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Science

The Science Credibility Bubble 1747

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the save-me-jebus dept.
eldavojohn writes "The real fallout of climategate may have nothing to do with the credibility of climate change. Daniel Henninger thinks it's a bigger problem for the scientific community as a whole and he calls out the real problem as seen through the eyes of a lay person in an opinion piece for the WSJ. Henninger muses, 'I don't think most scientists appreciate what has hit them,' and carries on in that vein, saying, 'This has harsh implications for the credibility of science generally. Hard science, alongside medicine, was one of the few things left accorded automatic stature and respect by most untrained lay persons. But the average person reading accounts of the East Anglia emails will conclude that hard science has become just another faction, as politicized and "messy" as, say, gender studies.' While nothing interesting was found by most scientific journals, he explains that the attacks against scientists in these leaked e-mails for proposing opposite views will recall the reader to the persecution of Galileo. In doing so, it will make the lay person unsure of the credibility of all sciences without fully seeing proof of it, but assuming that infighting exists in them all. Is this a serious risk? Will people even begin to doubt the most rigorous sciences like Mathematics and Physics?"
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The Science Credibility Bubble

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  • Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lieutenant Buddha (1660501) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:47AM (#30388636)
    The argument from incredulity is often applied to science by the layperson. You don't need an opponent or a debate to use a logical fallacy. The fact that the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case had to happen proves that people question science regardless of it's validity.
    • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ground.zero.612 (1563557) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:11AM (#30389060)

      The argument from incredulity is often applied to science by the layperson. You don't need an opponent or a debate to use a logical fallacy. The fact that the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case had to happen proves that people question science regardless of it's validity.

      It wouldn't be real science without real skepticism. A theory should remain a theory until it can stand up the to the scrutiny of skepticism.

      • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Insightful)

        by liquiddark (719647) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:23AM (#30389276)
        There's a difference between skepticism and uninformed judgement with a preexisting bias.
        • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jaeph (710098) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:27PM (#30390592)

          Yes, but the emails show that the preexisting bias is on the climate-scientists side, not the skeptic's side.

          Look, we have a group of people discussing the deletion of emails in response to a FOI request. They also discuss boycotting forums that publish an opposing point of view. That these items were even considered is all the sign we need that something is not kosher. Sure, the science may remain legitamite, but these particular scientists are not to be trusted. They are snake-oil salesman who at best may have lucked into the correct side of a debate.

          -Jeff

          • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Insightful)

            by A beautiful mind (821714) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @01:17PM (#30391512)
            Actually, it is a slightly wrong, totally unimportant and absolutely human response that the scientists in question exhibited.

            In a networking analogy, it's RIPE, ARIN and the other registrars facing people calling them chicken little for pointing out IPv4 exhaustion and suggesting to use ip addresses "with higher than 256 parts", calling networking engineers "stupid people didn't think of that" and calling IPv6 a scam "to sell some routers".

            So it's perfectly understandable that scientists with 20+ years in the field feel a little touchy and get annoyed by the 50th FOI request. The best solution for creationists, climate change denialists and 9/11 conspiracy theorist is to send them to school. If I were a climate scientists I would have been really annoyed by that time now by the elementary ignorance demonstrated by these people.

            Snake oil salesmen my ass, if you examine someone's private correspondence over a 10 year period and that's all you find, then I want to give the give a damn medal for integrity.
      • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Informative)

        by bluesatin (1350681) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:27AM (#30389370)

        I don't think that means, what you think it means: Scientific Theory [wikipedia.org]

        • by Alaren (682568) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:07PM (#30390184)

          I really like this sentence from your link:

          In the humanities, one finds theories whose subject matter does not (only) concern empirical data, but rather ideas. Such theories are in the realm of philosophical theories as contrasted with scientific theories. A philosophical theory is not necessarily scientifically testable through experiment.

          I think people make an (often unexpressed) distinction between experimental science, and observational or computational science. Large-scale sciences like climatology and astronomy suffer from an inability to isolate variables or to yield "reproducible results." They might yield reproducible observations, but even this is not necessarily the case (e.g. an radiation burst from some portion of the sky might conceivably never occur again, and so secondary evidence of the phenomenon must be sought). We can "build models," but these yield approximations and while they are helpful, they are clearly distinguishable from direct experimentation.

