In Plato’s “Apology”, Socrates says the following of his accusers:
…for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected–which is the truth; and as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies.
I couldn’t help recalling these words as I read the over-heated comments in this recent thread at RealClimate where Dr. Judith Curry faced her own set of accusers, apparently upset with her for having the audacity to associate with climate auditor Stephen McIntrye (and his “ilk”) and also for encouraging mainstream climate scientists to rebut the arguments contained in A.W. Montford’s recent book “The Hockey Stick Illusion” which documents, from a skeptical point of view, issues with paleo-reconstructions of past temperatures using tree-ring proxies. The book focuses on the famous “hockey stick” graph, denigrated by climate skeptics as climate science’s biggest failure and lauded by AGW proponents as one of its strongest pieces of evidence in support of unprecedented 20th century warming.
The thread in question was initiated by a review of “The Hockey Stick Illusion” by pro-AGW blogger Tamino, a review in which he appears to have misrepresented and misunderstood several key points in Montford’s book (see here, for example). Enter Ms. Curry who rushed out a review of the review, giving it a grade of C-. What ensued was both hysterical and nauseating.
Comment after comment (after comment) excoriated Curry, claiming that she was doing nothing more than repeating arguments that she had read on blogs – a rather hyprocritical criticism coming from a website that boasts a section (see here) intended to teach AGW proponents how to essentially go forth and “spread the news” while effectively countering skeptic arguments. Clearly, RealClimate apostles are perfectly acceptable and to be encouraged, including those that find their way into the mainstream media, but apostles of skeptic sites are presumed to be bent on “disinforming” the public and are to be excommunicated from what is apparently science’s new religion.
Indeed, the indignation at having the consensus position challenged and examined by skeptics was palpable in each comment, as if the desire to replicate a published scientific result – which is largely what Stephen McIntyre was attempting to do with MBH98 – was an affront to the scientific method, rather than an observance of one of its most fundamental principles.
Perhaps the most surprising (and ironic) sentiments I saw expressed in the thread was the idea that the skeptics should have just admitted they were wrong from the start on this particular issue and then the events described in “The Hockey Stick Illusion” could have been avoided completely, including much of Climate-gate. Nice try, but it is the other way around.
Finally, to those posters claiming that skeptics need to prosecute their case in the science journals instead of the blogosphere, that would have been fair advice if it were not for the fact that, as can be plainly seen from the climate-gate e-mails, journal reviewers and sometimes editors were not infrequently working to undermine skeptical papers in the peer-review process. McIntyre has stated many times that he even reached out to Amman in an attempt to write a joint paper but was rejected. I’m afraid these criticisms are rather empty.
So where does all of this leave relative lay people on these issues? Well, I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but those who discourage and disparage (and resent) honest, skeptical inquiry seem to me rather like Socrates’ accusers who, rather than take an honest look at the deficiencies – and substantial uncertainties – in their own knowledge and beliefs, preferred to accuse the auditor of those beliefs of trying to “corrupt” an unsuspecting and, apparently, easily duped public. Fast forward to the present and I’m afraid that nothing really seems all that different. The accusers possess the same “we know what’s best for you, don’t question us” attitude except that in AGW parlance, the word “corrupt” is typically replaced with words like “disinform” and “mislead”. Sorry, but this approach does not sit well with me, no matter what my view is on the science.
Let me finish by stating that when I started this blog I mentioned that I have a great deal of respect for scientists and do not believe, as is asserted in many skeptical blogs, that climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy for global governance. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the comments on RealClimate are not truly representative of the average working scientist today, who is surely a neutral and dispassionate investigator of the natural world.
I hope I’m right.