A Hot Topic (Cont.)

One great thing about the holidays is seeing your children and nieces and nephews, fresh from their college campuses, and learning what is on their minds.  We were up in Vermilion to visit with the “Kishman cousins” on Christmas Eve, and I had a chance to chat with our godson Andrew, who is a junior at Grinnell College and recently returned from a semester abroad in Sri Lanka.  He, Kish, Richard, Patty and I talked about Sri Lanka, about politics, and a little bit about global warming, too.

Although Andrew and I come at the global warming issue from different perspectives, I think there is some common ground.  We both recognize that we aren’t scientists, and we both are disappointed that we are now at the point where we question what is the true state of the science surrounding global warming.  I think any fair-minded person who has read about the hacked e-mails and data taken from the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia University realizes that, at minimum, it raises questions about whether the science that has been portrayed as reflecting an overwhelming consensus view based on undisputed evidence may be, instead, result-oriented and politicized.

I recently heard Al Gore interviewed in connection with the Copenhagen conference.  He dismissed the e-mails as old and meaningless, and then returned to the mantra that global warming due to human activity is the near-unanimous consensus of the knowledgeable scientific community.  And then I read a piece like this — written by a geologist who is an IPCC expert reviewer — and I wonder how Al Gore can say what he says.  Clearly, someone is not being truthful in their depiction of the data.

Obviously, no rational human being would want the environment to be irreparably damaged by human activity, causing sea levels to rise and turning temperate zones into jungle.   Equally obviously, however, no one should want to saddle our economy with crushing and enormously disruptive regulations, costs and taxes if doing so is not a scientific imperative.  The decision on how to proceed could have huge consequences, and making that decision therefore should be based on actual data and real science.  For that reason, I am relieved that the Copenhagen conference did not produce any binding agreement.  My sense is that allowing time to pass, observing the fallout from the East Anglia University incident, and seeing whether there are fractures in the claimed scientific consensus may help to clarify things and put our eventual decision on sounder scientific footing.

A Hot Topic (Cont.)

I’ve posted before — see here and here — on the e-mails and other information collected as a result of the data breach at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.  The Weekly Standard has now published a thorough and carefully considered analysis of the data obtained, the context and meaning of the e-mail exchanges, and their ramifications for climate science specifically and science generally.

I encourage any layman who is interested in trying to piece together the science of global warming and the impact of the data breach to read the attached article.  It raises serious questions about the truth of the claimed “consensus” of scientists with respect to global warming and the validity of the “scientific findings” that are being used to justify the need for massive and crushingly expensive changes to our energy policies and economic structure.  At minimum, the data breach should cause the Obama Administration to hesitate, and revisit the science in a thoughtful, apolitical way, before rushing headlong into agreements and lifestyle changing decisions that are based solely on what may be nothing more than fearmongering and bullying masquerading as legitimate science.

A Hot Topic (Cont.)

Other shoes continue to drop in the ongoing story about the activities of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which is regularly cited as one of the world’s leading proponents of the global warming hypothesis.  I’ve previously noted the curious e-mails obtained as a result of a criminal computer hacking episode.  Now the CRU has admitted that much of the raw data that it accumulated, and that formed the basis for its global warming findings, have been discarded, purportedly due to lack of storage space.   The linked article reports that a statement on the CRU’s website states that, while the raw data has been discarded, the CRU has retained what it calls its “value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

This decision seems extraordinarily unscientific to me.  One of the hallmarks of the scientific method, as I understand it, is to collect data based on tests, experiments, or other procedures, publish the data, and then let scientists elsewhere see whether they can recreate those results by following the identified procedures.  If other scientists can’t recreate the results reportedly obtained by a claimed procedure to achieve “cold fusion,” for example, they can legitimately question the legitimacy of the underlying study that claimed those results.  By discarding the raw data and keeping only data that has been modified in some way — whatever “quality controlled and homogenised” might mean — the CRU scientists have made it impossible to verify, or disprove, their claims.  If storage space was really that scarce, why would you discard the original data rather than the modified data?

I think scientists generally have credibility with the public not just because they are viewed as smarter than the average citizens, but also because they are viewed as neutral, objective observers who are engaged in an abstract quest for truth.   The CRU episode shows just how far that perception is from the reality of modern science — at least as it is practiced by some “scientists.”  When scientists discard raw data, refuse to share other data, and attempt to quash dissenting views, they are not acting as scientists but as proponents of a particular position.  They don’t deserve the credibility that we normally assign to scientific views — and others are coming to that same conclusion.

I hope that our government at least recognizes that this incident raises fundamental credibility issues that cannot be ignored.  Before we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to reshape our economy and our energy infrastructure in an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are the supposed cause of climate change under the global warming hypothesis, which should at least insist that the scientific basis for that decision be the product of true science — where data is openly and completely published, opposing views are fully and fairly heard, and hypotheses are tested and verified.  Until that happens, we are building our policies on faith, not science.