Thursday, March 16, 2006

Science vs. political power,
or, Why should we expect that scientists are any different than the rest of us?

The issue of man induced climate change involves not the likelihood of dangerous consequences, but rather their remote possibility.

So begins the abstract to Understanding Common Climate Claims (available in .pdf) , an articulate and challenging study of the politicization and alarmist claims of climate science and, by extension, popular environmental beliefs and education. The study was presented at the 22nd International Seminar on Global Emergencies in Erice, Italy in 2005 — the link is to a draft of the paper that will appear in the conference proceedings. Richard S. Lindzen is Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was previously Burden Professor of Dynamic Meteorology and Director of the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics at Harvard University. Particularly illuminating are the 8th and 9th sections, "Scientific V. Political Discourse " and "Science and Policy." From his summary:
[A] significant part of the scientific community appears committed to the maintenance of the notion that alarm may be warranted. Alarm is felt to be essential to the maintenance of funding. The argument is no longer over whether the models are correct (they are not), but rather whether their results are at all possible. Alas, it is impossible to prove something is impossible.

As you can see, the global warming issue parts company with normative science at a pretty early stage. A very good indicator of this disconnect is the fact that there is widespread and even rigorous scientific agreement that complete adherence to the Kyoto Agreement would have no discernible impact on climate. This clearly is of no importance to the thousands of negotiators, diplomats, regulators, general purpose bureaucrats and advocates attached to this issue.

At the heart of this issue there is one last matter: namely, the misuse of language. George Orwell wrote that language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” There can be little doubt that the language used to convey alarm has been sloppy at best. Unfortunately, much of the sloppiness seems to be intentional.

A question rarely asked, but nonetheless important, is whether the promotion of alarmism is really good for science? The situation may not be so remote from the impact of Lysenkoism on Soviet genetics. However, personally, I think the future will view the response of contemporary society to ‘global warming’ as simply another example of the appropriateness of the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. For the sake of the science, I hope that future arrives soon.
Source: Dr. Graham Smith. For more on the subject of climate science alarmism, see also Taken By Storm, coauthored by UWO's Dr. Christopher Essex and Dr. Ross McKitrick.


Pietr said...

Today science.
Tomorrow political power.
Science?See my blog.
I'm posting this on a 9 year-old computer at DSL speeds.
Political Power?
I'm going to be nomonating tomorrow for the local elections.
Should be fun.

Gordon Pasha said...

In Canada, I think, this problem is particularly bad, because our governments, the feds in especailly, are very dirigiste when it comes to science. Funding is heavily influenced both by politics and by social engineering.

MapMaster said...

Climate studies is a boutique science when it comes to getting federal research dollars. A couple of summers ago I worked as a research assistant in a biogeochemistry lab that was astoundingly well funded because of the association it made between all its research and climate change. I don't want to suggest that the researchers there were consciously biased or actively sought to make fraudulent claims, but there was definitely a strong inclination to seek out anything that resembled an anomaly, no matter whether the climate record was sufficient enough to make the anomaly anything better than anecdotal. But just to make suggestions was enough to keep the federal research grants coming.