          It is disingenuous to say, in effect, "Your cellphone works, therefore global warming is real," or "The math is good, therefore dark matter exists." The science is different. Somewhat ironically, the philosophical dominance of empiricism ("Show Me") makes observational or computational science extremely challenging. Until we isolate dark matter, there will always be doubters. And short of a massive global disaster like something out of a Hollywood film, there will always be people who doubt that global warming is either (A) real or (B) anything to worry about.

          I see a lot of comments here crying foul, leveling insults at anyone who thinks they are "expert enough" to question climatologists, making bigoted remarks about this religious group or that political ideology... but those same arguments apply in reverse. You can isolate oxygen, show its effect on a candle or a toad. You can make electricity and calculate trajectories and show people.

          But you can't show them global warming, at least not yet. You can only argue for its existence by indirect evidence, making predictions about the future that sometimes fail to be true--which sounds suspiciously like religion. Until you can predict the weather with the same reasonably unerring accuracy with which we predict projectile trajectories, the science isn't good enough. Which is a little bit scary, when you consider the potential problems if global warming is real and we realize that too late! So I certainly think it is worth understanding better. But you can't call it a "done deal" when stuff like "Climategate" would appear to suggest otherwise.

          That doesn't mean people are losing their faith in science. Kind of the opposite, really. They're just holding it to a standard some sciences are not yet mature enough to furnish.

      • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:36AM (#30389558)

        A theory should remain a theory until it can stand up the to the scrutiny of skepticism.

        Wrong.

        A theory should remain a theory only as long as it can stand up the to the scrutiny of skepticism.

      • by snowwrestler (896305) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:50AM (#30389842)

        Real skepticism provides criteria by which it can be satisfied. Unchanging skepticism in the face of evidence is not scientific.

    • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:15AM (#30389146)

      The argument from incredulity is often applied to science by the layperson. You don't need an opponent or a debate to use a logical fallacy. The fact that the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case had to happen proves that people question science regardless of it's validity.

      Exactly. There has never been, nor ought their be, an automatic trust of anything, including science. By definition of "layperson", we do not know and are not read-up on, the exact arguments for an against any particular theory. It has long been the case that unscrupulous individuals will try to sell a product or an idea "because science says so". This is behind every diet fad, every exercise machine, every crackpot "business methodology", that we've been exposed to for centuries (see: snake oil salesman).

      The reason that climate change has been resisted and argued by so many, for so long, is exactly this. We do not trust the people interpreting this for us at the national level. We see a group of people who have financial motivation to resist, a group of people who have financial motivation to sell green-wash products, and a group of people who advocate shucking technology and returning to some insane, idealized view of nature, where man and animal and nature all get along, and don't eat or kill each other. All "climategate" has done, is confuse us further. We still lack faith in science, we still do not trust any of the people arguing, and we have good reason for this lack of trust.

      • Re:Yes, Here's Why (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:29AM (#30389412)

        There has never been, nor ought their [sic] be, an automatic trust of anything, including science

        "Automatic" trust? Perhaps not. "General" trust? Yes.

        We generally 'trust' science thousands of times per today. This morning I went into a man-made 'cave' deep in the ground and got on the subway. The 'cave' didn't fall in and the subway didn't crash. The subway train didn't have a 'driver' - It was automatic and operated by a computer. I listened to my mp3 player and trusted everything.

        Two weeks ago I let my doctor inject two different kinds of vaccines into my arm.

        I could go on and on with examples, but the bottom line is I trust science and the mechanisms that are put in place by scientists (engineers, doctors et al) to accredit each other - And I trust these people orders of magnitude more than Palinesque drones who believe some kind of flying spaghetti monster made the world 6,000 years ago and that Fred Flintsone lived with Triceratops.

  • by Captain Damnit (105224) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:48AM (#30388660)

    Didn't we see the same bloviation from the mainstream media when cold fusion went from the energy source of the future to a byword for scientific fraud? It seems to me if the reputation of hard science could survive out and out fraud like that, it will probably survive the climate change "fraud".

    • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:13AM (#30389098) Journal
      Excellent comparison. The difference I see is that in the case of cold fusion, the scientific critique and exposure as fraud was done within the science community. If anything, this proved that rigorous science was robust and the community could correct itself, much like an unjust verdict overturned on appeal proves the legal system works. In the AGW debate, the publicized emails create the appearance that powerful people in the scientific community stifled the dissent, open debate, and peer review that might cast doubt on their views.

