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Climate Change 

December 2, 2009



A number of various media individuals have made statements to the effect that “Climategate” is an appropriate way to handle the hacking (not leaking) of e-mails from a server of the climate modeling group at the University of Norfolk. Because, they say, it’s a bit like Watergate isn’t it? No, it isn’t. Am I just old enough to actually remember Watergate? I don’t think so; I was just a kid! Anyway, here is a link to a BBC editorial from a couple of academics in the UK, proposing a new model for science. Read it here. I think that they are way off-mark. I tried to tell them so, but they haven’t published my comments. Reminds me that I should complete my “Six Degrees of Responsible Science” series of posts. So you can take a look at their article, and here’s my comment…

As a professional scientist, I will say that this is very thoughtful argument. I will also say, on the other hand, that the revelations from the Norfolk e-mails are simply not as damaging, nor as full of subterfuge as agenda-driven climate change skeptics have been claiming. The real problem is that while modern science is an objective process for determining mechanisms in nature, scientists are human. So yes, they, we, must be mindful and held accountable for all the social things that humans tend to do in the practice of anything, from business to religion to parenting. I depart from your article, however, when you insist that somehow the scientific process can benefit from the inclusion of review by non-scientists. I am no more qualified to argue a fine legal point against a solicitor than the solicitor is qualified to argue with me about the interpretation of oxygen isotopic data from a glacial core. Yet I know a bad law when I see one. Therefore, while I agree that extended scrutiny of arguments by the general public for purposes of policy is definitely a good idea, there is no way, absolutely none, that the validation of knowledge can take place outside of a scientific context. That smacks of the old style Vatican.

Filed under: Climate Change — Peter @ 9:01 pm


  1. I disagree. It is not the goal of publc scrutiny to determine the validity of detail. It is to ensure all sides are being heard. To date this is not happening in the climate debate.

    Global economic policies and decisions are being made based on unsound science. To date there has been no debate. Only polemic. I don’t care what the results are as long as we can have confidence in the validty of the results. Otherwise if there is a fork in the road… take it.

    Comment by Todd Canedy — December 9, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  2. Hi Todd,
    I’m not sure what you actually disagree with. In fact, the text of my post seems to agree with you. No amount of public scrutiny can determine the validity of scientific content. What do you mean, however, by “ensuring that all sides are being heard?” All sides of what? There is a lot, in fact too much fuzzy thinking and passion when it comes to this argument. Here are the basic questions and statements:
    Is global warming happening? The answer is yes. We have measured it. See my latest post. Enough with the arguments about this. We’ve measured it.
    Can we determine the cause of the warming? A trickier question, but when it comes down to it, there were only a couple of reasonable candidates, such as anthropogenic increases of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and changes in solar heating. And solar heating has been convincingly rejected. I know that there are a few scientists out there still in favour of that hypothesis, but it just doesn’t hold up. I understand that there is an “alternative” conference being held in Copenhagen for this sort of thing. That makes no sense. They attend the same major and mainstream conferences that I do, and it’s really their problem if they lack the confidence to present their ideas there.
    What do we do about the problem? Now here is where science and society interface, and science certainly cannot answer this question. Scientists can make recommendations as well as any other member of society, and we can apply judgement as to what may or might not work.
    How do we pay for solutions? That seems to be what all the hullabaloo is about. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the science of global warming. Many scientists, myself included, have little faith in cap and trade, yet a lot of accusations are thrown at us unfairly.
    Straighten out the arguments, and then get back to us.

    Comment by Peter — December 9, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

  3. In all the frenzied utterance over “climategate,” one factor seems to have escaped discussion (or exclamation).

    It’s universally acknowledged that some of the tree ring evidence after 1960 does not reflect what is known from other sources about the rise in global temperature after the mid-century.

    When scientists speak of this as a “divergence,” how well established scientifically is the non-divergence, or congruity, of tree-ring evidence and temperature BEFORE 1960? And if this is considered to be well-established, how far back does relative certainty on this point go?

    If there is reason for scientific agreement on tree-ring growth as reflecting temperature before 1960 for a sufficient(?)period, obviously this would go a long way toward vindicating the current models.

    I’m aware that tree-ring growth in fact reflects a number of factors, so don’t necessarily expect an answer quite as apparently simple as my question.

    I have no axe to grind here, as I wholeheartedly support the view that anthropogenic C02 has forced warming to a critical point that requires massive human intervention. I am, however, not a scientist, and I would welcome some light on this particular point, which nobody in the popular “press” seems to have thought of.

    Comment by Francis Glosser — December 14, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  4. Hi Francis,
    An excellent question, and deserving of a separate post I think! The short answer to your question is that tree rings specifically reflect most accurately the amount of annual precipitation. And local precipitation can be related to temperature change in complicated ways. I am most familiar with the tree ring record of the US southwest, and here it has reconstructed precipitation of the past few centuries quite well for us. But the precipitation variance was much greater than the temperature variance over this period, and in a way it’s almost an “easy” problem. It might work quite differently elsewhere. I’ll look into it.

    Comment by Peter — December 14, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

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