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Lost in translation: In a Brazilian interview, Judith Curry incluir uma cena demasiado longa ou uma varia§£o do tema de um programa de televis£o indicando que este est¡ com os seus dias contados

And you’ll never guess who else is in the post-normal fan club!

Judith Curry, tribal elder for the confusionists, has now jumped the shark in two languages.

As Wikipedia explains, “Jumping the shark is an idiom used to describe the moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise. The phrase was originally used to denote the point in a television program’s history where the plot spins off into absurd story lines or unlikely characterizations. These changes were often the result of efforts to revive interest in a show whose audience had begun to decline, usually through the employment of different actors, writers or producers.”

Bingo.

Tenney Naumer who blogs from Brazil on climate change, just posted, “More Currygate: Judith Curry has spread disinformation in Brazil. Interview from ‰poca magazine, May 1, 2010.” Tenney did the translations and issues the often-crucial, often-ignored advice, “head vise warning in effect!”

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For me, the confusing confusionist interview itself is not as fascinating as something I discovered in the course of writing this post.

[Note: For a change of pace, and since the subject seems to call for it, I’m going to try a Rabett Run approach here. Do read his new post on Jindal and the berms. I digress.]

If you plug the phrase “jump the shark” into Google Translate into Portuguese, you get “pular o tubar£o.” If you plug that into Babylon 8, “the most popular translation software,” you get back “jump the shark.”

Ah, but if you plug “jump the shark” into Babylon, you get: “incluir uma cena demasiado longa ou uma varia§£o do tema de um programa de televis£o indicando que este est¡ com os seus dias contados.”

Babylon gets big kudos for this effort to explain the idiom, since if you plug that into Google, you get:

include a scene too long or a variation on the theme of a television program indicating that it is with its days numbered

And so it is with Dr. Curry’s interview.

Indeed I think it is a brilliant strategy for the confusionist tribe to grant interviews in foreign languages, since it 1) makes them more confusing and 2) gives them an extra layer of plausible deniability.

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Curry famously walked back her paraphrasing of Montford’s attacks on the Hockey Stick after NASA’s Gavin Schmidt eviscerated them (see “Hockey Stick fight at the RC Corral”):

Gavin, the post I made in #167 was a summary of Montford’s book as closely as I can remember it, sort of a review. I did not particularly bring in my personal opinions into this, other than the framing of montford’s points. So asking me to retract a point made in a book in a review of that book is, well, pointless. your attempt to rebut my points are full of logical fallacies and arguing at points i didn’t make. As a result, Montford’s theses look even more convincing. Once you’e in a hole, you can try to climb out or keep digging. Well keep digging, Gavin. My final words: read the book.

[Response: Thanks for passing by. In future I will simply assume you are a conduit for untrue statements rather than their originator. And if we are offering advice, might I suggest that you actually engage your critical faculties before demanding that others waste their time rebutting nonsense. I, for one, have much better things to do. — gavin]

Whatever else you can say about Curry, she is also very good at refusing to define her terms or clarify her open-ended smears on the integrity and judgment of climate scientists — no matter how often you ask.

So who knows what she is trying to say in this Brazilian interview, since, as Tenney emails me, it seems rather unlikely that Curry is fluent in Portuguese. will

I’m reposting this because:

  1. It is a cautionary tale for anybody giving interviews in foreign languages on the subject this complex and nuanced.
  2. It’s laugh-out-loud [cry-out-loud?] funny.
  3. In this theater-of-the-absurd version of the children’s game of telephone, the reporter got one thing right: “The confusion began at the end of last year, when Judith….” As for when the confusion will end, who can say?

Here is Tenney’s translation:

Judith Curry: “I am not afraid of the climate”American researcher says that there is still a lot of uncertainty about global warmingby Alexandre Mansur, ‰poca, May 1, 2010Hurricanes are a speciality of Judith Curry, director of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S.A. Now she is in the eye of the storm. The confusion began at the end of last year, when Judith criticized the publications of researchers Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, and Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia, in the U.K., accused of distorting scientific data, via the released e-mails. Jones and Mann were cleared by investigations of the universities and by a British scientific committee. But Judith affirms that the problem of credibility is not over. She does not question that the Earth is warming. Nor that this is caused by human emissions. But she affirms that the catastrophic predictions emitted by the IPCC, a panel of scientists put together by the UN, are exaggerated.WHO IS SHE? She is the director of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in the U.S. WHAT DOES SHE DO? Has recently published articles in which she criticized climatologists, members of the IPCC, the UN panelSCIENTIFIC EXPERIENCEWas on the board of the Society of American Meteorologists. Edited the Journal of Applied Meteorology. Worked for NASA, the American space agency ‰POCA — Do you have any fear of the consequences of climate change?Judith Curry — There exist significant risks associated with them. This whole question of how “dangerous” is climate change has not been adequately evaluated. But I am not personally afraid of this.

