Having some kind of Red Team exercise, to test and challenge the climate science consensus, seems to be gaining a small amount of momentum. Steve Koonin (who I have discussed before) has an article in the Wall Street Journal called A ‘Red Team’ exercise would strengthen climate science. Judith Curry, who brought the idea up during her testimony to Congress, seems to approve.
So, why isn’t this idea of there being some kind of adversarial challenge to mainstream climate science being embraced? Well, one reason is that this is kind of how science works all the time. People are constantly challenging our understanding so as to either improve, and strengthen it, to modify it, or – in some cases – to completely overthrow it. If a consensus has developed, it is quite likely that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to seriously challenge the fundamentals of the consensus position, even if many of the details are still not completely understood.
There are also already examples of this ‘Red Team’ kind of thing. Berkeley Earth was a recent attempt to re-analyse the surface temperature datasets and, guess what, it got basically the same answer as everyone else. The CLOUD experiment is looking at a possible link between cosmic rays and could formation. Although there is a link between cloud formation and cosmic rays, the effect is marginal. There have even been tests of the Iris Hypothesis and, again, even if there is an effect, it is probably small.
So, maybe those who think that this ‘Red Team’ idea is worth pursuing can actually explain what is being suggested.
- Who would make up the team/teams? I don’t think that those who are publicly promoting this are really planning to get all that involved themselves. In fact, one of the strongest proponents of this idea has been involved in a Red Team project and – to date – appears to have achieved absolutely nothing. Are there lots of other researchers who are keen to be part of such a team? Would we try to force some to become part of such a team? I can’t see how the latter would work as researchers are normally free to decide what they’d like to pursue. If the former, who are these people?
- How would this work be funded? The norm, whatever the funding source, is to write a proposal that lays out what work will be done, what the goals are, and what might be achieved. Given that this would be fundamental research, there isn’t a need to say – in advance – what the results would be, but some kind of justification for why it should be funded would normally be expected? Given the nature of the topic, I would imagine that anyone who could put together a half-decent ‘Red Team’ proposal would find someone to fund it, even if the normal funding routes were unlikely to be successful.
- How would the programme be assessed? How would we decide if the ‘Red Team’ had successfully challenged the mainstream position? Who would decide this? The norm would simply be that the community would slowly accept those ideas that are supported by the evidence, and largely reject those that are not, but that’s the position we’re already in. What special process would we follow to determine if the ‘Red Team’ exercise had been successful, or not?
Given the above, my general impression is that those who are proposing this are not planning to get all that involved themselves, and have no idea who would make up the ‘Red Team’. They’re not actually planning to present any details of what they’re proposing; they would just like some of the funding to go to ‘Red Team’ projects (whatever those might be). Also, they have no real idea of how this would be assessed and – given past experience – I would fully expect them to propose a ‘Green Team’ if it appeared that the ‘Red Team’ was not having much success in challenging the mainstream position.
My impression is that this is simply an attempt to sow doubt, rather than a serious suggestion for some major new research projects – I’d be happy to be proven wrong, though. Since I would like to be helpful, where possible, where they could start is to at least provide some plan for how they might address Judith Curry’s non-attribution argument. All that would be needed, to start with, is just some ideas as to how one might test whether or not most of the observed warming could be natural. I shall not hold my breath waiting for these ideas to be presented.
Eli’s take on Koonin’s idea for a Team B.