      So, the main difference is not that scientists might be proved wrong or fraudulent, since that happens from time to time and is proof that the system works. The problem here is that the system itself is alleged to be rigged.
      • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.manNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:51AM (#30389876)

        So, the main difference is not that scientists might be proved wrong or fraudulent, since that happens from time to time and is proof that the system works. The problem here is that the system itself is alleged to be rigged.

        Within the academic community, you have the same problem in both of these cases: inability to repeat the experiment. With Cold Fusion, you can't get the same results when you follow the experimental procedure. That's failed science. With the global warming 'scandal', you have a few scientists who are the only ones with access to the raw temperature data. There is no independent analysis of the data, meaning the statistics (and released data) can be tweaked or cherry-picked until the authors get results they want. Without independent analysis repeating their results, that's failed science as well.

        The issue is when other studies are based off of the 'groomed' data, rather than the raw measurements. We need to take their word that the data wasn't cherry-picked to seem hotter, and nobody can independently verify that it wasn't. That makes it easy to dismiss the findings, and makes it hell for those who want to study the phenomenon. It's too important not to verify.

        The other problem is that a layperson (or even many scientists) wouldn't know if it was rigged or not. For the layperson, we see news articles that say "In a research paper published in Nature...", and nobody gets to read the paper. So the average person is told "take our word for it", which doesn't do much to combat rumors of poor science. Without people who are science-literate (though perhaps not PhD scientists) being able to read the paper, see that it is sound, and tell their non-scientific friends why, it will always appear like a bunch of hand-waving.

  • What (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tobor the Eighth Man (13061) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:49AM (#30388684)

    Science shouldn't be "accorded automatic stature and respect" any more than politics should. There's no reason to trust a scientist any more than you'd trust your barber.

    The problem isn't that people aren't automatically believing science, it's almost the exact opposite: people are automatically doubting science. And that's quite another thing entirely.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Interesting)

      by h2oliu (38090) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:58AM (#30388800)

      I would argue that people don't know when to doubt, and when to believe.

      Which scientists do they believe when it comes to Autism and vaccines? Which scientist to believe when it comes to global warming? It is just they have more insight into the infighting that is present into the community now.

      The infighting has ALWAYS been there. When I was in graduate school I never saw a larger bunch of petty people whining over who was the bigger fish in there tiny ponds.

      • Re:What (Score:4, Insightful)

        by QuantumPion (805098) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:15AM (#30389126)

        I would argue that people don't know when to doubt, and when to believe.

        Which scientists do they believe when it comes to Autism and vaccines? Which scientist to believe when it comes to global warming? It is just they have more insight into the infighting that is present into the community now.

        The infighting has ALWAYS been there. When I was in graduate school I never saw a larger bunch of petty people whining over who was the bigger fish in there tiny ponds.

        You believe the theory that has observations to prove it works. Not the scientist. Pretty simple if you ask me.

        • Re:What (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jesup (8690) * <randellslashdot@nOspAM.jesup.org> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:40AM (#30389646) Homepage
          You believe the theory that has observations to prove it works. Not the scientist. Pretty simple if you ask me.

          That's fine, if you can read the papers, and read the papers confirming (or not) the observations, etc. For example, with the whole autism/vaccine kerfluffle, the original paper by a British doctor has been debunked, and apparently he made up and/or mis-represented his data. Plus various doctors (which the public conflates with scientists, which is sometimes true and sometimes not) make all sorts of claims, often based not on scientific methods or verifiable proof, but instead on personal opinion/experience and a few particular cases they've seen. The problem is that it's way to easy to jump to an unwarranted conclusion, or to do what humans are all too good at - picking facts that support what we already believe or want to believe.

          The public has little or no understanding of how science works (even many non-scientist academics don't). Combine that with the modern media's preference to not interpret, but instead present all points-of-view as equivalent (or to prefer certain points-of-view based on politics), and it's easy to see how the public can reach the belief that science is just opinion too - that you can pick who to agree with, based on what you want to be true.

        • Re:What (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Brickwall (985910) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:47PM (#30390964)
          You believe the theory that has observations to prove it works. Not the scientist. Pretty simple if you ask me.

