Willis Eschenbach didn't deserve such a universal criticism
Citizen scientists typically – or, given some terminology, by definition – lack the official education and familiarity with the existing body of the technical literature in a scientific discipline. They're autodidacts and they haven't been "rated" by any well-established institutionalized system.
That means that the quality of their research differs. When it comes to atmospheric physics, we can find citizen scientists at many levels.
The Sky Dragon Slayers represent the bottom end of the spectrum; they're full-fledged cranks who are incapable of understanding the basic physical laws and mechanisms that make e.g. the greenhouse gas possible. On the opposite, upper end of the spectrum of citizen climate scientists, I would single out Willis Eschenbach. His analyses, often published on Anthony Watts' blog, are clever, usually free of self-evident errors, and make you think, to say the least.
His recent investigation of the CERES energy fluxes led to a battle with Roy Spencer whom Willis considers a "hero of his".
Roy Spencer was asked to react to Willis' analyses and he did so in the text
Willis reacted to Roy's comments in this reply:
First, let me say that I agree with some thoughts of Roy to some extent. It's clear that amateur scientists are often ignorant about elementary enough issues, important papers in the literature, and this may disqualify their research. Some of them may be annoying. In some fields, the gap between amateurs and professionals may be wider than in other fields, I would add. But even if an amateur is well-informed, a professional may almost always recognize the amateur quickly because "some gaps" or "some typical laymen's misconceptions" are almost always present.
But that's it. I can't really agree with anything else that Roy says and I can't really disagree with any broader points raised by Willis.
Let me say that the paywalls are not the only reason why it could be a bad idea for a citizen scientist to read through all the papers discussing similar matters. Two other reasons, entirely overlooked by Roy, are the fact that much of the literature in the recent 25 years has been manipulated by the influence of the climate alarmism (there isn't any clear separation between the papers or their sections/sentences that have been contaminated and those that have not); and the fact that the climate science hasn't made much progress in the recent decades. This was also documented in Nir Shaviv's essay that was posted yesterday. The warming produced by a doubling of CO2 has been "between 1.5 and 4.5 °C or so" for 35 years or so. The figure isn't getting more accurate because the fundamental assumption of the "theory", namely that this figure should be substantial, is almost certainly wrong. If there weren't any foul assumption like that, tens of billions of dollars would have surely reduced the relative error below 300 percent.
This is not just a fault of several hardcore fearmongers who love to say that the climate sensitivity is high. It is a fault of the whole community of people who have been "educated" by the body of papers that allowed the IPCC's claims to arise. From this viewpoint, sorry to say, Roy is a part of the rotten apple, too. The behavior of clouds – and, more generally, H2O molecules in any form – in the atmosphere is the main question that decides about the value of the climate sensitivity. Roy's results for this quantity are generally lower than those promoted by the IPCC but they still have a very large error margin. This is apparently correlated with different "personal preferences" that Roy and the IPCC have concerning the question which part of the atmospheric physics literature is trustworthy.
But the key point is that a significant part of the literature can't be trustworthy and because the literature is – somewhat unpredictably – contaminated by wrong (and, in some cases, politically ordered) results, it is a pretty good idea for people to work from scratch, and I applaud Willis for doing so even though it's inevitable that in some cases, he is bound to invent the wheel or discover America, i.e. something that had been known (and, in even less fortunate cases, invent a square wheel and discover the Atlantis continent – I mean, make mistakes).
Roy's recommendation to "read every single paper first and then start to think about your own research" is a possible strategy but it isn't inevitably wise or victorious. Given the fact that much of the literature is confusing, wrong, or leading nowhere, the strategy to start from scratch may very well be wiser.
Roy seems to defend some group interests of a "group of professionals", a group that I don't really trust much because it has become so contaminated by ideologies and because it has made so little progress. But there's another reason why I would vote for Willis in this battle: Roy's technical comments in this exchange seem much more superficial to me than Willis'. It almost sounds like Roy is saying that Willis has to be unoriginal or wrong because he is a citizen scientist. I disagree with this assumption. Moreover, if an autodidact managed to rediscover some insights done in the professional literature just 2 decades ago, he should be praised, not chastised.
After all, an important reason why I disagree is that atmospheric physics is no rocket science or string theory. It is an application of the laws of classical physics that have been known at least since the 19th century. Good enough autodidacts and citizen scientists simply can learn everything they need and they may do a better job than the average professionals, to say the least. I think it is the case of Willis. But even if Willis isn't an example of that, I think that Roy's pride about his "community" is unsubstantiated. I say so despite the fact that I think that he is a very good researcher. But I don't believe he is (or his papers are) "several categories above" Willis.
Climatology has become the best example of a discipline in which citizen scientists are competitive, to say the least.
By the way, the fact that scientists are also people with their personal and group interests became obvious during the shutdown. Matt Strassler whines that he has been taken a hostage. I wonder whether he doesn't find such claims embarrassing. He may perhaps get 10 times instead of the expected 11 times the average salary in my country for an activity that brings the society no financial profit but he finds it appropriate to scream that he is a hostage. A painful, greedy, insatiable jerk who has taken the culture of entitlement as his personal philosophy, we could say.