Climate Science: Red Fish Blue Fish

Guest Commentary by Kip Hansen

 “Multiple scientific assessments have concluded that man-made climate change is real and poses risks to human health and the environment. Even so, Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told Breitbart News on Monday that he would like to essentially re-litigate the science of climate change.

In an interview with Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, Pruitt proposed setting up opposing teams to debate key climate science issues.

“What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt voiced support for a “red team-blue team” exercise to foster such a discussion. The red-blue team concept gained prominence in a Wall Street Journal commentary by Steven Koonin, a professor at New York University.

Koonin argued that such an exercise would subject the scientific consensus on climate change to a rigorous test. The red team would challenge consensus findings from scientific assessments, and the blue team would have the opportunity to respond.

“The outcome of a Red/Blue exercise for climate science is not preordained, which makes such a process all the more valuable,” Koonin wrote. “It could reveal the current consensus as weaker than claimed. Alternatively, the consensus could emerge strengthened if Red Team criticisms were countered effectively.””

—  EPA’s Scott Pruitt wants to set up opposing teams to debate climate change science. Washington Post —  7 June 2017 — by Jason Samenow

Why is this report almost entirely wrong?

The Washington  Post’s Jason Samenow is an experienced journalist.  He certainly is experienced in climate science communication.  According to his Wiki entry “Samenow worked as a climate change analyst at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Division from 2000 to September 2010.  Samenow launched and oversaw the EPA’s public website on climate change. … In early 2004, Samenow established CapitalWeather.com, the Internet’s first professional weather blog.”  (apparently, while an employee of the Federal EPA.)

When Samenow’s weather blog, CapitalWeather.com, was absorbed by the Washington Post in 2008, Samenow came along and is now the Washington Post’s Weather Editor.

However, like other federal employees that have turned to the internet to express their views on climate science, Samenow is not a disinterested, unbiased reporter of the facts.  So, instead of journalism, we get advocacy and commentary where we should see news. 

What Does Samenow Get Wrong?

Nearly everything.   Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, did speak to Breitbart News on Monday but he did not say “that he would like to essentially re-litigate the science of climate change.”  Climate Science is not subject to “litigation” — not then, not now, not in the future — so it certainly cannot be “re-litigated” even if Pruitt desired that.

Of course, that is not what Scott Pruitt said.  What he did say is “What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,”  Pruitt voiced support for a “red team-blue team” exercise to foster such a discussion. He refers to Koonin’s Wall Street Journal editorial in which Koonin argued that such an exercise would subject the scientific consensus on climate change to a rigorous test. [see Judith Curry’s “A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science”].

Samenow repeats and doubles down on his original error with “In an interview with Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, Pruitt proposed setting up opposing teams to debate key climate science issues.”  The last thing Pruitt, or any sensible person for that matter, wants is to have opposing teams debate climate science.

The Washington Post author apparently has no idea what a Red Team Blue Team exercise would be for a scientific question.  Maybe he has confused with it Dr. Suess’s Red Fish Blue Fish. Maybe Samenow should have looked it up in the Wiki.  [If you don’t already realize why I say Samenow is clueless, you should read the Wiki, read Dr. Curry’s essay linked above and do a Google on Red Teams.] Samenow refers to the approach as re-litigation and debate.  It is neither.

”Samenow writes: “Historically, red teams have been called upon in military exercises as a way to introduce alternative ideas and, ultimately, strengthen organizational performance. But David Titley, a climate scientist at Penn State University and retired Navy rear admiral, said introducing a red team into climate science doesn’t make sense. “Science already has a red team: peer review.””

In case no one at the Washington Post reads their own Science section [here and here] depending on peer-review to ensure correct results is a fool’s hope.  Peer review is coming under increasing scrutiny, especially in fields that have strong indicators of publication bias and ideological bias, in fields where there is a strong and professionally-enforced consensus.   I needn’t point out here that climate science is one such field.

The Intelligence and the Tech Security worlds have been using Red Team’s for quite some time, and the approach has become quite sophisticated.

What Red Team Blue Team is meant to do in the Intelligence World is to obviate the influence of “group think” among intelligence analysts, who tend to be a close knit group.  According to Psychology Today: “Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”

In Intelligence, this has fairly recently led to a US President being advised to go to war, and doing so,  over the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction, which were figments of groupthink among America’s intelligence analysts.

In a scientific field, groupthink leads to studies that “go along to get along” — to publication bias where the ‘best journals” only publish papers that agree with the emerging consensus or the field’s opinion leaders, drowning out by volume any differing voices and pushing dissenting papers downline into less prominent, less prestigious journals, where they do not have any influence and are seldom, if ever, read.

And that’s what Climate Science needs — a remedy for the groupthink that has led to attitudes like that of Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is quoted saying:  “The notion that we would need to create an entirely different new approach, in particular for the specific question around global warming, is unfounded and ridiculous…”.

So much for a search for better understanding.

# # # # #

Post Script:  I once made a suggestion at Climate Etc. that the whole field of Climate Science might want to hit the RESTART button.   A properly constituted Red Team would fit the bill to re-evaluate the field, discover misunderstandings, discover unknown unknowns, and direct future research to find the answers to known unknowns.

I’d like to see your comments, especially on the use of Red Teams in the real world, your professional lives.     –  Kip Hansen

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