Red/Blue teams to battle on climate

Or will they?

• Guest post •

— by Gary Kerkin

Not long after the Trump administration appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, Pruitt suggested a Red Team/Blue Team debate on climate science—a format in which two teams debate the pros and cons of a proposition. The Blue Team would be composed of scientists supporting the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis; the Red Team would be made up of scientists who skeptical of the hypothesis.

Until recently it looked like this proposal was on track and a debate would likely be early in 2018. However, an article in Science magazine in mid-December suggested the debate might be on hold.

I have to say that I view any article that appears in Science magazine with some circumspection if it is related to climate change. The American Association for the Advancement of Science can hardly be described as non-partisan on the subject of climate change. Indeed my mailbox has received many requests to support its campaign opposing the “suppression of science in the USA” (referring to Trump’s many statements of his views on climate science) and asking me to join the various marches that have occurred throughout 2017. Like I’m going to fly to Washington DC from New Zealand to participate in a march!

However the article is plausible:

President Trump has privately told Pruitt he supports a public debate to challenge mainstream climate science, administration officials told E&E News (Climatewire, 11 December). But the administration isn’t unified behind the idea, and an official said prior to this week’s meeting that “Pruitt has not been given authorization to go ahead with red team, blue team; there are still many issues to be ironed out.”

Despite some reservations about the accuracy of the report:

Earlier this week, EPA air chief Bill Wehrum attended a White House meeting with Trump energy aide Mike Catanzaro, deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn and others to discuss the future of the debate, according to an administration official.

After the talk, the red team “has been put on hold,” according to someone familiar with the meeting.

I wonder if the most difficult part is in finding anyone to fill the blue team.

Of course “debate” in this context might be a euphemism for “punch up”! I would think the red team would be oversubscribed because sceptics are well used to being bruised by ad hominem attacks and would dearly love a platform to explain the reasons for their scepticism. Possible candidates for the blue team may not feel so inclined to get into that fray, perhaps not wishing to open themselves to ridicule for being unable to present an accurate and verifiable basis for the AGW hypothesis.

A couple of replies to this when I posted it on the NZCSC list. One reader commented:

I agree with you.  I think Michael Mann, Kevin Trenberth and James Hansen will try to lead a bunch of alarmists who will refuse to co-operate.  The simple response to that would be to reduce or withdraw research funding, but perhaps that’s not possible.

I must also admit to being a little suspicious of an article that is based on what was supposedly said by … an administration official … someone familiar with the meeting … an official … and … a source close to the administration.  I’m not sure that I’d regard the piece as much more than rumour and maybe not even that given the media’s bias and the many attempts by employees and appointed officials to undermine Trump on various issues.  I’d like to see some official confirmation.

I am not so concerned with that. The Trump Administration, or more accurately Trump himself, has been shown to dislike whistleblowers or those who leak information to the media. I imagine such sources are carefully protecting themselves and their careers. Another NZCSC respondent wrote:

… I DO know several people who are very well qualified and plausible members of the red team. …

My own (totally blue-sky) speculation is that it would be difficult to fill slots on the “blue team” roster.

There is a central issue in America that may not be obvious to intelligent-thinking people in other countries. In America, the entire court system is completely illiterate on science, and always defers to an agency, or to precedent, every time a legal issue involving science or technology is brought before them. Deference to federal agencies is “enshrined” in our jurisprudence. At present, we are saddled with a Supreme Court decision of 2007  (“Massachusetts vs. EPA”) that allowed the EPA to declare CO2 a “pollutant.” The GW Bush administration did not do so. Then the Obama-ites came to town and issued the “Endangerment Finding” which called CO2 a pollutant. The sharp legal dudes on our side say that we will never get anywhere with the courts until the “Endangerment Finding” is reversed  — every court at lower levels will say “It’s a Supreme Court decision, we have to obey it.” Regrettably, the lawyers for the bad guys also know that, so they can file one zany lawsuit after another and tie things up forever. …

… Consequently, the “red team/blue team” convocation (which WE would like to see bring out some scientific facts) might be an ineffective strategy. I’m currently trying to pay close attention to whatever is said by smart lawyers; but at the same time, smart lawyers often keep their mouth shut so as not to give away their strategy.

The US is not the only country to have a difficulty with its judiciary when they have to deal with scientific matters. When the NZCSC was trying to get NIWA to reveal the methodology it used to homogenise the 7 Series temperature data a judge washed his hands of it.

So, would a blue team/red team style of debate work here? Who knows? I wouldn’t be confident of a good outcome.


My apologies: Gary sent me this in December but it got lost in the Christmas bustle. – RT

10 Thoughts on “Red/Blue teams to battle on climate

  1. Dennis N Horne on January 27, 2018 at 9:44 pm said:

    The red-blue idea has already been tested. Koch & Koch funded Professor Richard Muller to show the theory of AGW was flawed. WattsUpWithThat said he would accept the result. Berkeley Earth.