          Um, but if that scientist consistently, and repeatedly, refuses to give you his data or his methods (hi Michael Mann!) and just says "believe me" on an issue that will cost your country literally billions of dollars, are you just supposed to shut up and go along? Especially when it appears after much prodding and poking that some of the data were cherry-picked, others were "adjusted", and finally, the raw data was deleted? The Earth may well be warming, but it has warmed and cooled countless times over the millenia, and the case for AGW is certainly "not proven". So I think a healthy skepticism before imposing the huge financial penalties and bureaucracies that are being punted about is the only wise position.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:00AM (#30388844)

      I'm certain that people believe it when a spacecraft launches, or their new TV is even thinner.

      Thing is, do they even realise that is science?

      In their mind science is a term for the fuzzy stuff that they read about in the papers - like is a glass of wine good or bad for you? Are potatoes/fish/eggs/etc good or bad for you? And all the U-turns since. Science is the word they associate with anything that goes wrong or seems to be a stupid waste of money to research.

      The media has propagated this view of science, because journalists could never hack the subjects themselves, and they just want to get their own back on those people who could do it.

    • Re:What (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:24AM (#30389292)

      Indeed. Personally, I would like to see a bit more skepticism when it comes to science. As in "Hey, show me some data and explain to me why what you say should work before I take your word for it." Or at least go out and do some of your own research before accepting something from some random scientist. Too often news organizations quote someone with some professorial or scientific title and pretend that the quote has value. Unless I know that person and have been able to assess their credibility in some way beforehand, they could have just as well quoted my barber. This presentation issue is a failing of news organizations though. Any person can still do their own filtering.

      What we're getting now though is that ad hominem attacks on scientists (of the sort of "You work for institution XYZ, you're automatically disqualified from contributing.") is seen as valid approach in any discussion on any topic. This is complete idiocy, and a mark of the intellectually lazy. To some extent, the public press and scientists themselves contributed to the problem. The press has elevated scientists to the status of oracles, and the public was happy to believe the oracles. Many scientists thrived on that elevated status, and did little to dispel it. Now that the oracles have been shown to be as human as everybody, the public is engaging in a massive back-lash. To some extent, it's to be expected.

      But no matter how explainable the situation, there is a fundamental problem if science is being put on the same level as high-school English Lit (see posters above for ready examples) - and that's going to cause more problems down the line. Sadly , I find this attitude is mostly prevalent in the US - and various voodoo-practicing countries.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:49AM (#30388686)

    When I was a kid, I used to genuinely believe that humans were on a path to greater wisdom, more profound discourse, and perfect knowledge.

    Lately, I just see a bunch of power-hungry assholes doing their utmost to discredit intelligent thought and dumb-down the world around them, so they can continue on an unimpeded path toward greater assholism.

  • Open source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by javilon (99157) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:52AM (#30388718) Homepage

    Will people even begin to doubt the most rigorous sciences like Mathematics and Physics

    The answer is no. The good thing about science is that it is open source. For mathematics, you can go through all of the proofs from your text books. For physics you would need a bit of gear to reproduce some of the experiments, but again, that is just a question of money and interest.

    The basic point is that the scientific method don't expect you to accept anything without proof. If you can falsify any of the theories by experiment, people will pay attention to you, regardless of politics.

    • Re:Open source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by monoqlith (610041) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:05AM (#30388942)

      "If you can falsify any of the theories by experiment, people will pay attention to you, regardless of politics."

      The upside to this is that science appears to hold itself to a higher standard of truth than religion and politics. The downside to this is also that science appears to hold itself to a higher standard of truth than religion and politics. Science always says first to its student: "Doubt me." It's a tough marketing job from there on out. As science has skepticism as a built-in requirement, people will always doubt its findings more than the claims of religion or the promises of politicians. Of course, science has the added benefit of being difficult to understand, much unlike the prescriptions of religion. This all creates a situation where knowledge and rational skepticism actually have no political force, and their antitheses, ignorance and hysteria, drive our political discussion.

        If people reserved nearly as much skepticism for religion as they did for science, we would live in a much more sensible world.

    • Re:Open source (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Codger (96717) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:05AM (#30388958)

      Sure, you can go through the proofs and run some experiments - if you're a mathematician or a scientist. For the average Joe, these activities are as foreign as eating boiled locusts for dinner. Average Joe will doubt (and already does doubt) because he lacks the training to understand how math and science work. And average Joes outnumber and outvote mathematicians and scientists by a large margin, and end up electing the scientific ignoramuses who dominate one of the US national political parties.

