy ascribed to Christopher Hitchens earlier this decade and more recently to David Frum and Christopher Buckley. (To understand the power of the apostasy storyline, look no further than this 2006 New Yorker profile on Hitchens.) All these guys have come down with a serious case of buyers remorse, to varying degrees. And they haven't been shy about taking on the side they were formerly aligned with. Hence the blowback. As Buckley quipped after he came out for Obama:

the only thing the Right can't quite decide is whether I should be boiled in oil or just put up against the wall and shot. Lethal injection would be too painless.

Fortunately, I don't think Judith is engendering quite that level of rage. But the thinly veiled disgust some of her colleagues express towards her is palpable, and I'm not sure she is coming to grips with why. For example, in her current post, in which she tries to understand what is causing all this fuss over what she says in the media or the blogosphere, she seems not to recognize her own apostasy (my emphasis):

So the Judith Curry ca 2010is the same scientist as she was in 2003, but sadder and wiser as a result of the hurricane wars, a public spokesperson on the global warming issue owing to the media attention from the hurricane wars, more broadly knowledgeable about the global warming issue, much more concerned about the integrity of climate science, listening to skeptics, and a blogger (for better or for worse). . .

Judith, you may be the same scientist, but some of your core assumptions of climate science and the IPCC have changed. That has changed you. Five years ago you were characterized as the "high priestess of global warming." In the public arena that is inhabited by people who care passionately about climate change, that would put you on the side of the angels. But now that you've become the climate science community's resident in-house critic, you've been cast over to the "dark side." It is this metamorphosis that is infuriating to your detractors and enthralling to your admirers.

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