‰POCA — Are scientists fulfilling their mission to inform the public?Curry — The public’s perception that global warming is a planetary emergency probably had its peak between 2005 and 2007, with Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore’s film. Since then, interest has been falling. The skepticism of climate change now questions if the impacts of warming are large or predominantly adverse. And if anything can be done to improve the situation. The public debate has deteriorated into attempts to discredit or censor scientists. And what we see is propaganda in order to influence the politics, and not to inform the public.

‰POCA — What is the risk of this?Curry — Many researchers, genuinely worried about the risks of warming, including myself, are disappointed by the political decisions for confronting the climate challenge. To begin with, I believe it is necessary to make changes to the IPCC, in order to reestablish its credibility. The process needs to be more open. It is necessary to improve the selection of authors and reviewers. A team of inspectors should supervise the process and investigate complaints. Due to the release of the e-mails, we must change the manner in which we evaluate the uncertainties. Many times, in the IPCC reports, the mere judgment of a specialist replaces the degree of uncertainty of the data of a rigorous scientific analysis. We are talking about the imprecision in the time of adjusting the temperature data in order to compensate for the effects of urban heat (the growth of cities, with a concentration of cement and asphalt, artificially increases the temperature of the region). Or to fill in regions of the Earth where there are no data available.

‰POCA — What do we still not know about climate change? Curry — There are still many uncertainties. They are associated with the records of temperatures in the past. And also the climate models that researchers run on their computers to simulate the behavior of the atmosphere and to make estimates of the future.

‰POCA — It possible that science will be able to establish the degree of seriousness of the climate crisis?Curry — They do not know with certainty how much of the warming that occurred in the 20th century can be attributed to human activity. And the projections for warming for this century are not exact.

‰POCA — Do we need to wait until these uncertainties are reduced or eliminated before we make decisions that avoid the worst consequences of climate change?Curry — This is not what I am suggesting. The uncertainties cannot be eliminated. We make decisions all the time in uncertain situations. It is that the degree of imprecision should be taken into consideration in the decision process. The chances of tragic consequences due to warming are at a minimum at least as great as arms of mass destruction in Iraq would have been. In the end, they did not exist, but we went to war anyway. We have a history of deciding to act in order to avoid bad things even when the probability is low.

“No one knows how much of the warming that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century can be attributed to human action”

‰POCA — How can we tell the legitimate skeptics from the industry lobbyists who just want to increase confusion?Curry — The fundamental question turns on the data and scientific models. A genuine skeptic puts forth arguments and will debate these in scientific journals or technical blogs.

‰POCA — Do you see a lobby campaign by the fossil-fuel industry to increase confusion?Curry — This also exists. But I do not see it as an important factor in skepticism in general in relation to climate change. The majority of people who write against the control of emissions use political or economic arguments. They are not concerned with the science. You can’t even call them skeptics. There are other skeptics who have a background in science. But few of them receive any money from oil or coal companies. Entities like the American Enterprise Institute or the Competitive Enterprise Institute are preoccupied with the politics that could affect the competitiveness of the U.S. and our economy. So, they spend time and money organizing conferences and demanding information from climate researchers.

‰POCA — How do you view the controversy generated by the e-mails that were taken from the University of East Anglia?Curry — The e-mails fed the concern about the methods used to construct the chronology of temperatures on Earth’s surface over the last 1,000 years. It is call the “hockey stick” (that shows a long period of lower temperatures and a sharp increase in the most recent years, like the end of a hockey stick). Also, the e-mails raised doubts about the behavior of the scientists in relation to the process of evaluation by colleagues of each study, before it is published in scientific journals. And maybe there were even violations of the Freedom of Information Act (or FOA, as it is abbreviated in English, a law that gives a citizen the right to ask for access to secret government documents).