    • Laypeople. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:48AM (#30389814) Journal

      You're assuming that everyone who has an opinion about this will actually be informed, will take the time to look through those proofs, reproduce those experiments, etc.

      Read this. [nationalgeographic.com]

      In particular, look at that graph. Are you frightened yet?

      Evolution is one of the crowing triumphs of modern science. It has more evidence than any other theory I know of, from many branches of science -- the "tree of life" is repeated, exactly, in genetics, in the fossil record, in the geologic record, everywhere we care to look for it. It informs pretty much all of modern medicine and biology, and it is a humbling look at our origins and our true status with respect to other life on the planet. It is beautiful, important, and solidly supported by fact.

      Even the Catholic Church has officially embraced evolution, and the big bang theory, as truth.

      And a third of Americans reject evolution outright. These aren't people who just aren't sure -- they say it is definitely false.

      Want to guess why?

      Because they feel it threatens their religion. Because if evolution is true, the Earth (and certainly the Universe) cannot be six thousand years old, and they must accept that they are descended from apes -- or that, by any honest classification, humans are still a species of ape. Because they cannot accept the fact that at least some part of that religion is a fairy tale, or at least a metaphor.

      The problem is, in order to reject evolution, they find they have to doubt just about every legitimate scientist who has an opinion on the subject, and keep themselves willfully ignorant. Furthermore, in order to believe the earth is six thousand years old, they pretty nearly have to stick their fingers in their ear and go "la la la la" in order to avoid pretty much every branch of science that has anything to say about the subject.

      That is, if they are right, even the most basic grade-school cosmology must be wrong -- there are objects more than six thousand light years away from us. Geology must also be wrong -- not merely carbon-dating (which is already quite rigorous), but the kind of time scales modern geology suggests. And of course, modern medicine must be wrong -- our understanding of things like antibiotics relies on evolution to work.

      And yet, they will feel qualified to address these issues, to challenge real scientists with such arguments as, "That's microevolution. Show me one 'kind' turning into another, and I'll believe it." When this fails to get them anywhere, they again close their eyes, ears, and minds, and ultimately turn to the very simplistic, reassuring, and ultimately wrong words of Ken Ham: "Who should you believe -- God or the scientists?"

      The problem here is not just the validity of evolution. It is that in order to believe what the creationist wants to believe, they have to reject huge chunks of modern science. In order to continue to be relevant, they have consistently attempted to get their strange ideas taught in school -- not just as a philosophy, or a class in its own right, but as part of science.

      And it's not just america -- 22% of Canadians [ncse.com] are creationists. Something like a third of Americans are.

      So, the short answer is, yes, laypeople absolutely will doubt whatever they feel they have a problem with. If they doubt evolution, cosmology, Einsteinian relativity, geology, archeology, paleontology, etc, just so they can believe a certain way, it's certainly not a stretch that they would doubt anything that conflicts with their actual (polluting, wasteful) lifestyle.

      And unfortunately, even when 99.9% of scientists agree on something, it doesn't help if they can't convince the public -- because laypeople are also voters.

      We need another Carl Sagan.

  • by confusednoise (596236) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:53AM (#30388736)
    The lay public has been mistrusting science for quite a while now. Witness the disbelief in findings regarding the lack of connection between autism and vaccines, brain cancer and cellphones and climate change.

    We're already well into the era when people doubt the motives and findings of scientists. You can see it here on /. all the time - cue all the rants about how nobody gets funding unless they parrot the party line about global warming and how doctors who support vaccinations are just puppets of Big Pharma.

    Problem is, people really believe that they can become experts on extremely complicated topics and weigh the evidence for themselves. I'm not saying we need to have blind trust in authority, but sometimes you've got to recognize that someone who studied climatology for X years might actually know a thing or two that you can't pick up from reading a blog.
    • by Volante3192 (953645) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:04AM (#30388918)

      sometimes you've got to recognize that someone who studied climatology for X years might actually know a thing or two that you can't pick up from reading a blog

      This.

      Happens in every field; I get it all the time supporting computers. I ask them to do something, and suddenly I'm questioned, berated, argued with, told it won't work, they've done it, yadda yadda, and when I finally get them to do it and humor me...it fixes their problem and they hang up. No apology, no thank you, and likely no realization that they don't know my field as well as I know my field.

    • by pz (113803) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:45AM (#30389752) Journal

      Problem is, people really believe that they can become experts on extremely complicated topics and weigh the evidence for themselves.

