Friday, December 18, 2009

The Scientists Who Cried Wolf

In one of Aesop's fables a shepherd boy cries wolf to relieve his boredom. Of course the villagers rush to defend the flock but then get angry when they learn that there is no wolf. The young shepherd is so stubborn that he repeats the offense several times, until finally the villagers refuse to believe him. That obvious lesson seems lost on some scientists in the climate debate.

We have now been treated to the saddest spectacle of scientific fraud in my memory. The Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England is one of very few institutions where the raw data on climate history is supposed to be stored. It is now documented that “scientists” at that institution modified data and discarded the original information. In the ethics of science that is equivalent to a clergyman ordering changes made to the Bible. All data and other information from that institution are now suspect. In fact Phil Jones has now stepped aside, at least temporarily, as director of CRU while this is under investigation. The scandal now even has a name, it's being called “Climategate.”

Is this limited to our friends in England? Sadly no. Michael E. Mann at Penn State also appears to have been involved and others may be. Furthermore, some support for the CRU seems to have come from U.S. tax money, a fact that has caused the U.S. Department of Energy to put a litigation hold on information in case the lawyers get involved. Information in that department cannot be discarded in case it is subpoenaed. At this time it is uncertain just how deep the deception runs but information now available is enough to cast doubt on the databases used to prove the man-made global warming theory.

As if that were not enough, the “scientists” involved were attempting to censor scientists with opposing viewpoints. Science depends on a peer-review process to verify that papers are worth publication. It is a good system but some involved in this controversy attempted to manipulate it. Referring to two papers in opposition Mann wrote, “I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"

The hush is on elsewhere as well. At the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, video journalist Phelim McAleer asked Professor Stephen Schneider about the Climategate issue. Schneider's response was to call in armed guards to have McAleer thrown out and threaten to confiscate the camera with the evidence.

Two of the most important pillars of science are integrity of data and open discussion of results. Jones, Mann, and their cohorts appear to have attacked both of those pillars. And considering how dependent climate scientists around the world have been on their data, they have cast doubt on the entire theory of man-made global warming. We have to wonder, if man-made global warming is so clear, why did they need to twist and purge data? Usually people only do that to bolster a weak case.

This is a serious problem. We must remember that in Aesop's fable, a wolf did later appear and that time the villagers failed to respond to the boy's cries for help. If scientists are caught corrupting their data we will not believe their false claims. However we are also likely to reject their claims even when true. Climategate does not disprove the global warming theory but it does put it in serious doubt. If global warming is a real problem, Jones, Mann et al have done serious damage to our ability to deal with it. Whether it is a problem or not, they have done serious damage to science as a whole.

We need to find people with impeccable integrity and the scientific ability to do the job. Than those people must be tasked to review the entire body of climate data and determine what is true, what may be true and what is false. Only such an effort will restore our faith in science on this important issue.

Personal Note: I’ll be taking some time off for Christmas so probably will not post anything here for a couple of weeks. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, or if you don’t celebrate either of those, I wish you an enjoyable season in any case.

If you like my blog, please tell others.
If you don't like it, please tell me.


Bobkatt said...

Merry Christmas Hal. Keep up the good work.

Bobkatt said...

Happy New Years.