‰POCA — Do the messages exchanged between Michael Mann and Phil Jones demonstrate any sign of improper conduct?Curry — There exist various investigations for evaluating this. From what I know, the answer would be “yes.”

‰POCA — The investigations by the British scientific committee and the University of Pennsylvania exonerated Mann and Jones. Curry — I agree with the conclusion of the investigations that there was no evidence of incorrect scientific conduct. I did not see a sign of plagiarism or falsification of data in the work of the scientists. Not using all the data, selecting data arbitrarily and using inappropriate statistical methods do not fall under incorrect conduct. But also it does not inspire confidence in the product of the research. The behavior of these scientists, such as disqualifying critics and showing little transparency, delaying the public availability of the temperature data they used. But I think it is time to stop focusing on individual behavior and to start a reevaluation of the entire process of the IPCC’s scientific evaluation.

‰POCA — What needs to change in the IPCC?Curry — It needs to be more open to different opinions and to external verification. There is a rush to publish articles in scientific journals just before the IPCC closes. Clearly, scientists want their work to be included. There is the perception that the best way to get your work included is to support the basic narrative of the IPCC. And the scientists of the IPCC tried to disqualify researchers who published articles with contrarian opinions. Thus, in order to continue to be relevant, the IPCC can no longer limit itself to summarizing the scientific literature every five years. It needs to open the range of scientific views about warming and the political options for confronting it.

I won’t even try to debunk this because, frankly, halfway through reading it my vise failed containment and now I have to clean up a grey gooey mess all over my office — I hate it when that happens!

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And even if the translation back to English were 100% accurate, who knows if the interviewer got the original translation right — assuming Curry wasn’t speaking Portuguese. She can clear that up if she wants. Don’t hold your breath, unless you’re in the Tea Party (see below).

One final point. I had never heard of this “postnormal” science stuff until Curry started using the phrase in the comments of my earlier post:

  • “Joe, what I’ve done is something very old fashioned in this postnormal, tribalistic environment”
  • “argument of Jerome Ravetz (associated with postnormal science)”

It seemed like another ill-defined term that allows users to smear science and scientists without actually defining their terms — see my reply to Curry here.

Now a faithful reader sends me an online chat that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did after his absurdly soft ball profile in the Washington Post Magazine published today. Although you wouldn’t know it from the profile, Cuccinelli is an anti-science pro-pollution extremist, whose actions have been denounced by leading scientists and the Washington Post editorial board itself:

This is from the chat:

richmond VA: Mr. Cuccinelli, I want to thank you for making yourself available to answer questions from the public. My question is in regards to your stand on climate change, a topic on which you have put a great deal of focus considering your position as attorney general. Do you think that our green house gas emmissions have no impact on the environment? Also, would you consider yourself an environmentalist? Under what circumstances would you put the health of the natural world above the desires of man and business?

Ken Cuccinelli: I presume that all emissions have SOME impact. However, it appears that some or much of the science surrounding determing the nature and scope of climate change may be either uncertain or severely biased. E.g., check “post-normal science” on wikipedia, google or bing.

I always want to see us pursuing a balance b/n the needs of mankind, including the need to make a living, and the conservation of our environment. Strikingly, that kind of attempt at balance appears to be badly lacking at EPA… leading to some conflicts b/n Va. and EPA.

Hmm. That kind of reads like a re-translation, too.

I have a new phrase for Cuccinelli and Curry: post-normal climate. After more than 10,000 years of relatively stable climate that allowed modern human civilization to develop and ‘sustain’ several billion people, post-normal climate is what you get when you ignore decades of observation and research and warnings by the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists, leading scientific organizations, major journals, and National Academies of Science around the world. It’s what you get when you demonize real science and try to label it post-normal or tribalistic or severely biased.

What does a post-normal climate look like? Well, of course nobody knows for certain, and nobody rational wants to find out, but we have some paleoclimate clues:

Assuming we keep listening to those who keep blowing smoke into our faces by focusing on trivialities and the emails of individual scientists rather than working as hard as possible to explain to the public the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, then it probably looks something like this: Hell and High Water.

Hmm. Might need to do a whole post on post-normal climate.

Apologies to Eli if this was all lost in translation!