Defending Science, Not Global Warming Science Per Se

This quote from an upcoming paper by Mike Hulme has been making the blog rounds of late:

Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields.

I have not really written on this statement because its such old news.  This has been known for years, just not broadly reported.  So its good that this is getting more attention, but this is one reason I have not been blogging much on this site lately — while I am happy that things skeptics have known for years are finally reaching more popular media, I am not that interested in reporting on every such “revelation.”  “World is round, story at 11” does not really get me that excited.

However, I did want to answer one question I get a lot from audiences when I speak about the whole consensus thing.  Because many climate scientists and scientists in other fields and other academics do pile on and sign letters and petitions in support of the catastrophic global warming hypothesis.  People ask me how I can be right when there are so many showing support for the opposite position.

What I tell them is that these folks are not really showing support for the catastrophic global warming position in the sense that they have studied and reviewed the science in depth and found it compelling.  What they are really doing when they make these statements or sign letters is showing support for science itself.  The irony is they are doing just the opposite, but let me explain.

I was not a big fan of George W. Bush.  But universities absolutely, almost to a person, hated him with a crazy-deep passion.  They became convinced (right or wrong) that he was the leader of a Christian fundamental effort to subvert all science in favor of religious orthodoxy.  The leaders of the catastrophic global warming movement have been very successful in feeding off this passion, and portraying opposition to catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory as part and parcel of this religious fundamentalist attack on all science.  They have successfully linked, in the minds of academics and many of the public, that disagreeing with James Hansen or critiquing the Hockey stick is the equivalent of being anti-science.

So when some biology professor at Berkely signs a statement in support of catastrophic global warming theory, it does not mean that she has looked at the strong positive feedback assumptions in climate models and found them reasonable.  It means she believes herself to be supporting science against the medieval barbarians at the gate.

The irony is that in fact they are doing the opposite.  In trying to oppose religious orthodoxy they have in fact supported scientists who treat their pet theory like a religious orthodoxy, and all opposition to it as heresy.   And in trying to support science, they have supported folks who have broken many of the most fundamental rules of modern science, including the avoidance of replication, the hiding of results and data, and corruption of the peer review process.

This may be why I underestimated the impact of the CRU email release.  In retrospect, I can imagine all those scientists that used to sign these petitions looking at what the CRU emails and thinking, “this is what I have defended as true science?”

  • Climate science is not done to the standards of other disciplines like medicine.

    1) In medicine you can run a “double blind” scientific test which eliminates observational bias. You cannot do that in climate science. It was found that even honest scientists wanted to please the person signing their paychecks. Like the scientist that is motivated to exaggerate CAGW because his source of funding wants him to.

    2) Medical processes complete in weeks or months and a huge database of results vs predictions can be acquired and studied. You cannot do that in climate science where 20 or 30 or 50 years are required for the completion of some cycles. A lifetime will not even allow 1 cycle of some phenomenon. The rate of learning must be far slower.

    3) Climate studies have almost all been done since 1988 [22 years ago] while medicine has been studied for thousands of years.

    4) In medicine we can use lab rats etc to observe the phenomenon while in climate we cannot. We do not have a spare earth to play with and so must resort to models which are far less valid than actual observations. Models are particularly vulnerable to preconceived biases.

    5) Observational bias in climate science is a real problem while in medicine it can be almost eliminated.

    6) A climate scientist and his models can be wrong for 30 years and retire without getting caught. He says that so what if his model stinks in 30 years it will probably be “spot on” in 100 [which is nonsense] A medical doctor puts his knowledge to the test with each patient and they sometimes bury his mistakes. A lousy climate scientist can retire honorably after 30 years of being wrong, a doctor cannot.

    Likening the two shows poor thinking skills.

    We are thousands of times more certain about medicine than we are about CAGW.

    Climate science is to medical science as Astrology is to Astronomy. [Think about it.]

    Have you ever read your horoscope ? No matter what happens seems to fit because the predictions cover everything.

    Astrology like climate science is everything to everybody. Whatever happens is predicted just like your horoscope. [That is a major difference]

    A snowy cold winter is caused by global warming. A village in Peru is freezing to death blame global warming. If storms are more violent it’s global warming and if they are milder that is global warming too. There is no malady known to man which there isn’t a peer reviewed study which claims will be made worse by global warming.

    The scare stories are an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

  • “But universities absolutely, almost to a person, hated him [George Bush] with a crazy-deep passion. They became convinced (right or wrong) that he was the leader of a Christian fundamental effort to subvert all science in favor of religious orthodoxy.” — Agree. Bush’s religiosity (religion generally) viewed as threat to preeminence of science as a source of moral authority. Judeo-Christian ethos antithetical to communitarian world view that would enshrine scientists, bioethicists, etc., as new priesthood.

    “In retrospect, I can imagine all those scientists that used to sign these petitions looking at what the CRU emails and thinking, ‘this is what I have defended as true science?'” — Wishful thinking. Most of the folks I know unimpressed by “a few indiscreet emails.” Most of them uninterested in the scientific issues; don’t really care whether the planet is really warming, the causes, etc. What they do care about is humanity’s ecological footprint, which they’re determined to reduce. Anthropogenic warming (AGW) just a means to an end. As case for AGW crumbles, many already riding other hobby horses — most notably biodiversity crisis.

  • George

    I am not “one of the Worlds’ leading scientists”, but I am one of those IPCC authors cited. And I do not agree with the consensus that human activities are having a significant (negative, by imputation) influence on the climate. In fact, I do not agree that such a consensus exists.

  • Shills
  • Waldo

    ****”these folks are not really showing support for the catastrophic global warming position in the sense that they have studied and reviewed the science in depth and found it compelling”

    No one here has studied the science “in depth” either. And how sure is Mr. Meyer of this anyway? He sounds very authoritative, but so do a lot a people who do not know what they are talking about.

    Shouldn’t Mr. Meyer hold himself to the same standards?

  • “This may be why I underestimated the impact of the CRU email release. In retrospect, I can imagine all those scientists that used to sign these petitions looking at what the CRU emails and thinking, ‘this is what I have defended as true science?'”

    Yes. Back when I talked to people about global warming, they frequently believed that there is a well-oiled science machine out there somewhere and that it has unambiguously supported the IPCC executive summaries. Most people really don’t know how the sausage factory works, much less that it could possibly go wrong.