More Credibility

Robert Grumbine has put together a climate change credibility spectrum for scientific disciplines.

Update 14/9/09: This spectrum is a work in progress, and Robert Grumbine has asked that I remove the graphic as it is now outdated. He has a full article on how it should be revised here.

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12 thoughts on “More Credibility

  1. One of the interesting points about this scale is that meteorologists are near the top. Unfortunately, a fairly large percentage of them (myself excluded) do not believe in AGW because they know the challenges of a 3 day forecast and cannot believe that forecasting climate is actually easier. Joe D’Aleo and William Gray are good examples.

    Although a limited number of meteorologists replied to their survey, Doran and Zimmerman (2009) found that only 64% of them answered yes to Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

    Doran, Peter T. & Zimmerman, M. K. (2009, January). Examining the scientific consensus on climate change. EOS 90 (3): 22–23. doi:10.1029/2009EO030002

  2. Back in the mid 1980’s I had a chance to work with GCM pioneer Sykuro Manabe. We were providing ice sheet reconstructions of the last ice age for his model. Our work was in turn informed by the geomorphologists mapping the extent, basal thermal conditions and direction of flow of the ice sheets. Thus confirming your diagram of geomorphology–glaciology—climatology in terms of modelling efforts.

  3. I think parts of that are objectionable. I’m an environmental biologist by training; why is a civil engineer’s credibility higher than mine? Why would I be equal with Anthony Watt’s (TV Weather forecaster)? I have a HELL of a lot more scientific training than that. I know it’s not your ranking, but I think the environmental sciences have a wee little bit to say about climate change.
    [Keep in mind that Robert Grumbine had a sort of “it highly depends on the situation” disclaimer – but if you believe you have a good argument for why they should be shuffled around, by all means let him know, to my knowledge this is a work in progress. -Kate]

  4. Part of the problem here is that credibility cannot be assessed on a person-by-person basis. For example, in my book Greg Craven is a lot more credible than Anthony Watts, even though Anthony watts is a meteorologist and as far as I know Greg Craven’s only qualification is that he teaches high school science.

    But still, as other commenters have definitely pointed out, the credibility triangle could use some improvement. I suppose the place for that, though, is on a comment on Robert Grumbine’s excellent article.
    [Exactly – it highly depends on the person and the situation. This triangle, though, is a good tool to use when all you know about somebody is that they’re a glaciologist or an engineer. It only addresses expertise, and doesn’t address bias, so it isn’t useful in every context.]

  5. I agree that mathematical analysis is more important for climate study than quantum physics, because it’s so important for analyzing the data used to study climate. And of course, because I’m a mathematician.

    But I would remind readers that quantum physics is crucial to understanding the absorption and radiation of visible and infrared radiation, the input and output energy for the climate system. It also has tremendous implications for thermodynamics.

  6. Hmmmm… I too noticed Meteorology is up top… today my skeptical friends sent me this Meteorologist on TV saying that global cooling is happening:

    http://mediamatters.org/mmtv/200909090058

    I did some research and found out that in addition to global cooling contributing to drought in CA, global warming does as well which this guy failed to mention.

    I also looked for the graph from the IPCC he showed but couldn’t find it.
    [Arguments like his are exactly the reason I require peer-reviewed citations. Good for you for looking into it more thoroughly. -Kate]

  7. MikeN: If you follow the link I sent you will understand. I don’t have citations for “global cooling” in reference to the video… I was pointing out what I was sent. The guy who makes the claim supposedly uses a graph from the IPCC. [Probably draws a straight line from 1998 to 2008 and says “hey, look, global cooling!” -Kate]

  8. As Kate said, definitely a work for discusion, and comments at my original are certainly welcome.

    Not said loudly enough (though I did say it) is that this is aimed as rule of thumb, and for people who are non-expert. Certainly not gospel to be followed by all.

    Absolutely, though (again, said in the original) the priority list is very sensitive to what question is at hand. As rapidly became obvious in the comments, I’d covered too much ground in the initial question, in fact combining two quite different questions.

    Biology, for instance, has some areas (ecology, for instance) which are highly relevant to answering questions of whether there has been climate change (and what sorts of change it’s been — temperature/rain/seasonality/…). A biologist commentator suggested it’s also quite relevant for attribution. I don’t understand how, so have asked him to explain. I’d like to hear back from him before any redrafting.

    mspelto: I had some good conversations with Suki in the 90’s. I’d tell him how bad his sea ice was; he’d agree vigorously. And then point to how good his results were anyhow.

    As to meteorologists: Well, that also makes my point that at no part of the diagram do you have a guarantee that all people in the given field are knowledgeable about the question(s) I’m asking. You should also be careful, though, about what is called ‘meteorologist’. TV weather forecasters are often not meteorologists in any sense except for advertising purposes. Hence the separate listing for them.

    Mathematics … well, certainly anyone studying the attribution problem should have a good background in analysis, and in statistics. Would you agree, though, that algebraists and topologists wouldn’t be prime candidates? The figure from jg included a good addition to my original diagram — a division between skills that are transferrable (which analysts and statisticians are very strong on) and specific subject matter knowledge (which I don’t see any a priori reason to think analysts and statisticians would be strong on).

    A word on math and engineering: My BS was in applied math, from the school of engineering. Depending on how you choose to slice it, then, I was either, both, or neither, a mathematician and engineer (in the bachelor’s degree sense of both fields). To confuse the issue further, my senior project (and first journal article, coauthored) was in glaciology, but the area of application in the degree was astrophysics (for which I took the graduate sequence). Grad school was more straightforward. Anyhow, in looking at the attribution problem, while the math program (and what I’d have taken had I been in the school of arts and sciences math program) did give me a good background (up through Courant and Hilbert in my case) of useful skills, it didn’t do much for application to attribution of climate change. For that, the useful things were the sciences I studied, including the astrophysics (radiative transfer through the interstellar medium is ‘close enough’ to the atmospheric case, at least for easy transfer if not direct use), paleoclimatology, etc..

    Even adding in, though, my graduate studies, and what I’ve learned since, I’ll also note that I wouldn’t say that I am, myself, the best person or have the best background for attacking the attribution problem. Actually, it looks at this point like there are no single people who can do it. All the attribution papers I recall are multi-authored for cause.

  9. Kate, I think your credibility spectrum actually has some utility. In deciding who to trust between a non-scientist and a publishing scientist it is farily obvious which will be more knowledgeable 99 times out of 100.

    But I don’t think this pyramid is really good for anything. Trying to assign credibility between scientific disciplines is going to produce so many exceptions to the rule that the whole thing falls apart. Very often its individuals that come from outside a particular field of study that make significant findings.

    Eric Steig seems to agree =)

    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/questions-for-the-enlightened/#comment-9916

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