A real climate science debate for all to see

There is a lot of talk about having a formal debate between climate scientists who believe in dangerous human caused climate change and those who are skeptical. Well it turns out that there has actually been such a debate and there is a transcript of it that anyone can read or analyze. This is a great education tool. It can also be seen as a kind of trial run for the official debate that many are calling for.

The debate was not public at the time and it has received little coverage that I can find, so in effect it is new, even though it occurred over three years ago. It is discussed in an article by Rupert Darwall, just published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a great group of climate change skeptics).

There is some interesting history here as well. The debate was organized and hosted by the American Physical Society. APS had published a position statement that endorsed climate alarmism, to which many of it’s members objected. So APS organized an all day workshop to examine the issue of alarmism versus skepticism.

Three leading alarmist scientists made presentations as did three leading skeptics. Because of APS’s prestige they were able to get top talent. Here are the bios.

After the presentations there was a general discussion and this is when the debate really happened. It appears to have lasted for several hours, because it begins on page 467 and so takes up the last hundred or so pages of the 573 page transcript. Plus there are active discussions after each presentation.

One of the moderators was Steve Koonin, who was so impressed that he later went on to write the Wall Street Journal article, proposing the official Red Team exercise, and that got the idea going. Much discussion has followed but so far nothing concrete has happened.

The three skeptical scientists are well known in the community. They are Judith Curry, John Christy and Richard Lindzen. On the alarmist side there is the infamous Ben Santer, plus William Collins and Isaac Held.

The presentations themselves are very useful. Happily the transcript of the debate often provides hot links back to the presentation graphics, when these are referenced. The climate change debate is often about data so this is important.

It will surprise no skeptic that the debate makes it perfectly clear that the science is far from settled. Curry puts this nicely in her introduction to the Darwall article, saying this:

“The transcript of the workshop is a remarkable document. It provides, in my opinion, the most accurate portrayal of the scientific debates surrounding climate change. While each of the six scientists agreed on the primary scientific evidence, we each had a unique perspective on how to reason about the evidence, what conclusions could be drawn and with what level of certainty.”

This APS debate should be studied and publicized. It is especially suitable for college level Earth sciences courses. Perhaps someone will create an audio version, using text to speech technology. This stuff now works pretty well for ordinary speech, but for this kind of science it would be a challenging project. An animated audio would be delightful.

In particular, this debate should be shown to anyone who claims that there is no scientific debate, which is a common unthinking alarmist position. That there is no debate is clearly false. On the contrary, this is a debate of historic proportions.

The transcript also shows that an official Red Team exercise would be enormously useful, as Koonin has said. The arguments, while sometimes technical and complex, are specific and well known. One does not have to be an expert to see that they exist. All that is needed is a proper public platform.


About the Author: David Wojick, Ph.D.

David Wojick is a journalist and policy analyst. He holds a doctorate in epistemology, specializing in the field of Mathematical Logic and Conceptual Analysis.

  • Gary Hall

    No video? Rats. But thanks so much for the article and the transcript. Will save, and broadly share.

  • Mnestheus

    What could possibly go wrong, epistemologically speaking, with having a BP chief scientist as red team leader, and an oil patch PR lawyer heading Team Blue?


  • cshorey

    Want to see a red team / blue team debate? Go read some top tier science journals that have their articles go through rigorous peer review. That very process is red vs blue. That debate has been had, and this little side show of David’s has no impact on the much larger and longer debate that has been going on in the real science circles. Remember, Mr. Wojick thinks because we can’t know your body’s average temperature that we can’t possibly know if you’re running a fever. In other words, he is so bad at the science he thinks that because we can’t measure the average global temperature exactly then we can’t see a change in the anomalies at stations. Oh, and he’s been informed of this over and over and just keeps spouting it out with no new supporting arguments. Mr. Wojick is a terrible source of information on just about anything it seems.