Last week, Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator, stated he intended to form a ‘red team’ to debate climate science.

“U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is leading a formal initiative to challenge mainstream climate science using a “back-and-forth critique” by government-recruited experts, according to a senior administration official.

The program will use “red team, blue team” exercises to conduct an “at-length evaluation of U.S. climate science,” the official said, referring to a concept developed by the military to identify vulnerabilities in field operations.

“The administrator believes that we will be able to recruit the best in the fields which study climate and will organize a specific process in which these individuals … provide back-and-forth critique of specific new reports on climate science,” the source said.

The origin of this initiative stems from a proposal offered in The Wall Street Journal:

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in April, Steven Koonin, a physicist at New York University, proposed that a “red team” of dissenting scientists be established to critique major scientific reports on climate change. A “blue team” of climate scientists would then rebut the criticisms, and the resulting back-and-forth would unfold in public view.

Dr. Koonin, who was an under secretary at the Department of Energy in the Obama administration, said the process “would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties.”

He drew an analogy to red-team exercises used by the military to test assumptions and analyze risks.

Joseph Majkut of the Niskanen Center for Climate and Energy Policy believes this approach has a great deal of merit.

A properly-done red team exercise could both elevate the status of climate science in the Trump administration and among Republicans, and reset how we approach climate science as a nation.

Many climate skeptics suspect that the climate science community is caught up in political conformity that leans toward alarmism, and that alternative ideas about the causes and risks of climate change cannot break through peer review. Red teaming is designed to address such a situation. As Micah Zenko writes in his authoritative book Red Team [How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy]: in institutions that are supposed to police themselves through internal processes, like the scientific community with peer-review, “even longtime analysts are susceptible to adopting the assumptions and biases of the institutions and subjects they are supposed to be objectively studying.”

Whether climate science is caught in such a morass or not, many people in power think that it is. We have to find a way to unstick that belief if the climate debate is to move forward. A red team exercise is a fine way to do it.

Majkut reviews several instances in which the “red team” approach was successfully used in analyzing climate science data.

Noted climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry is intrigued, and recently devoted an entire post to what constitutes a good “red team”. She makes some excellent recommendations for the approach Pruitt’s groups should take if he proceeds with this initiative.

…If this red team exercise had been conducted under the Obama administration, it would be very clear who is ‘red’ and who is ‘blue’. Obama and his administration slagged off on anyone with a different perspective as a ‘denier,’ hence a red team would have been antithetical to Obama’s strategy on this issue.

Now the Trump administrate is challenging the established perspective of Obama and the UNFCCC/IPCC. Red is the new blue. The good news is that red teaming on this issue is needed (something that would have been impossible under the Obama administration.) However, the risk is that the over enthusiasm of the Trump administration for overthrowing pretty much everything from the Obama administration and the UNFCCC/IPCC will bias the proceedings and diminish the legitimacy of the outcome in influencing the national dialogue on this topic. This means that the blue team needs to serve as a ‘red team’ on the red team.

Another words, red is the new blue!


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