    Guess what. Muller changed his mind: The climate scientists were right; the science is right.

    Harden up. Accept the obvious. Human activity is causing Global Warming, Climate Change.

    We need to reduce GHG emissions. Now.

    Kerkin, you don’t know more than the experts. Just because you can’t understand the science doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That you believe you do know more and the climate scientists are wrong means you’re a loony.

    But hey, feel free prove me wrong. Write a paper and publish in a properly peer-reviewed journal.

  2. Gary Kerkin on January 28, 2018 at 9:18 pm said:

    Oh dear, Dennis, aren’t you the spiteful fellow? If you can prove, unequivocally, that human action will cause disastrous climate change the NZ Climate Science Coalition has a $6,000 prize waiting for you.

    Rather than indulge in ad hominem attacks (which do not become you) why don’t you show us your list of publications in climate science? Then we will be in a position to assess your standing in the science.

    On the subject of GHG emissions there is a simple thought experiment you can conduct for yourself. Consider a mixture which contains air, 20,000-40,000ppm water, 400ppm CO2, and 4ppm CH4 to which you apply sufficient photons to raise the temperature, then consider increasing CO2 or CH4 by a few % to see what sensitivity these three green house gases have. Try it out and let us know your conclusion. And, no, I won’t demonstrate it for you. You have implied that you have sufficient knowledge and intelligence to work your way through it whilst implying that we don’t, so give it a go.

  3. Dennis N Horne on January 28, 2018 at 9:47 pm said:

    Kerkin, I don’t need to provide the science; tens of thousands of experts have already done so. All the great scientific societies have endorsed it.

    You believe you know better. Okay, do what scientists do: write a paper. Publish in Nature or Science.

  4. Dennis N Horne on January 28, 2018 at 9:52 pm said:

    Some simple science:

    Try to learn something instead of talking tripe.

    The science a bit beyond you but look at the pictures:

  5. Gary Kerkin on January 29, 2018 at 10:04 pm said:

    It sounds like I’ve probably forgotten more than you will ever learn Dennis. Just do that little thought experiment. I don’t think it is beyond you.

  6. Dennis says that we need to reduce GHG emissions now.

    Well, thanks to natural gas, emissions in the USA are reducing.

    God bless America and God bless Donald Trump

    (I’ll get my coat)

  7. Dennis thinks ‘We need to reduce GHG emissions. Now.’, yet spends his spare time flying around in planes burning large amounts of kerosene & pumping the resulting emissions directly into the atmosphere. The least he could do is take up gliding instead, like a real pilot.

    Natural gas and nuclear are the way to reduce emissions, yet environmentalists don’t seem to approve of the remedies. They’re probably too busy flying around in their private planes to pay any attention.

  8. Richard Treadgold on January 30, 2018 at 1:48 pm said:

    Oh, you guys! Dennis thinks, Dennis thinks. I don’t know if Dennis can think—he can’t think our questions are important, and he certainly can’t think of any answers. How can we be held accountable for dangerously raising sea levels, Dennis, when there’s no way in hell that 0.0001 of the atmosphere can do that from above? That by itself tells me that there’s no danger in the slight warming we’ve seen, and the human portion of it is unmeasurable. If you disagree, do you think you could tell me its magnitude?

  9. Gary Kerkin on January 30, 2018 at 4:35 pm said:

    Fair do, Richard! Just feel the temperatures we are experiencing today. Presently 31.6ºC at my home in Upper Hutt. Highest temperature today was 32.9º at 1306. Curiously a few days ago NIWA were forecasting tops of around 40º for today (Tuesday 30 January). Currently (Weather Underground) near Masterton it is 36º, 34º in Waipawa, 34º in Fairlie, and 36º in Alexandra. I’ll wait to see the TV1 news this evening for the rest. When it announced the likelihood of 40º today, NIWA indicated it was largely due to global warming, but undermined its statement by citing record temperatures from the past. A graph from their twitter feed showed the 10 warmest days on record as:
    42.4ºC Rangiora 7/2/1973
    42.3. Jordan (Marlborough) 7/2/1973
    41.6. Christchurch Gardens 7/2/1973
    41.3. Timaru 6/2/2011
    Ashburton 7/2/1973
    41.2. Wigram 7/2/1973
    40.4. Lincoln 7/2/1973
    40.0. Timaru Gardens 23/1/1908
    Christchurch Gardens 7/2/1973
    39.8. Timaru Airport 7/2/1973
    Ashley Forest 7/2/1973
    39.4. Darfield 7/2/1973
    Temuka 7/2/1973
    Isn’t it remarkable that only one of those top ten record temperatures has occurred this century? But then, of course, we all know that weather is essentially chaotic, don’t we?

  10. Richard Treadgold on January 30, 2018 at 6:58 pm said:

    Amazing! But do we all know it’s chaotic? Some of us don’t. Have you heard they’re planning to control the world’s temperature?

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