Climategate and the Limits of Science
December 21, 2009
It’s the 131th "gate" scandal since Watergate [!], so said one writer who listed them; don’t ever say pundits can’t drive a fad into the ground. But Climategate is the first to take the tone of an actual gate – a prescribed sort of thinking – much like Jesus' counsel at Matt 7:13 to go in through the narrow gate.
Didn't this fellow sum it up well, who offered advice to the Economist? (12/5/09)
Now that we know from leaked emails that some of the raw data behind the most widely used graph of global temperatures have been lost or discarded; now that we know that the peer-review process in climate science has been hopelessly incestuous; now that we know that some skeptics' concerns about corrections for urban heat islands were privately shared by those who dismissed them in public now that we know that proxy graphs were truncated specifically to "hide the decline" and avoid giving fodder to the sceptics - you are free to start covering the science of climate change again. Matt Ridley, Newcastle
He's not saying the global warming theory is wrong, necessarily. (well….likely he is saying that, but let him develop the point, not me.) For me, the striking revelation is that global warming science is run like any top-down organization. Those at the top disparage whoever’s not falling into line, suppress their contributions, and doctor their own data to gloss over whatever doesn't prove their point. And to think I was lectured by someone – was it Plonka? - “prove a scientist wrong, and he will thank you for it!"... so pure is their desire to reach unadulterated truth! Sigh....not here. No, here it's “try to prove a scientist wrong and he will run you off the road.” Maybe not when the stakes are low, if the research is about shoe horns or something. But when the stakes are high, as they certainly are with climate change, people invest in their position emotionally, be they scientists or not. They become advocates, cheerleaders. And if they imagine themselves immune to emotional sway, as scientists are wont to do, they can become downright insufferable. They don’t suffer fools gladly, and a fool is anyone who disagrees with them.
News coverage of Climategate varied dramatically from source to source, depending upon pre-existing attitudes. Here in the U.S, conservative Fox Network beat the subject into the ground, opining (gloating?) it would mark the death of a theory they despise. The other three networks, on the other hand, the liberal ones, didn't even mention the story for two weeks, apparently thinking (hoping?) it would blow over. (they did run 37 juicy Tiger Woods stories in that time!) When it didn't blow over, CBS’s Kimberly Dozier (Dec 6) reported that “the e-mails show some of the world's top experts decided to exclude or manipulate some research that didn't help prove global warming exists…..1998 was the hottest year since record-keeping began...but the temperature went down the next year, and it's only spiked a couple times since….An e-mail exchange in 1999 shows scientists worked hard to demonstrate an upward trend. They talk of using a "trick" to "hide the decline" in global temperatures.”
Among the intercepted emails, there were some suggesting collusion to keep dissenters from getting published. "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC [U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" wrote the head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of Anglia. When the journal "Climate Research" did publish a non-bandwagon article, another leading scientist wrote "This was the danger of always criticizing the skeptics for not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'. Obviously, they found a solution to that—take over a journal!" And "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal." These guys play hardball.
Now, mind you, I don't necessarily disagree with this tactic. If manmade global warming is an imminent crisis, and if you wait till all the grousers and foot draggers come on board, the sea will rise and put out the Statue of Liberty torch before everyone agrees. My point is that science does not operate as the emotionless meritocracy that some would have us believe. No. It's those at the top bullying everyone else to hold the party line. If is the operative word, of course, and humans probably don't have the wisdom to determine if the if is so. Certainly they don't have the wisdom to persuade those of the opposite view. An extinguished torch would persuade them (maybe), but then it would be too late. So they twist arms instead, just like any other human organization.
Look, the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses is not a democracy, either. Nor was the first century congregation, as shown throughout the book of Acts, most notably chapter 15. There are those who take the lead in governing the congregations, both then and now. (Lots of churches used to be that way, but no longer. Parishioners tired of it.) My point is that, as a purely practical matter, science isn't that different. Now, because I hang around the Bible a lot, I’m confident in the way Jehovah’s Witnesses explain it and the leadership they give. They're on to things that others miss or deliberately ignore. But when it comes to global warming, I end up acquiescing to those who know, though it's by no means clear that they do know. People end up going along because of the dire warnings issued, not necessarily the evidence presented, which is conflicting.
At least if you can't stand the governing arrangement of Jehovah's Witnesses, you can always leave; it's a big world and there is life outside. But there's no escaping the clutches of the global warming people, who aim to design policies that will affect us all. Ah, well. It's humans trying to rule the earth, for which they are ill-equipped. It does, though, make one long for government from the One who understands climate and can even control it. "Who really is this, they said about Jesus, for he commands even the wind and the sea, and they obey him." (Mark 4:35-41) That's the government we advocate, God's Kingdom. We have no part in bringing it about, you understand, but we announce its coming.
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (matt 6:9-10)
By the way, here are the 1400 intercepted Climategate emails. Why don't you take the next three years of your life going through them?
And if it is ever established that human activity is not responsible for global warming, it will hardly be any credit to us. It's not as though we're such caring stewards of the planet as to never let such a thing happen. It's just that the sum total effect of our environmental meddling isn't significant enough. If it turns out we're not ruining the earth in that way, well....there's a dozen other ways in which we are ruining it. Perhaps that's why climate change believers play for keeps? Man's record of caring for both the planet and those inhabiting it is not a noble one.
****** The bookstore