Friday, July 09, 2010

Thermometers Ever Rising

31368_hot-thermometer Late last year, we made it clear that we were going to ignore Climategate, the release of emails from the University of East Anglia. Some interpreted those emails as indicating that the science behind climate change had been cooked up by scientists looking for grant money.

We read the most incriminating emails – and a fair number of others, too – and a lot of the commentary - and concluded that there wasn’t enough there to change minds on either side of the debate. Anyway, to quote ourselves:

But there are some investigations going on. Let’s wait for the results and then let’s choose sabers or pistols.

And that brings us to:

A British panel on Wednesday exonerated the scientists caught up in the controversy known as Climategate of charges that they had manipulated their research to support preconceived ideas about global warming.

Now, cooking the books and general bad behavior are different things and the investigators did think the scientists engaged in too much of the latter:

Echoing the findings of an earlier report by a parliamentary committee in London, the reviewers criticized the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit for consistently “failing to display the proper degree of openness” in responding to demands for backup data and other information under Britain’s public-record laws.

This is true – this is the part of the scandal that did bother us, even before the release of the emails. Information is always better free; in fact, it’s crucial for good science.

There are other niggles, too, but they are not very important. In our mind, this sums ups our problem with this episode:

“The emails don’t at all change the fundamental tenets of the science,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado. “But they changed the notion that people could blindly trust one authoritative group, when it turns out they’re just like everybody else.”

Most people learn this far earlier than this episode. The University of East Anglia was not the only source for climate change data. No one had to trust it exclusively.

But that’s beside the point. It will be neither sabers nor pistols, but only thermometers, trending ever upward.

---

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson notes the news and nicely summarizes why the idea behind global warming isn’t difficult to grasp:

Scientists understand how molecules of carbon dioxide act to trap heat. They know -- not through inference but from direct measurement of air bubbles trapped long ago in Arctic and Antarctic ice -- that there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any time in the last half-million years, perhaps the last million years. The simplest and most logical explanation of why there's suddenly so much carbon in the air is that humans have put it there by burning fossil fuels. This is what has changed.

He also makes the point that arrogance and bad behavior do not in themselves disprove a theory or make it less likely, as the science isn’t dependent on the personality of the scientist, only on the quality of his work. (Boy, is this ever true! We spent a good portion of our career working with researchers in the medical field – you become quite expert at distinguishing between the genuine genius and the ghastly social skills that can reside in the same person – not that such a combination was really so common.)

Robinson sums it all up thusly:

It's time to end the silly "argument" over whether climate change is real.

And how!

13 comments:

SteveK9 said...

Agreed. I don't actually think that Scientist are 'like everybody else'. They are more objective than the average person. But, they are human beings as well. Also, if you believe that a theory is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence and that the consequence is a potentially disastrous catastrophe for the entire human race, well you might be more inclined to some bias than would otherwise be the case.

al fin said...

Climate change is very real. It has been very real for billions of years. After all that time, people should realise that climate change is real!

sefarkas said...

The issue is: “what causes climate change?” The correlation between economic activity and global warming is non-existent. Intervals of warmth and cooling have existed when economic activity was a very small fraction of the current activity. Find the correct cause of climate change and then act appropriately to mitigate it.

Anonymous said...

Don't you guys think it's arrogant to assume man can cause climate change? Since when do we have the power of God?

Phil said...

"there wasn’t enough there to change minds on either side of the debate."

No amount of evidence will ever change the "side" of the debate which believes that man-made climate change is not real. Exactly as the purveyors of young-earth creationism will not be swayed to the reality of evolution.

In both cases, denialism is based on illogic or religious fervor, not the scientific method. Therefore no scientific answer will ever satisfy these people.

Chad said...

"Don't you guys think it's arrogant to assume man can cause climate change? Since when do we have the power of God?"

I can somewhat understand where the GW disbelievers come from, but the above statement doesn’t make any sense. 100 yrs ago, we couldn’t bring a person “back to life” with a defibrillator. I’m sure people then would see that as the power of God. All out nuclear war would definitely change the climate. It’s not arrogant if it’s fact and as our understating of the world changes, things that seems only God could do before (fly, go into space, communicate from far distances, destroy a whole city) become within humans abilities. What are we going to say to God at the Gates of Heaven when He asks why we destroyed His planet? “We figured you wouldn’t have given us the ability to do that.” The truth is, we can’t get seem to get passed ideological differences to solve the real problems in the world and let things like gay marriage interfere with the health of our environment.

al fin said...

Chad and Phil,

A lot of the "nonbelievers" in the alarmist interpretation of greenhouse gas climate influence simply have higher scientific standards of proof than do Phil Jones, Michael Mann, or James Hansen.

Trying to lump them all together and label them with flat-earthers or creationists doesn't work rationally -- although it may feel satisfying to one's sense of self-righteousness.

Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is a belief. If you assert that it is a science, then you must use the tools of science to prove it, not the tools of the schoolyard taunt.

Chad said...

I am not a climate scientist. I am a Nuclear Engineer who does get frustrated when people who have no background in Nuclear Power are paraded around as nuclear experts (like “Dr.” Helen Caldicott) so I understand how climate scientists are frustrated with similar folks. We can play the game of my scientists is better than your scientist, or my study is better than yours, but I do not claim be able to debate the minutia necessary to accomplish such. I would not define myself a GW believer, but that I am a believer in our scientific community as a whole to come to the correct conclusion. The vast majority of scientific organizations support the general premise that GW is occurring and that is manmade. There is no need for me to further support this with a small collection of facts or dispute what one’s you may bring up. I would rather argue why you think these organizations are or are not upholding scientific principles that will lead to the right conclusion.
I was not trying to lump all the “nonbelievers” in one group. As a Christian, I am offended when people try to use God to actual pursue a course that I believe is non-Christian. I will lump you into 3 groups. 1) Those seemingly opposed to any ideas that come from the Left 2) those who have significant interests in fossil fuels (oil companies and the politicians behind them) and 3) those who generally disagree with the science. Camp 3 I believe to be a very small camp.

Phil said...

----A lot of the "nonbelievers" in the alarmist interpretation of greenhouse gas climate influence simply have higher scientific standards of proof than do Phil Jones, Michael Mann, or James Hansen.----

The Scientific Method as it has been formulated by centuries of enlightenment and understanding is the standard that I subscribe to Your "higher standards of proof" are not represented in the common understanding of the scientific method which is shared virtually across the entire educated scientific world.

----Trying to lump them all together and label them with flat-earthers or creationists doesn't work rationally -- although it may feel satisfying to one's sense of self-righteousness.---

It actually is a very good fit.

---Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is a belief. If you assert that it is a science, then you must use the tools of science to prove it, not the tools of the schoolyard taunt.---

As well described at the The New Scientist Denialism Blog http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/ there is no argument which can satisfy denialists. People who deny science; in this specific case the observation of human caused climate change; have no interest in real science and use many common denialism practices to assert their rightness. Therefore no amount of science can ever change their minds.

That's why I don't bother trying.

I share Chad's philosophy.

al fin said...

Yes, I do disagree with the science. I didn't always see things that way -- in fact I was prone to believe in CO2 - caused global warming before it became the cause celebre of the glitterati. But the big picture view plus valid criticisms of the small picture view of most climate scientists changed my mind.

Anyone who has followed the work of Steve McIntyre, Roger Pielke Sr., Richard Lindzen, Freeman Dyson, and quite a few others would also likely disagree with the science -- regardless of their religious or political views, if they were honest.

The UEA Hadley CRU emails certainly did not help to reassure that the scientists involved are honest, straightforward, and interested in finding underlying truth.

There are plenty of reasons to support nuclear energy without getting in bed with the likes of Phil Jones and Michael Mann.

Anonymous said...

It seems as though some people have as much faith in "science" and the "scientific method" as the best religionist ever had in his religion.

Kindly read the Climategate Whitewash at:

http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2010/Q3/view631.html#Monday

Using the global warming hysteria as the reason for switching from fossil fuel burning to nuclear energy is simply wrong-headed. The reasons to switch are abundant and manifold without resorting to global warming hysteria. Dumping fossil fuel refuse into the air willy nilly without responsibility or accountability, and uncontrolled oil geysers erupting deep in the Gulf of Mexico are two reasons to switch that come immediately to mind.

Man was given dominion over all the Earth to be a careful steward. We are not being that steward. This is a moral and ethical issue, and no use of the scientifc method can ever speak to moral or ethical issues.

As for the comment about gay marriage, that topic is completely irrelevant to this forum. When someone voices his oppostion to the ame on the basis of morality and natural law, that comment doens't get published, so why the bias the other way? The topic of gay marriage belongs to a different forum.

As to the claim that one is Christian and still leftist, that is also a topic for a different forum. Let these biases be purged from this forum and maybe the conversation can focus on nuclear energy.

tigerpan said...

The believer's idea that Global Warming and the looming grand disaster cannot be real because "God cares about us" as seems to be implied in majority of the denialists, is what bothers me the most. What a disgraceful lack of reason!

DocForesight said...

@al fin and Anon - Hearty agreement to your posts.

This basic fact remains to be adequately explained: How can a trace gas -(0.038% of the atmosphere) that is essential for life on Earth, that has been shown to have been present in much higher concentrations in previous epochs and has a negative logarithmic heating effect compared to its concentration - be the cause of catastrophic global warming?

Science does not employ an appeal to authority or consensus. Show ALL your data, how you analyzed it and the methods you used to come to your conclusion. Let the chips fall where they may.