Posts Tagged ‘ClimateGate’

A few days ago, I posted the following in reaction to the whole ClimateGate controversy:

Nonetheless, if these emails do expose some sort of grand conspiracy, the skeptics are absolutely right that the whole global warming “house of cards” will collapse now that the secret is out.  Such a collapse won’t be evidenced by increased screaming in the blogosphere or lots of I-told-you-so “expert” commentary on Fox news.  Collapse will look like organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science being forced to take new positions or lose their credibility.  And I’ll adjust my opinions accordingly if they do.  But if the American Association for the Advancement of Science (and these other organizations) stands firmly behind the consensus view even given this increased scrutiny, then this whole ClimateGate affair will not change my opinion but do just the opposite.

Well, the AAAS has responded:

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has reaffirmed the position of its Board of Directors and the leaders of 18 respected organizations, who concluded based on multiple lines of scientific evidence that global climate change caused by human activities is now underway, and it is a growing threat to society.

The vast preponderance of evidence, based on years of research conducted by a wide array of different investigators at many institutions, clearly indicates that global climate change is real, it is caused largely by human activities, and the need to take action is urgent,” said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science . . .

“AAAS takes issues of scientific integrity very seriously,” Leshner said. “It is fair and appropriate to pursue answers to any allegations of impropriety. It’s important to remember, though, that the reality of climate change is based on a century of robust and well-validated science.”

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I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy trying to get up to speed on the charges and counter charges flying around the blogosphere over the past week regarding the stolen ClimateGate emails.  It’s been kind of fun; I have learned a lot about the science.

Still, as an interested layperson who is unable to fully evaluate the sometimes complex scientific back-and-forth or separate a legitimate scientific question from a spurious politically-motivated smokescreen, I stand by my thoughts from my last post about whom to trust.  In an age when anybody can present anything on the internet and every claim has a counterclaim, the major scientific organizations—who are scientifically conservative by nature when their institutional credibility is on the line—have the last word for me.

Progressively louder blogosphere shouting doesn’t carry anywhere near the same value as when the American Meteorological Society weighs in:

The beauty of science is that it depends on independent verification and replication as part of the process of confirming research results.  This process, which is tied intrinsically to the procedures leading to publication of research results in the peer-reviewed literature, allows the scientific community to confirm some results while rejecting others.  It also, in a sense, lessens the impact of any one set of research results, especially as the body of research on any topic grows.  The AMS plays an important role in the scientific process through its peer-reviewed publications, as well as through its many other activities, such as scientific conferences.  The Society strives to maintain integrity in the editorial process for all its publications.

For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.

You can read their entire position statement on the science of climate change here, which ends with the following conservative (in my opinion) warning: “Prudence dictates extreme care in managing our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”

And whom should I not trust?  Well, could it be any clearer?

Gets pretty funny when it turns to the actual scientific literature.  And the English teacher in me loves hearing the phrase “febrile nitwits” used in a public forum.

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I’m still working on revising “down the river with Edward Abbey, part three,” but that’ll have to wait for the moment while I talk about something timely.

I’ve got a friend and colleague who loves to needle me with the latest broadsides from the climate denier camp, and as expected I got an gloating email from him about the current “ClimateGate” controversy, an email that begins with “I knew you would be proved wrong.”  Indeed, whole segments of the blogosphere are abuzz with breathless pronouncements of ClimateGate as “the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming.'”

I don’t intend here to sort through the details of what the stolen emails contain and what significance the skeptics attach to these various “smoking guns,” but there is, of course, an unambiguous response from the climate science community, which can be seen herehere, and here.  It’s quite clear to me that the anti-AGW political noise machine (and echo chamber) is conveniently ignoring a whole universe of context when it cherry-picks and presents tidbits from these emails, and I both recognize and deplore this practice as intellectually dishonest in the extreme (leaving aside the ethics of illegally hacking into and publicizing emails intended for private consumption.)  At the same time, I also don’t want to ignore or minimize any potentially unethical behavior on the part of the scientists involved or the climate science community in general; bad behavior on the part of the accusers does not grant blanket absolution on the part of the accused.  There are, perhaps, important lessons to be learned.  In particular, I agree with the thoughtful and measured critiques of this affair offered by Peter Kelemen at Columbia (a must-read) and, closer to home, Judith Curry at Georgia Tech.

I’m more interested in thinking about the divergent reactions we have to this kind of story.  My colleague received this news as “proof” of his oft-stated contention that global warming is some sort of hoax; it fit his preconceived narrative of an eggheaded leftist conspiracy, and that was that.  He would no doubt describe the climate science responses that I linked to above as little more than self-serving cover-up.  I seriously doubt he will look at them objectively but will instead gravitate toward further commentary that merely reinforces his preconceived beliefs.  To be fair, however, I don’t often read the links he sends me any more, either, at least not carefully.  Perhaps I am the one trying to protect a preconceived narrative?

The fact is that neither of us are climate scientists, and neither of us are really qualified to sort through the various claims and counter claims and make sense of where the objective truth might lie.  We can bury each other with convincing cut-and-paste links until the cows come home, but it would be awfully hard for us to sort out which ones are credible and which ones are rhetorically impressive but basically bogus.  Nor do we really have the time. So what is the average lay-person to do?  Confronted by the bewildering and contradictory flood of information and misinformation about the issue, is it acceptable to throw your hands in the air and just ignore the issue?  Many do. Cling to a preconceived narrative because it suits your ideological leanings? Many do that, too.  But are either of these positions responsible, given the stakes?  After all, we stand to lose (depending on how the issue is framed) a healthy planet and/or our cherished freedoms and capitalistic system.

My colleague and I cannot both be right.  AGW cannot simultaneously be both a serious threat and complete hooey.   So if we are to honestly debate the subject, we have to first admit two salient facts: 1) we don’t really know enough personally about the science to know the truth for sure and 2) one (or both) of us will turn out to be wrong.  Assuming both of us have the intellectual integrity to modify or abandon our positions based upon credible conflicting data, I think it a fair (and productive) question to ask:

What would make you change your mind?(more…)

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