Bollocks on their predication rate. Real forecasters report skill. By contrast, actual progress on predicting the North Atlantic Oscillation, perhaps an achievable goal, would be huge.
Both of these issues are covered in Judith Curry on Climate Change, a podcast from 2013 which, as it happens, I consumed yesterday.
Concerning the rush to embarrass themselves by reporting their weather prediction rate, it's because of the taxonomic land grab.
Host: I wonder how you feel about how your particular field has changed as you've grown up in it and been out for 25 years.
... Do you feel that we are making progress in the scientific world on this particular topic? Or are we in trouble?
Guest: I think we're in big trouble. When I left graduate school, nobody called themselves a climate scientist. They were an atmospheric dynamicist or a geochemist or a physical oceanographer or things like that. And we were all focused on increasing fundamental understanding. And that was the focus. It was the breakthrough in understanding, changing the way people think, was what mattered. And somebody who published too many papers was probably looked at with suspicion--they are doing the quick and easy stuff; they are not really digging in. It was potentially superficial.
The other thing that was looked down upon, say in the 1980s, was doing something that was too applied, working to deal with regional problems or something like that. That was viewed as soft core; it was what the people did who couldn't really make fundamental contributions to understanding, so they moved on to some of these applied topics, which were useful in some way to regional decision-makers.
I would say in 2000--it was a gradual transition, but I think circa 2000 there was a switch to people finding it beneficial to self-label them as a climate scientist. There was a lot of money, research dollars in this area; there was a lot of influence to be had, in terms of sitting on panels and boards and committees and being interviewed by journalists and being invited to testify in front of Congress. And so the value and the influence of the scientist sort of switched into that dimension where your measure of influence was not so much how you increased our fundamental understanding of how the oceans worked, but it was really to what boards and committees you sat on, your press, and your influence in policy, being invited to testify in front of Congress, and whatever. So I've seen that switch.
The problem is, the concern that I have for the health of our field, is that there's still a lot of fundamental things that we don't understand. The climate models aren't good enough. We need to go back to basics, increase our understanding about the non-linear dynamics of all these ocean oscillations and complexity of the system and things like that.
There are a lot of fundamental things that are getting short shrift, that the sex appeal in our field right now and a lot of funding is to do what I call mock 'climate model taxonomy', where people are analyzing the output of climate models and finding something interesting, alarming, or using them to infer that we won't be able to grow grapes in California in 2100 or something like this. This is the stuff that gets published in Nature and Science and PNAS. People get a press release.
Note that the word "useful" as I chose to hear it, is entirely confined to the domain of career advancement and the writing of committee-room position papers.
Two things about Russ.
One is that he doesn't connect as much as he should. He's (since) done other podcasts which talk about how the regional nature of congressional representation makes politics in America intensely regional. This is why the phrase "grapes in California" is so revealing. Only when your claims are sufficiently regionalized do you become grist for the mill, where the constant circulation of dollars sets up its own giant, oscillatory loops.
The other thing is that Russ loves to hide behind "we can't know". "If we can't know, leave things alone" eminently suits the Koch brothers ("alone", by definition, means business as usual). Russ goes mainly that far in padding their empire. The Kochs probably consider Russ as a tiny public-service inoculation against Grand Plan Reformist Flu.
On the flip side, the intro to Hardcore History contains the gravelly line from Edward R. Murrow "we are not descended from fearful men.ï" True that, except when fearfulness plays to an activist industrialist world order. Russ is, sadly, within the domain of human agency, a fearful man.
Russ's answer, therefore, to decision making under extreme uncertainty is to fall back on an ideological crap shoot. Just put the invisible hand on the steering wheel, responding to local, distributed information on a global scale. What could go wrong? Lots of things. Would it be more or less than what could go wrong it we actively attempted to steer by overselling science. Hard to say.
There's no shortage of examples of atrocious steering. There's no shortage of examples of atrocious non-steering. Please enjoy your stay on the N=1 blue marble. In a nutshell, name your spin.