Curry's saga began with a Science paper she co-authored in 2005, which linked an increase in powerful tropical cyclones to global warming. It earned her scathing attacks on skeptical climate blogs.
She did not necessarily agree with the criticisms, but rather than dismissing them, as many scientists might have done, she began to engage with the critics...I thought, 'Well, these are the people I want to reach rather than preaching to the converted over at [the mainstream climate science blog] RealClimate.'"...once Curry ventured out onto the skeptic blogs, the questions she saw coming from the most technically savvy of the outsiders—including statisticians, mechanical engineers and computer modelers from industry—helped to solidify her own uneasiness
It was here that Curry began to develop respect for climate outsiders—or at least, some of them. And it made her reconsider her uncritical defense of the IPCC over the years. Curry says, "I realize I engaged in groupthink myself...in her unquestioning acceptance of the idea that IPCC reports represent the best available thinking about climate change.
She says she always trusted the IPCC to gather and synthesize all the disparate threads in this complex and multifaceted area of science. "I had 90 to 95 percent confidence in the IPCC Working Group 1 report," she states,... "Not to say that the IPCC science was wrong, but I no longer felt obligated in substituting the IPCC for my own personal judgment," she said in a recent interview posted on the Collide-a-Scape climate blog.
It is important to emphasize that nothing she encountered led her to question the science; she still has no doubt that the planet is warming, that human-generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are in large part to blame, or that the plausible worst-case scenario could be catastrophic. She does not believe that the Climategate e-mails are evidence of fraud or that the IPCC is some kind of grand international conspiracy. What she does believe is that the mainstream climate science community has moved beyond the ivory tower into a type of fortress mentality, in which insiders can do no wrong and outsiders are forbidden entry.
Curry asserts that scientists haven't adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations and don't even know with precision what's arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2—that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without any amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.
Things get worse, she argues, when you try to add in those feedbacks to project likely temperature increases over the next century, because the feedbacks are rife with uncertainty as well: "There's a whole host of unknown unknowns that we don't even know how to quantify but that should be factored into our confidence level."
To Curry, the damage comes not from the skeptics' critiques themselves, most of which are questionable, but from the scientific community's responses to them..."She's been hugely criticized by the climate science community," McIntyre says, "for not maintaining the fatwa [against talking to outsiders]."
Climate scientists feel embattled...what Curry has tried to do naturally feels like treason [to them]—especially since the skeptics have latched onto her as proof they have been right all along.
The whole thing has become a political potboiler, and what might be the normal insider debates over the minutiae of data, methodology and conclusions have gotten shrill. It is perhaps unreasonable to expect everyone to stop sniping at one another, but given the high stakes, it is crucial to focus on the science itself and not the noise.