Climate Uncertainty and Risk: in press
by Judith Curry
My book Climate Uncertainty and Risk has now been accepted for publication, following peer review and submission of my revised manuscript.
I have mentioned several times on this blog and in interviews that I have a new book winding its way through the publication process. I haven’t written anything yet about the book, waiting for the peer review process to complete and formal acceptance.
Here is the summary blurb:
World leaders have made a forceful statement that climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity in the 21st century. However, little progress has been made in implementing policies to address climate change in a meaningful way. In Climate Uncertainty and Risk, eminent climate scientist Judith Curry shows how we can break through this stalemate. This book helps us rethink the climate change problem, the risks we are facing, and our response. It helps us strategize on how we can best engage with our environment and support human well-being, while responding to climate change.
Climate Uncertainty and Risk provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the climate change debate. It shows how both the climate change problem and its solution have been oversimplified. It explains how understanding uncertainty helps us to better assess the risks. It describes how uncertainty and disagreement can be part of the decision-making process. It provides a road map for formulating pragmatic solutions that can improve our well-being in the 21st century.
Judith Curry brings a unique perspective to the debate on climate change. She is a distinguished climate scientist who has engaged extensively with decision makers in both the private and public sectors on a range of issues related to weather and climate. She interacts with scientists, activists and politicians on both sides of the climate change debate. In her search for wisdom on the challenge of climate change, she incorporates the philosophy and sociology of science, ethics, risk management and politics. Climate Uncertainty and Risk is essential reading for those concerned about the environment, professionals dealing with climate change, and our national leaders.
You may recall that in 2018 I was invited by US CLIVAR to write an article on Climate Uncertainty and Risk. It was a short piece, mainly with a philosophy of science perspective. But I did like the title, and thought that this would be good topic for a book.
I often receive form letters from academic publishers inviting book proposals, I rarely open the emails. In April 2020, I received an email with the subject “Anthem Press – Expansion of Anthem Environment and Sustainability Initiative.” I opened the email, and was intrigued by what I read. This was in the early days of Covid, and I thought maybe I would have time to write a book. I prepared a prospectus for a book on Climate Uncertainty and Risk; I wanted to see how this idea would be received. I was asked to provide a list of possible peer reviewers, people that I didn’t know personally. At this point, I wasn’t all that invested in the idea of writing a book. I made no attempt to “stack the deck” with the proposed reviewers; I selected names of individuals whose opinions that I would be genuinely interested in (majority were in social sciences and philosophy of science). Here are summary excerpts from the reviews:
“Judith Curry is an intellectually courageous and honest voice that has been essentially suppressed in the political cauldron of the climate change debate. It would be wonderful if her prudent and clear-minded—and fiercely independent (in the sense of not being intimidated)—presentation of her perspective on the risks and uncertainties of climate change were made available. This will be a very needed and all-to-rare dissenting voice from within the scientific ranks about how we should be understanding the risks and uncertainties associated with climate change. Curry has been tarred and feathered as a “denier,” which is scandalous and false—but she is, in the best scientific sense of the word, skeptical about received wisdoms, confirmation bias, and political conformity.”
“Dr Judith Curry is a leading climate scientist with an exceptional understanding of the issues involved in decision making under deep uncertainty. Her understanding of the relevant issues in the philosophy of science is exceptional and impressive given that she is a scientist by training. It would thus be very welcome if Dr Curry were to contribute a monograph that tackles the issues involved in addressing climate-related risks under deep uncertainty.”
“The proposal pulls together in a coherent narrative ongoing work in climate change and the decision sciences. If developed properly, the book will be a substantial contribution to climate change adaptation and mitigation decision making and decision support. One potential problem is that the author is undeservedly controversial, in particular in the United States.”
“Dr Curry has a unique voice in climate science. She writes well and this book will generate buzz. This book will be great and it will be slightly controversial. Dr. Curry has a unique perspective. She wants climate scientists to be more honest about their uncertainty about their models and to convey these known unknowns to the public. She will challenge the conventional wisdom. I hope the climate scientists engage with her strong points and do not appeal to political correctness.”
“It is an important subject that has not been exhaustively addressed in climate-related research and in the science-policy interface. Awareness of scientific uncertainty and risk might have been increased by the COVID emergency. The proposal will generate attention because Dr. Curry is an experienced climate scientist, also well-known for not being aligned with the climate science consensus. I expect wide-ranging interest, probably reflecting a plurality of political perspectives.”
Well, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I have to say I was pretty exhilarated by these reviews. My book proposal was accepted, and I signed a contract.
In hindsight I was naïve about selecting a publisher for this book, but so far anyways, I think I made a good choice. I had heard of Anthem Press, and looked up their website and googled around a bit; seemed ok. I decided that an academic press – rather than commercial press – was the right way to go for this book. I felt that it was important for this book to undergo a rigorous peer review process, since the scope of the book was very broad and outside the range of where I had published previously (other than blog articles).
Lets face it – I am controversial character and I suspect that some academic presses might have turned down a book proposal from me for that reason. Kudos to Anthem for their willingness to take a chance on such a “controversial” character such as moi.
One of my friends who somehow knows a lot about academic publishing was familiar with Anthem and said that they were the perfect publisher for my book. So far, so good.
However, one advantage of a commercial press is that the cost of purchasing the book is much lower; I have figured out a way to keep electronic version at a low(ish) price, will try to figure out something for the paperback version, but the hard cover version is probably hopelessly expensive.
