Gavin Schmidt: Response to Lisbon Invitation

Posted: February 4, 2011 by tallbloke in climate, Philosophy

There has been a flurry in the blogosphere regarding the summary of Gavin Schmidt’s response to the invitation he was sent to attend the Lisbon Workshop on Reconciliation in the Climate Debate published by Fred Pearce on his New Scientist blog here. Gavin posted on Fred’s blog and said that:

Fred Pearce includes a statement about me that is patently untrue.
“But the leaders of mainstream climate science turned down the gig, including NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, who said the science was settled so there was nothing to discuss.”

This is completely made up.”

The original summary (similar to that which Fred posted) was made by me at the Lisbon event in response to a question concerning the absence of prominent AGW proponents. Judy Curry posted on the issue here, and wondered if I was able to clarify. I expressed reservations about posting Gavin’s response and said:

“I would just stress at this point that what I said constitutes my opinion and not what Gavin said verbatim. However I would also like to say that Gavin’s complaint to the New Scientist does not include any praisee of the passage in his original response which gave rise to my brief summary. I therefore reject Gavin’s claim that I ‘made stuff up’, and respectfully suggest that we can lay this one to rest if in a spirit of openness Gavin simply reproduces his response so people can see for themselves what he said.”

The invitation from the Workshop organisers took the following form:

Dear Dr. Gavin Schmidt,

We have been following your activities with regards to the science of climate change, the controversies and the challenges, etc.

We are writing to you now about a proposed workshop on the issue, which we are hoping to organise for next January, the 26th to 28th. It will be sponsored and financially supported by the Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen of the European Commission’s DG Joint Research Centre, and will take place at the C. Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.

We have been trying to find a way to begin to overcome the polarisation on this issue, which as you know has already done great damage to the cause of coping with climate change, as well as to the reputation of science itself. At this stage we are planning to have a workshop where the main scientific issues can be discussed, so that some clarity on points of agreement and disagreement might be reached. We would try to stay off the policy issues, and will also exclude personal arguments.

The issues we have in mind are Medieval Warm Period, ‘ice’, climate sensitivity, and temperature data. We would hope to have smaller groups discussing these in some detail, hopefully with scientists who are very familiar with the technical issues to lead the discussion.

Since the topics are so sensitive we would have Chatham House rules unless the consensus desires otherwise; and there would be some public report of the proceedings.

We are just now finalising the invitation list. I do hope that you find this a useful activity to engage on.

With very best wishes


The organising Team

I’m very grateful to Gavin Schmidt for giving me permission to publish the response he gave to the invitation as I have it. I expect there will be a lot of discussion, but I don’t want to fracture the discussion taking place on Judy’s blog, so I have disabled comments for this post. However, I felt that taking responsibility for publishing lay with me and so I have posted it here at the Talkshop. I hope that this will engender considered debate on the meaning of what constitutes ‘The scientific community’ and what are perceived to be conflicts in the climate change debate.

Here is Gavin’s response:

I’m a little confused at what conflict you feel you are going to be addressing? The fundamental conflict is of what (if anything) we should do about greenhouse gas emissions (and other assorted pollutants), not what the weather was like 1000 years ago. Your proposed restriction against policy discussion removes the whole point. None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions. No ‘conflict resolution’ is possible between the science community who are focussed on increasing understanding, and people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.

You would be much better off trying to find common ground on policy ideas via co-benefits (on air pollution, energy security, public health water resources etc), than trying to get involved in irrelevant scientific ‘controversies’.

Having visited a couple of places on the net where sceptics aren’t welcome I made a response to one comment saying I should apologise to Gavin with this commitment:

If Gavin Schmidt will acknowledge that the people gathered at Lisbon who would have been happy if he’d joined us are not well characterised as:

“people who are picking through the scientific evidence for cherries they can pick to support a pre-defined policy position.”

I’ll happily acknowledge that my characterisation of his stance was overly coloured by that part of his response and unfair as a standalone comment.

If he does that and specifically asks for an apology, I will apologise to him.

Grant Foster, who runs the blog I posted this to isn’t impressed with my proposal. He says:

[Response: Your attitude beggars belief.

In my opinion, you and the other attendees *are* picking through the scientific evidence for cherries you can pick to support a pre-defined policy position. Perhaps Gavin shares the same opinion of you. We’re entitled to our opinion, as are you. But he never — absolutely never — attributed a statement to YOU that wasn’t said by YOU.

THAT is your transgression, it’s plain and simple, it’s undeniable, and yet you refuse to acknowledge your guilt. And now, in a truly infantile display, you offer a *conditional* apology?

Don’t contribute any more of your pollution my blog. Or our atmosphere.]

Clearly this spittle filled rant comes from someone with anything but an “open mind”, and obviously any further input from me will be censored.

So I’ll reply here. 🙂

Grant, your complaint misses the mark. I never attributed my characterisation of Gavin’s response to Gavin. The people I said it to knew I was expressing *my own opinion* of what Gavin’s response amounted to.

Get yourself a quick course in Reason and Argument. Then you’ll probably be able to make your point without losing your temper and getting nasty.


[Update 2]

Posted on DeSmogblog:

Hi Richard,
I have written to Gavin Schmidt and apologised for my part in this episode.
I think you have misidentified the part of Gavin Schmidt’s response to the Lisbon Invitation which Fred Pearce paraphrased. The passage which most closely resembles Pearce’s paraphrase is this:

“None of the seemingly important ‘conflicts’ that are *perceived* in the science are ‘conflicts’ in any real sense within the scientific community, rather they are proxy arguments for political positions.”

Dr Schmidt is entitled to his opinion. My apology letter pointed out that as an ecologically conscious person who lives according to his principles using 6Kw hours of electricity a day, I object to being lumped into some kind of amorphous group which has an identifiable and dismissable political position.

My qualification as a historian and philosopher of science makes me more concerned for the future of science than for the promotion of political stances.

Gavin could have learned a lot about the diverse range of people who have misgivings about mainstream climate science by attending Lisbon, and particularly about the concerns held by the E.U. Joint Research Council representative who attended and who spoke at the public event concluding the workshop.

Is your political stance such that you will censor rather than post this comment? I hope not.

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