Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Global Warming Debate

      Science is best performed in an apolitical fashion.  However, that has hardly ever been the case when dealing with social policy.  From the time when one of the most notorious cases in history, a single scientist Galileo Galilei challenged the teachings of the largest institution of his time the Catholic Church; from the time when the most prominent scientist of our time, Einstein challenged one of the most successful theories of our time quantum mechanics to now; scientific debate rages on critical scientific issues.  Most notable is the debate on Global Warming.  As in the case of past times, those with benefit of the majority strive to silence the minority.  But fortunately, that is not how science is supposed to work.

      While working as a research physicist and director for advance technology development for General Electric, I learned an important lesson from the Japanese. At the time I was leading advanced quality control operations.  In our measurements it was common practice to discard outlying data points as erroneous and irrelevant.   We generally quoted quality and performance statistics with these assumed erroneous measurements discarded.  The practice was even more pronounced when we had a preconceived goal to substantiate.
      The Japanese, on the other hand in their goal of achieving the highest quality in the world, treated each of these outliers as treasure.  They would spend months studying each and every one.  To them that is where the real science resided.
      Unfortunately, these two experiences become standard operating procedure when politics invades science, huge treasures are at risk, and benefactors constantly look over the shoulders of researchers.  
      Scientists get grants to prove preconceived notions and not to do basic independent study.  That is especially true of the Climate Change Debate.  Big money has lined up on both sides of the contest.  Data which does not match the preconceived outcome are discarded.  Research objectivity does not garner grant money.
      Both sides hurl accusations of pseudo-science and blind religious adherence at the other, unfortunately, in many cases with good justification.  However, we have not forgotten the lesson that we learned from the Japanese.  Treat as treasure, those observations that are outboard of the assumed consensus.  Carefully evaluate each, based on the quality of the science and not on the weight of public opinion.  That gets hard to do when the field of study is outside one’s training, such as Climate Science in my case. 
      However, when back when my job was to forecast a wide range of technologies that General Electric needed to pursue in the next ten to fifteen years, I learned some techniques.
      The most important first step is to try to find general and timely evaluations done by competent and independent compilers who report in a scholarly fashion with adequate attribution so each claim can be qualified at its source.  In the case of the Climate Debate that has gotten to be a tough find.  One might assume the four reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) might be a good place to start.  Not so.  Two major red flags are associated with this group.  First, the title “Intergovernmental” warns the results are not likely to be devoid of political interference. And second, the fact they issue their summary report months in advance of the detailed report suggests manipulation of the results.
      We have found a report that might serve the aforenoted purpose – the April 2013 Report issued by SINTEF, Consensus and Controversy – The Debate on Man-made Global Warming by Emil A. Roryvik. It can be found at,%20Consensus%20and%20Controversy.pdf
      In this eighty-four page report the author analyzes the primary standards of both sides of the debate and concludes:
1)    The assertion that “doubt has been eliminated” on Anthropogenic Global Warning is plainly false.
2)    The scientific debate may be considered healthy. The levels and types of disagreement crosscuts most camps and categorizations, so that a presentation of two-sided war with a 97-98% majority consensus and 2-3 % group of sceptics and “deniers” is flawed.
3)    In his third conclusion he quotes the more prosaic words of novelist Michael Crichton from a 2003 talk he held at the California Institute of Technology, the critique against this anti-scientific science can be expressed in the following way:
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had. Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus.  Period."
Lastly, the author offers

In open societies where both scientists and the general public are equipped with critical skills and the tools of inquiry, not least enabled by the information revolution provided through the Internet, the ethos of science as open, questioning, critical and anti-dogmatic should and can be defended also by the public at large. Efforts to make people bow uncritically to the authority of a dogmatic representation of Science, seem largely to produce ridicule, opposition and inaction, and ultimately undermine the legitimacy and role of both science and politics in open democracies

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