Sellers remorse?

Prometheus was added to the blogroll a little while ago. Here’s an example of why. Thirteen thousand scientists recently attended the annual American Geophysical Union convention. Prometheus has a post from one attendee.

Click So what happened at AGU last week? for the whole think.

…To sum the state of climsci [Climate Science] world in one word, as I see it right now, it is this: tension.

What I am starting to hear is internal backlash. Sure, science is messy and always full of tension between holders of competing positions, opinions and analyses. That has always been the nature of science, and of course extends to climate science. Tensions come out at meetings, on listservs, on letters pages, and in the press. But these tensions normally surround a particular paper, or a particular question. While much more broadly-based tensions have existed for years on the state of understanding on global warming, they haven’t really been tensions internal to the climsci community, but tensions between the climsci community and interested outsiders.

What I see is something that I am having a hard time labeling, but that I might call either a “hangover” or a “sophomore slump” or “buyers remorse.” None fit perfectly, but perhaps the combination does. I speak for (my interpretation) of the collective: {We tried for years – decades – to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the “it’s happening” side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side. But knowing the science, we knew the stakes to humanity were high and that the opposition to the truth would be fierce, so we knew we had to dig in. But now they are listening. Now they do believe us. Now they say they’re ready to take action. And now we’re wondering if we didn’t create a monster. We’re wondering if they realize how uncertain our projections of future climate are. We wonder if we’ve oversold the science. We’re wondering what happened to our community, that individuals caveat even the most minor questionings of barely-proven climate change evidence, lest they be tagged as “skeptics.” We’re wondering if we’ve let our alarm at the problem trickle to the public sphere, missing all the caveats in translation that we have internalized. And we’re wondering if we’ve let some of our scientists take the science too far, promise too much knowledge, and promote more certainty in ourselves than is warranted.}

I came to this place in a few ways. One was a colleague describing a caveat he put into his poster abstract out of fear — yes, fear! (He strongly called into question widely-quoted data supporting a decline in snowpack and advance in spring peak runoff in the northern Rockies.) Another was multiple colleagues giving me independent but similar blistering accounts of the GCMs they work on (upcoming post on this). Yet another was listening to competing ideas presented by Torn (GC22A-02) and Knutti (-04) in this session. It was in these and other events and conversations that a theme arose that pervaded my meeting.

None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it’s not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we’ve created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say “climate change is right here!” It is to say that a number of climsci people I heard from are not comfortable enough with the science to want our community to push to outsiders an idea that we have fully or even adequately bounded the risk. I heard from a few people a sentiment that we need to stop making assumptions and decisions for decision-makers; that we need to give decision-makers only the unvarnished truth with realistic bounds on our uncertainty, and trust that the decision-makers will know what to do with it. These feelings came of frustration that many of us are downplaying uncertainties for fear of not being listened to.

Emphasis mine. This smells like the very definition of junk science. The chicken-little-hawks have pushed the hype too far. The people who have had the courage to question whether the sky is indeed falling have, by and large, been ostracized. Look at Bjorn Lomborg.

That is why Galileo has been mentioned in these pages in this context.