I knew it!
I knew something was deeply rotten in the state of Climate Science. I knew it years ago, and all these emails and computer files released from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia just confirm it.
I knew it when I first heard that so-called scientists wouldn’t release their data. Originally it was just Penn State’s Michael Mann, the guy who came up with the so-called “hockey stick” graph (debunked), refusing to give his data to Stephen McIntyre. Now we know that the CRU did the same, and I read today that James Hansen’s GISS at NASA has refused requests for so long that they’re being sued under the Freedom of Information Act.
Look, folks, real scientists don’t keep their data secret. If it’s secret, then they could have done anything to it (and the infamous Harry_ReadMe file shows exactly that). A real scientist (or, if you like and you think this stuff isn’t junk science, an honest scientist) puts all their data out there first, and then tells you what their conclusions are. And if there are questions, they can point to their data and show how their methods lead to their conclusions out in the open. If there’s a question or different interpretation, that can all be hashed out in the open. But if they hold something back, then they look like there’s something to hide. Which, apparently, there was at the CRU, and it sure smells like there is at the other database holders.
I knew it when I first heard of peer-review shenanigans. First, there’s the happy little club of GW climatologists who all review each other’s papers, no skeptics allowed. Second, there’s the attempts to prevent skeptics (or even just different interpretations orthogonal to the advocate-skeptic dimension) from even getting their papers peer-reviewed at all — and then claiming that their arguments are illegitimate because they’re not peer-reviewed. Convenient, that. And now we hear about Phil Jones et al. trying to punish journals for accepting papers from skeptics.
Maybe this is how academic types do their thing on a regular basis, but it ain’t science.
I knew it when ad hominem became the standard mode of debate. Real/honest scientists don’t stonewall critics with the argument that they’re all just ideologically-motivated deniers who just want to waste the scientists’ time. Real/honest scientists point to the data (that’s already public) and say “Got a case? Go ahead, make it and we’ll see.” (And the very term “denier” is clearly loaded.)
The second part of this is the argument “well, they’re all funded by the oil companies, so we know their criticisms are dishonest and shouldn’t even be considered.” Really? So if we find out that the GW climatologists were funded even in part by Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace or Al Gore or George Soros, then can skeptics legitimately use the same argument? Didn’t think so.
Argument by motivation is just as invalid as argument ad hominem. Look at the actual argument itself and see if it’s valid. Tobacco company “scientists” are a joke not because they were funded by the tobacco companies, but because their “science” was laughable. And as has been pointed out elsewhere, pharmaceutical companies have a profit motive, but if we threw out every study from a pharmaceutical company scientist on motivational arguments we’d have a whole lot less beneficial medical knowledge.
But when we’re not allowed to see the proponents actual argument in full, then we can’t see if it’s valid. At that point, it becomes legitimate to say “what’s your motivation for hiding?”
I knew it when “there’s a consensus” became the standard mode of refutation. Science doesn’t operate by consensus — Einstein was very much alone when he proposed the theory of relativity, but who looks stupid now: him or the luminiferous ether advocates? “The consensus is clear” is another way of saying “if all my friends jumped off a cliff, I would too.”
Certainly there is an assumption of trust: we all have a presumption that properly-trained scientists will be reasonably honest and that their findings can be trusted, especially if it’s in a field in which we’re not expert ourselves. But again, this depends on scientists acting like scientists and not like lawyers or evangelists. How many of the consensus members are only members because they believed the possibly-cooked data and possibly-bogus conclusions? How many will retract their approval now?
But it still goes on: the Obama Administration’s “Climate Czar” just announced that she was going to ignore Climategate because she was on the side of the “thousands of scientists” who believed in Global Warming. The fact that there are thousands of scientists — including climatologists, just to kill that argument — who don’t believe in Global Warming is apparently irrelevant.
I knew it when they crucified Bjørn Lomberg for having the temerity to suggest that there might be better ways to handle climate change than massive economic disruption. Look, Lomberg agreed with the IPCC conclusions (that were, of course, heavily based on the now-suspect CRU data) that said average temperature would go up. He just disagreed that massive statist solutions like, specifically, the Kyoto Protocol were the way to go — instead, he argued that mitigation was a much better road to follow than attempted (and doomed to fail) prevention. And further, that there were a lot of problems in the world that were a lot more pressing than global warming that could be addressed, and millions of people’s lives improved, by spending a whole hell of a lot less money.
And that’s when they excommunicated him.
I knew it when everything became evidence of Global Warming. If it was really hot in June, then “well, it’s Global Warming”. If it was really cold in January, then “well, Global Warming means more extreme temperatures, not just everything gets hotter”. If it was cold in June or hot in January, then “well, Global Warming means the climate’s going to be chaotic”. All said, of course, with an air of total certainty.
I know weather isn’t the same as climate (although there certainly seems to be a pennies-make-pounds sort of relationship). But if every piece of anecdotal weather evidence points to Global Warming, then it looks more and more like an unfalsifiable theory. To once again paraphrase one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, when everything is evidence of Global Warming, then nothing is.
I knew it when every “adjustment” went one way toward more warming; when known climate events like the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age were airbrushed out of the record; and when every so-called solution only went one way toward more and more socialist control of the economy and thereby of people’s lives. It’s that last that really makes me think the whole thing was politically-motivated from the beginning.
Climategate pisses me off, but only to the extent that it’s proof of the kind of bullshit that I’ve been pretty damn sure has been going on from the beginning.
I wonder what their backgrounds were before getting into climate science. Were all of them frothing greenies like Hansen or just radical socialists? How many had no preconceived notions about their subject matter, or more importantly the policy ramifications thereof? I know I said that argument by motivation is illegitimate, but their case is already suspect — if they came out with ironclad data and solid mathematical conclusions I wouldn’t be wondering.
I was eventually planning to put this into a “This I Believe” post before this blog went on “indefinite hiatus” (Long story short: politics got depressing, we had a baby, we bought a house and started renovating it. But mostly politics got depressing, and I took a long break from even keeping up with the news.) But here’s my short form take on climate change:
I don’t believe that the Earth is heating up (note the word “believe”). I don’t even think there’s a good scientific case that it is. It may be doing so nonetheless, or it may be cooling off heading for the next ice age. Right now it’s still “not proven.”
The Earth, however, has endured much warmer periods than currently without planetary catastrophe, from the weak version of the Medieval Warm Period (a nice English wine, anyone?) to the strong version of the Cretaceous Period. “Endured” could easily be rewritten “enjoyed” in that sentence, since the evidence of the past is that warm is better than cold for humans specifically and the biosphere generally.
Since it’s kind of presumptuous to declare that now is the bestest temperature ever and any deviation from it is proof of the evil of humanity, I follow Lomberg in saying that if things do get warmer and that has negative consequences for some people, then it’s a whole lot better to mitigate those peoples’ problems than it is to figuratively put on a civilizational hairshirt and hurt millions in America and by extension billions in the Third World by cutting way back on energy production here and preventing the Third World from ever having enough energy to get out of poverty.
Actually, it’s far better and more moral to figure out a way to stop putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (because it’s plausible that it’s adversely affecting the climate even if not proven yet) that doesn’t make everyone poorer. That means we have to figure out how to generate lots and lots of energy from something other than fossil fuels. Every serious look at wind/solar/geothermal/etc. comes to the conclusion that there’s no way in hell those sources will ever cover our day-to-day base load of necessary power. That’s why we need to go nuclear in a big way.