      This is a serious problem. On the one hand, a democratic society holds that each member can and should act independently, weighing the factors that they find personally important, to come to vital decisions. On the other hand, most people are ignorant on nearly every subject, and lack the means, ability, incentive, or time to become expert on each subject as it comes along. Making medical decisions is one of the most important examples of this. When presented with a treatment for a condition, who among us can really make an informed decision? Are we ever even given the proper tools to make decisions (such as percentages of success, side-effect, and failure for the treatment, practioner, or hospital? Hardly. Instead we have FUD like, "OMFG they're putting POISON in vaccines." I work in neuroscience research at a big hospital, and *I* don't know why thimerisol is used as a standard preservative in multi-dose vials of H1N1 vaccine. I don't even know how much mercury would end up being in a standard dose of a vaccine, or if that is enough to cause neurological issues long-term. If I'm in the same general field, and I don't have the proper tools to evaluate the risks, how possibly can the general public?

      Right. They can't. Not possible; not even remotely possible. It would take a motivated, highly educated person with a lot of money to pay for scientific articles (they aren't by-and-large free except when you have a university affiliation), and lost of time to comb through stacks and stacks of papers in order to make an informed decision about one treatment. This is a barrier to knowledge that is not realistic. Expecting the lay person to make good, informed decisions is a joke. Expecting that the lay person can understand the myriad of complexities about climate change when the very idea of a static climate is demonstrably bogus is nothing more than political propaganda.

      So, people have been brainwashed into thinking they can become experts on any subject in a few short minutes (witness all of the "well, why dont' they just do ..." comments on Slashdot where readers who are familiar with a subject for the time it takes to read a condensed summary presume to be able to second guess experts who have devoted their lives to a particular field). They clearly cannot do this, and nothing is going to get any better in that regard as science and technology continue to make astonishing advances. We, the scientists, must therefore be absolutely certain and vigilant about promulgating only truth, and fighting propaganda at every turn.

      I am not a climate scientist. I am not a geologist. I have friends who are, and from my second-hand understanding of anthropogenic climate change, no one really understands what is going on. Sure, there's some evidence for anthropogenic climate changes (like the ozone hole over Antarctica), but *I* lack the skills and knowledge to understand the issues. So when I hear Al Gore saying things like, "we dump billions of tons of CO2 into our thin atmosphere like it was a sewer," it makes me angry that anyone is listening to that drivel at all. He might be right, anthropogenic CO2 may be a really, really big problem, but delivering that message with distortions and distractions that make the Soviet propaganda machine appear tame in comparison, ultimately is doing far more harm than good.

      Blind trust in authority is bad. But so is what we have now where fear, uncertainty and doubt determines what the public thinks.

  • Funding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:54AM (#30388744) Homepage Journal

    Who could have possibly predicted that accepting hundreds of billions of dollars from governments over the last couple of decades could have somehow politicized Science?

    -Peter

    • Re:Funding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by confusednoise (596236) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:02AM (#30388880)
      Government has been funding science for much much longer than a couple of decades.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_society [wikipedia.org]

      Just out of curiosity, if pure science is not funded by government, how should it be paid for? By private industry? Do you somehow think that we can place greater trust results of science paid for by corporations?
    • Re:Funding (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumPion (805098) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:04AM (#30388920)

      Who could have possibly predicted that accepting hundreds of billions of dollars from governments over the last couple of decades could have somehow politicized Science?

      -Peter

      Dwight D. Eisenhower - 1961.

      "The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:08AM (#30389008)

      Hundreds of billions??? You have the wrong side. 20 Billion dollars over 30 years for the entire world. Compared with 37Bn dollars given as subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear power industry *EACH* *YEAR* by the *US* ALONE* and I think you find the finger points a different direction.

      How many people would want a piece of THAT action?

      Much more.

    • Re:Funding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qmaqdk (522323) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:25AM (#30389328)

      Who could have possibly predicted that accepting hundreds of billions of dollars from governments over the last couple of decades could have somehow politicized Science?

      -Peter

      For some reason people have a very romantic view of what it means to be a scientist. They seem to think that the scientists just pocket the money they get. All of it goes to research, i.e. salaries for post-docs, phd students, etc. (of the not Ferrari-driving nor private jet flying kind), equipment, and conference expenses. And it is expensive do to science.