Another advantage of a commercial press is a much larger marketing effort. I’m hoping that in this era of social media, I can somehow reach everyone who might want to buy the book.
My book has now been handed off to Anthem’s production team. Need to work on the book cover, among other things. And I need to prepare the dreaded index. At this point, the publication date is Jul 23; hopefully this can be expedited a bit.
Writing the book
I naively thought I could write this book quickly; everything was at a standstill during Covid, and it only took me two years from fingers on key board to camera ready to prepare my book Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans. Further, I had written so much material on Climate Etc., that surely it would be simple just to cull and organize all that material. Hah!
As I started going through old blog posts, I entered into an extended yang period (see my previous blog post) of trying to sort through all of my previous writings and articles that I had referenced. The outline I submitted to the publisher didn’t make sense to me anymore. I was adrift.
Then I got hammered by an insanely active Atlantic hurricane season during summer and fall 2020, I cannot express how all consuming and head exploding that season was for my company Climate Forecast Applications Network. I barely had time to think, let alone write. I was able to start writing around October 2020, but I was suffering from a bad case of chicken-egg. What topics to introduce first? Should I introduce half hatched eggs early on, with full hatching in later chapters? Which eggs? Writing about wicked science is quite a challenge.
My first version of the introductory chapters had a heavy dose of the philosophy and social psychology of science. Readers of this first version collectively yawned. My revised version spiced things up, focusing more on politics and scientific ethics, and less on philosophy and social psychology. One of Anthem’s reviewers found this version to be unecessarily spicy. The final revised version is I hope the Goldilocks version – just right.
Over the course of writing the book, I needed to clarify who is the audience for this book. Yes, I hope that scholars in the social sciences and philosophy will read this book (note: academic social sciences and humanities is the target audience for Anthem). While I am now divorced from academia, I still have a strong attachment to producing serious scholarship, and academic cred is generally beneficial in terms of public credibility. In terms of technical level, this book should be accessible to anyone with a college degree (and clever people without a college degree). I guess my target audience is defined by the Etc. in Climate Etc. – anyone interested in the climate issue that is willing to put in some effort to actually understanding it. Specifically, I am trying to reach decision makers in the public and private sectors and the broad range of professionals/practitioners that support this decision making.
This book is for people that are willing to think and challenge their preconceived notions about climate change. This book will be uncomfortable for people with strong opinions on either the alarmed or unconvinced extremes of the spectrum (which makes it all the more important that they read it). And of course, card-carrying climate scientists would greatly benefit from reading this book.
The logic that I landed on for the book in terms of dealing with the chicken-egg conundrum is to introduce key ideas and conflicts early with references to later chapters, with a crescendo through the succeeding chapters, culminating in chapters 13-15 where everything comes together, with lightbulbs exploding in the reader’s head as they read Chapter 15. The final chapters are definitely fortissimo; the challenge is to hold the reader’s interest and not offend anyone in the early chapters. A delicate balancing act indeed.
I have used my own internal reviewers at various stages of writing the book, which has been very helpful. I sent the originally submitted version to my internal reviewers, which included climate scientists, geologists, engineers, economists, policy scientist, national security expert, musician. I was reassured that people with a range of backgrounds and education levels were able to understand the book.
While many of their comments were useful in revising the manuscript, it was extremely interesting to see how they reacted in terms of which chapters they liked, which parts were hard to understand or somehow uncomfortable. I had requested that they evaluate the book for any evidence of partisanship (I have sought to be ruthlessly nonpartisan); most (not all) of my internal reviewers are on the liberal/left side of the political spectrum. My left-most reviewer found the treatments in the book to be evenhanded. It was also interesting to see what kinds of questions they had while reading various parts of the book (which helped me address the chicken-egg conundrum). Readers who had a pre-conceived notion of what I would be writing had a lot of “But what about . . .” comments, expecting more explanations/adjudications of controversial scientific topics and more stories about alarmist scientists behaving badly.
So this book is different from what you may be expecting, but by the time you reach the last few chapters, hopefully you will forget that you ever wanted anything else.
I submitted the manuscript to Anthem in late August; I did not receive peer reviews until last week, almost 4 months after submission. I was told peer review normally takes 2-3 months; I was unlucky. Needless to say I was rather anxious, and dismayed to see the publication date slip by another month.
But when I received the reviews, I got why it took so long. One of the reviewers provided an extremely thorough and extensive review, which overall was quite useful and motivated shortening and reorganizing the introductory chapters. The reviewer was very knowledgeable about climate models and the IPCC reports, so I was pleased that what I wrote passed muster.
The original pricing that Anthem quoted:
These prices are outrageous, but academic presses generally charge outrageous prices for their books (presumably because they don’t sell that many copies).
I cut a deal with them to purchase a substantial number of electronic copies (I plan to give them to CFAN’s clients), for a lowering of the electronic price to $25.
On amazon.com, I see that the hardcover price is $110 (available for pre-order). Yikes, amazon.com now says release date is 6/13 !!!
Anthem is now citing $20 for electronic version.
No sign yet of anything re paperback version, I will work on some sort of deal to lower the price if it is still at $35.
Well this post is already long enough. I will do whatever I can to speed up the publication process and lower the purchase price. Over the next few months, I will be providing further information about the contents and the choices I made.