Climate: Time for “Team B”?

There is a lot of chatter and rending of garments about the proposal made recently by former Obama Administration energy appointee Steven Koonin in the Wall Street Journal that there ought to be a full-scale, independent “red team” to produce a rival climate change assessment to the “consensus” produced by the IPCC, noting how this was done in the past on foreign intelligence matters to good effect:

The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations. It is very different and more rigorous than traditional peer review, which is usually confidential and always adjudicated, rather than public and moderated.

This sensible suggestion was recently embraced by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Naturally this has the climatistas and their stenographers in the media in a snit. Take in the lede to the Washington Post “news” story about the idea:

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.

Nothing subtle about that lede. Now I want to add my endorsement of this idea by referring readers to something I wrote in 2005:

The time has come to question the IPCC’s status as the near-monopoly source of information and advice for its member governments. It is probably futile to propose reform of the present IPCC process. Like most bureaucracies, it has too much momentum and its institutional interests are too strong for anyone realistically to suppose that it can assimilate more diverse points of view, even if more scientists and economists were keen to join up. The rectitude and credibility of the IPCC could be best improved not through reform, but through competition. The model for how climate science might be improved perhaps can be found in the field of intelligence in the 1970s.

By the mid-1970s it became clear that the Central Intelligence Agency’s annual assessments of the military activities of the Soviet Union had consistently underestimated their prodigious arms buildup. This produced great unhappiness among the policymakers, especially defense planners and arms control negotiators, who were using the CIA’s assessments to make decisions. Rather than root out the problems at the CIA that led to this consistent bias, the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board embraced a competitive solution: it set in motion “Team B,” a team of experts who were given access to the complete raw data as the CIA’s regular assessment team (which became known as “Team A” for the exercise). The CIA naturally resisted this proposal, and it was rejected for a time. Only the accession of a new CIA director–whose named happened to be George H. W. Bush–made the Team B process possible. Because the two teams were to exchange drafts of their assessments, a predictable thing happened: Team A’s official assessment became a lot more tough-minded, much closer to what Team B produced–and much more accurate, as subsequent history proved. Right away it is possible to speculate that the formation of a competitive Team B for climate change will put the IPCC on its best behavior and likely improve the rectitude of its process.

I mention this not just to point out that I was ten years ahead of everybody, but also to update the story in one particular respect. When the second tranche of “Climategate” emails were released in 2011, there was a reference to me and this suggestion, with the climate community clearly alarmed at the prospect. (You can read more about “Climategate II, The Sequel” in this Weekly Standard article.) It was fun to see that I could so easily get under the thin skin of the climatistas. (I’d also completely forgotten that I described the egregious Michael Mann as the “Fredo Corleone of the climate science community” in that article, a characterization that he has subsequently confirmed with his libel suit against National Review and Mark Steyn.)

Despite the impression of the Washington Post “news” article on the “Team B” idea that climate science is so buttoned up that any new assessment is frivolous, let’s go back to one more paragraph from Koonin’s recent article:

The public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science. At a recent national laboratory meeting, I observed more than 100 active government and university researchers challenge one another as they strove to separate human impacts from the climate’s natural variability. At issue were not nuances but fundamental aspects of our understanding, such as the apparent—and unexpected—slowing of global sea-level rise over the past two decades.

I can corroborate this from some first-hand conversations of my own with physicists and climate scientists who tell me that Koonin’s account is correct, that behind closed doors even the most convinced climate alarmist scientists are much more candid and forthcoming about the huge gaps and uncertainties in our knowledge of the climate system and the serious defects of the climate forecast models. Some day the enforced public conformity on the issues of climate science is going to be recognized as an intellectual scandal of the first order. Why the climate science community maintains a unified public face when they harbor so many private doubts is a question I’m going to work on in a separate article in a few weeks.