      But until you see scientists buying private jets, yachts and arrive at the university in Bugatti Veyrons, I suggest you calm down.

  • by rehtonAesoohC (954490) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:55AM (#30388772) Journal
    If people are afraid to question what we now consider laws in physics, mathematics, etc, then there will never be breakthroughs in learning.

    I mean, there are extremes, and people shouldn't be disbelieving scientists just because they're scientists, but at the same time, we shouldn't always take things at face value just because Bill Nye the Science Guy says so. There is a happy medium...
  • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:58AM (#30388806) Homepage

    I work in a field closely associated with climatology (satellite remote sensing), and I work with climatologists. And I agree with the article on one point: We really do not understand how big a deal this 'climategate' is.

    The worst bits in that email dump are petty squabbles between researchers and critics. That's standard -- often critics are dishonest people who are attacking the science in order to advance a political agenda, and that is very frustrating to someone who wants to do honest science. Yes, tempers flare in private emails. Scientists are human. If people are going to lose faith in science because scientists are human...then we as a race are doomed, in my opinion.

    As for the results of the CSU climate research, they're not in any doubt. Every criticism of them has been answered, and there are other studies that agree with the CSU results. So attack the scientists for being human if you must, but the science is sound and must be heeded.

    I really do not understand why this has blown up into such a conflagration. Anyone who gives up on science because of this trifling matter is welcome to go back to the dark ages and live their short, wholesome, science-free life.

    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:26AM (#30389340)

      The worst bits in that email dump are petty squabbles between researchers and critics.

      Then you haven't been paying attention. The worst problems are evading a legitimate FOIA request, coercing journals to not publish the works of "skeptics", and excluding "skeptic" literature from the IPCC record. Those aren't "petty" scrabbles due to the stakes involved.

      • by epiphani (254981) <.ten.lad. .ta. .inahpipe.> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @01:06PM (#30391330)

        (Reposting this where appropriate)

        People seem to forget the context of that "undermining the peer review process" took place.

        They certainly tried to impact the peer review process. The paper in question resulted in half of the editorial board of the journal in question resigning over the peer review process that took place.

        http://www.sgr.org.uk/climate/StormyTimes_NL28.htm [sgr.org.uk]

        The paper in question turned out to be underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute.

        As for Mann and Jones' apparent effort to punish the journal Climate Research, the paper that ignited his indignation is a 2003 study that turned out to be underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute. Eventually half the editorial board of the journal quit in protest. And even if CRU's climate data turns out to have some holes, the group is only one of four major agencies, including NASA, that contribute temperature data to major climate models — and CRU's data largely matches up with the others'.

        Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1946082-2,00.html#ixzz0ZJERceR1 [time.com]

    • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:29AM (#30389392)
      Anyone who gives up on science because of this trifling matter is welcome to go back to the dark ages and live their short, wholesome, science-free life.

      The problem is that in a democratic system, they have the power to take the rest of us into the dark ages with them.
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:01AM (#30388870)

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."
    - Bertrand Russel

    As evidence of the validity of Russel's insight, consider the people who are cocksure enough to assume it is they who are the doubters. They will even quarrel amongst each other about which of them is the intelligent, when in reality they are all idiots.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:03AM (#30388894)

    Oh, I'm sorry. I guess that we can't really thank science for medicine, computers, airplanes, the food on our table. I guess that one murderous programmer working on an open source file system means all of Linux is shit, too. And you know what? I got taken for a ride buying speculative real estate in Florida. I guess this means that you can't make money in real estate, that the whole thing's a rotten idea. Incidentally, I threw out the bath water. Where'd the baby go?

    I'll buy that argument once religious whackadoodles promise to renounce their faith because of televangelists and pedo-priests.

  • by starglider29a (719559) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:06AM (#30388966)
    To do any useful science that hasn't already been done requires money. Money carries an agenda. Scientists who work for sponsors, including foundations, oil companies or even governments AND who disagree with the predispositions of the above are soon out of money, out of work, out of science.

    "You've never worked in the real world... they expect RESULTS!" -- Dr. Peter Venkman

    Therefore, the "tolerance stackup", a polite word for 'fudging data' will lean in the direction of the benefactor.

    If this statement is not the truth, it is certainly the perception. Convince the masses that the scientists are not supporting the suppositions of the sponsors and maybe they will trust the science again. Start by convincing me.

