Interesting Quotes By Two Major Climate Scientists – John Nielsen-Gammon and Peter Gleick

UPDATE: John has sent me this response

Roger –

   Sure!  You can post this, thanks!

   First, assuming something is correct doesn’t make it so.  I simply regard it as so much more likely to be correct than incorrect that it’s a more effective use of my time to assume it’s correct unless I’m aware of some shortcoming.  Second, Roger seems to equate the NAS with the IPCC; I do not. For example, NAS tries to populate its committees with a broad balance of high-quality scientific perspectives, while the IPCC tries to ensure that its authors represent a broad balance of geographic origins.  This is a consequence of the IPCC being simultaneously a scientific and political organization.  

 Since I’m in-discipline, I can evaluate the IPCC reports for myself.  Generally, I find them to be right about 95% of the time.  

 I actually was on an NAS panel that reviewed one of the CCSP reports, and there were two interesting aspects of that experience that are worth noting.  First, the NAS actually submitted our review for review!  Tell me any other agency that is so rigorous!  Second, unlike conventional peer review, the agency responsible for the CCSP report was under no constraint to change their report in response to our review.  There was no editor tasked to ensure that the authors of the CCSP report made appropriate corrections.  So just because a CCSP report underwent NAS review doesn’t make it as reliable as an NAS report.

– John

in response to my e-mail to him (and one to Peter also)

Hi John

Would you like to send me a guest post on my weblog in response to mine? It would provide a counterpoint to my presentation.

Best Wishes for Thanksgiving!



In today’s post, I am presenting quotes from two well respected climate scientists. I also provide my perspective on what they have said.

First, John Nielsen-Gammon


The Crackpot-Einstein Scale 

he writes

“Eventually, especially if there’s still some dispute about a particular set of findings, the new results might become the subject of a review article by a group of scientists or, even better, a report from the National Academy of Sciences. The latter type of report is quite reliable because it represents a unanimous opinion by a group of qualified scientists with diverse viewpoints. When I’m reading science outside my field, where I can’t judge for myself whether it’s right, I’m quite happy to assume that anything that comes out of the National Academy of Sciences is correct. Their committees are wrong so rarely that it’s usually not worth worrying about.”

My Comment:

The assumption that “I’m quite happy to assume that anything that comes out of the National Academy of Sciences is correct“, is what, in my view, has resulted in the blind acceptance of the IPCC reports.  My personal experiences are quite different from the rosy picture that John presents. I have documented this, as just one example, in my comment on the CCSP 1.1 report [which was used for the USA input for the 2007 IPCC report; this CCSP report was reviewed by a committee of National Academy of Science appointees] 

Pielke Sr., Roger A., 2005: Public Comment on CCSP Report “Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences”. 88 pp including appendices

where I summarized in the Executive Summary

The process for completing the CCSP Report excluded valid scientific perspectives under the charge of the Committee. The Editor of the Report systematically excluded a range of views on the issue of understanding and reconciling lower atmospheric temperature trends. The Executive Summary of the CCSP Report ignores critical scientific issues and makes unbalanced conclusions concerning our current understanding of temperature trends.

The process that produced the report was highly political, with the Editor taking the lead in suppressing my perspectives, most egregiously demonstrated by the last-minute substitution of a new Chapter 6 for the one I had carefully led preparation of and on which I was close to reaching a final consensus. Anyone interested in the production of comprehensive assessments of climate science should be troubled by the process which I document below in great detail that led to the replacement of the Chapter that I was serving as Convening Lead Author.

Future assessment Committees need to appoint members with a diversity of views and who do not have a significant conflict of interest with respect to their own work. Such Committees should be chaired by individuals committed to the presentation of a diversity of perspectives and unwilling to engage in strong-arm tactics to enforce a narrow perspective. Any such committee should be charged with summarizing all relevant literature, even if inconvenient, or which presents a view not held by certain members of the Committee.

John fails to see that such conflicts of interest compromise balanced assessments in climate science, and, presumably also in other fields where we do not have expertise.

John also states

“So I would venture to say that a large fraction, perhaps the majority, of the science that people hear about on the news will turn out to have something seriously wrong with it.”

In this comment, I agree with John! This is a candid much needed statement that I hope the media works on.

