The Sciences

Kerry Emanuel's Powerful Testimony on Climate

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMar 31, 2011 8:08 PM


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The defender of mainstream knowledge at the climate hearing today was MIT's Emanuel, and here is his testimony. It is really good stuff. Emanuel starts out by observing just how much scientific history there is behind our current understanding of climate--over 100 years. Much of it is so well established that it's something young scientists learn today as part of their very basic training:

Today, students at MIT and elsewhere can do hand calculations or use simple models of radiative and convective heat transfer to explore climate physics, and they find climate sensitivities in the same range as those reported in the first National Academy of Sciences report on anthropogenic climate change in 1979.

All of that notwithstanding, there are many uncertainties remaining (of course)--but as Emanuel sharply points out, these could cut in either direction, and those at the hearing (like John Christy) expressing confidence that warming will be on the low end are taking quite a leap of faith:

In soliciting advice, we should be highly skeptical of any expert who claims to be certain of the outcome. I include especially those scientists who express great confidence that the outcome will be benign; the evidence before us simply does not warrant such confidence. Likewise, beware those who deride predictive science in its entirety, for they are also making a prediction: that we have nothing to worry about.

Emanuel also addresses "ClimateGate", and pulls no punches when it comes to the ridiculous over interpretation of "hide the decline":

I am appalled at the energetic campaign of disinformation being waged in the climate arena. I have watched good, decent, hardworking scientists savaged and whole fields of scholarship attacked without merit. Consider as an example the issues surrounding the email messages stolen from some climate scientists. I know something about this as I served on a panel appointed by the Royal Society of Great Britain, under the direction of Lord Oxburgh, to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct by the scientists working at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. Neither we nor several other investigative panels found any evidence of misconduct. To be sure, we confirmed what was by then well known, that a handful of scientists had exercised poor judgment in constructing a figure for a non peer-reviewed publication. Rather than omitting the entire record of a particularly dubious tree-ring-based proxy, the authors of the figure only omitted that part of it that was provably false. If this was a conspiracy to deceive, though, it was exceedingly poorly conceived as anyone with the slightest interest in the subject could (and did) immediately find the whole proxy record in the peer-reviewed literature. The true scandal here is the enormously successful attempt to elevate this single lapse of judgment on the part of a small number of scientists into a sweeping condemnation of a whole scholarly endeavor. When the history of this event is written, the efforts of those seeking to discredit climate science will be seen for what they are; why many cannot see it now is a mystery to me.

But probably not a mystery to your colleagues in the psychology department, Dr. Emanuel! The thing that did not come up at the hearing, at least as far as I know: Emanuel is a Republican. If that doesn't enhance his credibility in this area, it is hard to imagine what would.

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