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:07AM (#30388994) Homepage Journal
    Will people even begin to doubt the most rigorous sciences like Mathematics and Physics?

    Some people already doubt science in general, to limit it to just math and physics belies the current trend of refusing to accept what science, in all its forms, tells us.

    Men on the moon? Nope, can't be done because of . WTC towers collapsed because of structural damage compounded by extreme temperatures? Nope, it was a government plot because . Vaccines help prevent acquisition of serious diseases? Nope, doesn't work because . Evolution? It's impossible because .

    There will always be those who will find any excuse to deny the scientific evidence. That doesn't mean one shouldn't question the evidence or how it's gathered. Rather, instead of saying, "See! They used the word 'hide' so they must be falsifying the data!", one should look at the entire context of quotes and information to see what is meant.

    Science, in all its forms, is one of those areas where there will always be discussion about something, but once someone, or some group, comes up with an explanation, their data and processes can be checked by others to see if those people get the same results. If not, go back and see what the differences were. If still failure, back to square one.

    I am reminded of the one CSI episode* where after doing all the evidence gathering, interviewing suspects and finally finding the body, the only conclusion was that the girl, upon trying to retrieve her waste can from a garbage bin, had been partially crushed between the bin and the wall when a vehicle came by and accidentally clipped the bin.

    The parents were sure their daughter was murdered and planned on hiring their own investigator to find out who killed her. Grissom remarks, "Mrs. Rycoff there is no one guilty of this."

    "Because you say so?"

    "Because the evidence says so."

    *The episode is called Chaos Theory and is one of my all-time favorite CSI shows. Right up there with Fur and Loathing (the plushy and furry convention episode).
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:09AM (#30389024) Homepage

    This has always been a problem and there has probably never been a time when politics and/or religion did not have inappropriate influence over scientific research.

    Some (lay) people see science as a religion in and of itself having its own agenda. This is a failure in the sense that since attempts to deal with understanding the most absolute reality possible and tries to be impartial to any particular point of view. (Let's not get into the politics within science itself, I know it exists, but let's stick with idealism for a moment while I make my point.) In politics and religion, there is a propensity to believe "if you're not with us, you are against us" sort of ideas and so when data that is unfavorable to their position emerges, they tend to respond to it as if it were an enemy rather than a new facet of reality. (Fighting an enemy is one thing. Fighting reality is another!)

    All science is to be doubted and disputed. This is part of how things work. However, lay people see a doubting of science as a problem of trust or faith because they know of no other context in which to process falsified or incorrect scientific data. While it was a tremendous disservice to the whole scientific community to have "climategate" surface, it is not as big of a problem within the community as it is outside of the community.

    It would be really nice if people were able to acquire the simple understanding of what science is and is not and how it should be treated. The public knows that the weatherman is not always accurate but must always be depended upon nevertheless. The public knows that the weatherman does not control the weather and only reports his observations and renders predictions based on those observations. The public, in general understands and appreciates this correctly and fully. What the public needs to do, then, is expand this understanding to ALL of science and not just meteorology.

  • by ndogg (158021) <the.rhorn@gmaiIIIl.com minus threevowels> on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:10AM (#30389038) Homepage Journal

    When there are people that espouse creationism, and that vaccines cause autism, it's obvious a lot of lay people didn't respect science before. How different can it be now?

    Somewhere in hell, Jenny McCarthy, and William Dembski are going at it like rabbits. Their offspring will be the ultimate creature of evil.

  • by MillenneumMan (932804) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @11:21AM (#30389244)

    The best way to restore healthy debate on climate change science is to open source everything...the data, the source code for the computer models, and the methodology for how the data is collected: specific locations of data collection (is it a rural area, a parking lot in a city, on a school roof, in direct sunlight or in the shade), date and time of day (noon, midnight, 5pm), weather conditions at the time it is collected (sunny, raining, under a snow drift), age of the equipment (mercury thermometer installed in 1953 or digital sensor device). All of these factors would influence a simple temperature reading. Heck there are probably dozens of other factors that I am not considering.

    Since our government is PAYING for so much of this research it should be no problem to PUBLISH all of these details and let everyone debate from a common framework. However, I believe our government has an agenda and therefore won't ever take such a logical approach.

    While we are at it, let's do the same thing for how inflation, unemployment, public health statistics, education metrics, and poverty rates are calculated.

You see but you do not observe. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes"

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