For the second set of quotes, I refer to a news article in the November 1 2011 issue of the AGU publication EOS

Meeting basic human needs for water remains huge challenge, expert says by R. Showstack

where Peter Gleick states

Since the 1998 publication of the first volume of The World’s Water, a biennial report on freshwater resources from the Pacific Institute, some significant strides have been made in improving water management and quality. However, there has also been a continuing stream of bad news about the state of water in many parts of the world. With the 18 October publication of volume 7 in the series, two stark statistics stand out to lead author Peter Gleick: More than 1 billion people still lack safe drinking water, and more than 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation.

My Comment

I agree with Peter on this. This is a focus of one of our books (with Faisal Hossain as Editor) for Elsevier where we are presenting examples of using the bottom up, resource-based contextual vulnerability approach to assess risks to water, food, energy, human health and ecosystem function.  Our overarching theme is the 5 volume set of books, which will appear in 2012, is

“There are 5 broad areas that we can use to define the need for vulnerability assessments : water, food, energy, health and ecosystem function. Each area has societally critical resources. The vulnerability concept requires the determination of the major threats to these resources from climate, but also from other social and environmental issues. After these threats are identified for each resource, then the relative risk from natural- and human-caused climate change (estimated from the GCM projections, but also the historical, paleo-record and worst case sequences of events) can be compared with other risks in order to adopt the optimal mitigation/adaptation strategy.”

Peter is also reported as saying

“Global climate change is going to have very dramatic impacts on water resources because the hydrologic cycle is such a fundamental part of the climate cycle,” Gleick told Eos. “We know we are going to see changes in snowfall dynamics. We know we are going to see changes in extreme precipitation events. We know that higher temperatures are going to increase evaporation rates. We know that rising sea level is going to contaminate more coastal aquifers with salt water. I find the climate debate and specifically the issues around water frustrating, because the science is clear. There are plenty of uncertainties, but not everything is equally uncertain. We know more than enough, and we’ve known more than enough for decades, to act. And we’re not acting. And that’s irresponsible.”

My Comment

Unfortunately, this is an example of applying a top-down global model perspective (i.e. outcome vulnerability) which we have shown is seriously flawed in

Pielke Sr., R.A., R. Wilby, D. Niyogi, F. Hossain, K. Dairuku, J. Adegoke, G. Kallos, T. Seastedt, and K. Suding, 2011: Dealing with complexity and extreme events using a bottom-up, resource-based vulnerability perspective. AGU Monograph on Complexity and Extreme Events in Geosciences, in press. 

Peter is perpetuating a misleadingly narrow perspective of relying on the IPCC-type global model predictions to inform the impact community of risks to water resources in the future.  Indeed, I have challenged Peter in  a series of e-mails between us over a month ago to inform us what confidence he has in these model predictions, but he has not answered this question yet.  For myself, I have no confidence that these models can skillfully predict changes in climate statistics in the coming decades.

Peter than further is reported as saying

Gleick said he doesn’t know whether there could be movement on this issue during this time of government gridlock. “I’m a scientist and not a politician….”

Peter is very much in the politics, and should candidly admit this. Otherwise, he is acting as a “stealth advocate” as discussed in the book

The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics by Roger A. Pielke Jr

Peter continues in the news article

 “…I know that people care about water. It’s the highest-polling environmental issue consistently. I know it’s still difficult to remove politics from water, but Republicans and Democrats played together very well in passing our water quality laws, and I think we can do it again. I don’t know if we will, but I know that we have to.” The U.S. government, Gleick said, also has to do a better job at integrating water management strategies, responsibilities, and policies at the federal level. He noted that more than 20 federal agencies currently are responsible for dealing with different aspects of the nation’s water, such as agriculture, ecosystem protection, water quality monitoring, and climate forecasting. “I’m not saying that there ought to be a department of water. But I am saying that we need to do a better job at the federal level of managing water as an integrated challenge.”

My Comment

I agree with Peter on this, except that what he lists as “climate forecasting” should be “seasonal and longer term weather forecasting“.  As Judy Curry has so effectively summarized on her weblog post The wrong(?) conversation

What if we had devoted all of those resources to making better probabilistic predictions on timescales of 2 weeks to 3-4 months?  Farmers would be able to make better choices about what crops to plant.  Water resource managers could make better choices.  Energy generation and demand could be made more efficient.   Etc.  Most of the developing world doesn’t have weather forecasts beyond two days, and often these forecasts do not anticipate extreme weather events (think Pakistan floods, Severe Cyclone Nargis).   Anticipating extreme weather events by a week or two, or even a few days,  could make an enormous difference in the developing world.

This is what Peter should be urging support for.

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