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Earth Science Politics

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science 1046

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-it's-really-cold-today dept.
blau tips news of an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates, decrying the "recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular." The letter lays out the basics of the scientific method, and explains how certainly highly-regarded theories — such as the big bang, evolution, and Earth's origin — are commonly accepted due to the strength of the evidence supporting them, though "fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong." It goes on to "call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them." According to the Guardian, the letter "originated with a number of NAS members who were frustrated at the misinformation being spread by climate deniers and the assaults on scientists by some policy-makers who hope to delay or avoid making policy decisions and are hiding behind the recent controversy around emails and minor errors in the IPCC."
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Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

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  • Re:No mention (Score:1, Interesting)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:41PM (#32134006)

    * (i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

    The planet is warming due to the sun. The planet has warmed in the past. The planet has cooled in the past. The planet's history shows that it was significantly warmer during it's most hospitable eras than it is now.

    * (ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

    Most of the increase, sure. But how much of the total percentage? The impact the rest of nature has astronomically outstrips the impact humans alone have.

    * (iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

    Completely false.

    * (iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

    These changes are only "unprecedented" if you describe "modern times" as spanning only the last few centuries. The planet has undergone more severe changes than any doomsayer has predicted - life, including human life, has done nothing but flourish. If species X suffers, so be it. If species X happens to be humans, then so be it. Life adapts or GTFOs.

    * (v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

    If by "threatens" you mean "threatens to change", then you're right. People who own expensive property might lose it. Governments who control key ports or shipping routes might lose them. The change the politicians fear is upsetting the current balance of power. They don't give a shit if people or other animals die en masse.

    Most lifeforms prefer a flooded planet to one where all the water is locked in ice, anyway. If humans ever did get the ability to control the climate, who would decide what the ideal amount of ice is? Who would decide what the ideal sea level is? The ideal number of hurricanes per year? The ideal temperature?

    As always, follow the money. Global warming is pure political bullshit, and the "science" behind it is a joke.

  • hmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:43PM (#32134024)
    Is it worth mentioning that the National Academy of Sciences has on the order of 2100 members, of which 255 were willing to sign this letter?
  • Question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hysterion (231229) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:55PM (#32134128) Homepage
    How many mathematicians or physicists are there in this list of authors? (I may be wrong, but it seems to me that they my be under-represented?)
  • by ProfM (91314) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:20PM (#32134414)

    Of course, the corollary to that is:

    "It is easy to get a man to prove something, when his salary depends upon him proving it."

  • Re:No mention (Score:3, Interesting)

    by astar (203020) <max.stalnaker@gmail.com> on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:22PM (#32134428) Homepage

    I will take a shot at it.

    First of all, there is the interesting question of quantification. I have seen some predictions that start with the CO2 stuff and come up with a lag time of what, 600 years. science does not have to be quantified by any means, but none of your points are very interesting without some verified numbers. overwhelming natural processes is a bit interesting, but it is not that anyone can really claim that natural processes should dominate. Now I do like the acidification of the ocean claim.

    but being a bit nasty, I might make a nice physical claim that increased insolation would allow me to predict a nicely corresponding global temperature increase. but, since insolation seems to have increased 25% over the past, very long, period without an obvious death of the biosphere, maybe i am missing something somewhere. Now it seems the awg computer models change whatever it is that think of as their physical basis rather often, if i feel emperical, I guess I would say the models are going to continue changing their code significantly. but plug in long term isolation and tell me what the awg models say. my, such settled science.

    so i am probably narrow. I really think of an interesting model as a set of partial differential equations. nice physical basis. and i have not done that stuff for a long time. but i sometimes see comments on slashdot from people who sound like they might really know something about reliable modeling of physical processes and they did not seem very impressed with the awg types.

    on models, I recently saw something about a problem with duplicating the cosmic background radiation models. I do not recall any claims of hiding the basis of the models or hiding the data and i bet it is all very physical, but you go from having a signal to not having a signal. computer models are maybe only maybe 60-70 years old. sort of science, and sort of math, but probably not science in the way Jones wants to think. You can phrase an aspect of the problem in an interesting way: did a computer model ever yield a new fundamental principle of the universe?

  • by Draek (916851) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:45PM (#32134688)

    That's as much the fault of AGW denialists as it is of the fanatics. Just look a few posts above yours, how somebody who's merely expressing his concern for the measures proposed to combat AGW is used to prop up the validity of the denialist movement.

    If nothing else, I would expect the /. crowd to be at least a little skeptical of *anything* that causes vast sums of money to change hands.

    Sure. But the mark of a true skeptic (as opposed to a denialist) is that a skeptic can eventually be convinced, and this has been going long enough that true skeptics are somewhat scarce these days.

  • Re:Here's a quote (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Friday May 07, 2010 @09:10PM (#32134896) Journal

    No one is suggesting Lomborg committed fraud or going after him personally. People are suggesting he is wrong.

    When you call the title of your book The Lomborg Deception [amazon.com], it's pretty hard to say you are not going after him personally. Deception by definition implies fraud.

  • Re:It won't work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alef (605149) on Friday May 07, 2010 @09:36PM (#32135098)

    Proponents of AGW are asking for societies to completely revise their infrastructures and policies. They should expect a high degree of skepticism and deal with it head on rather than politicking, obfuscating, and downright covering things up.

    And with all due respect, considering the gravity of this matter, skeptics are a bit unwise to require this incontestable proof to be served on a silver plate in front of them. This kind of attitude that "if someone doesn't convince me, then it isn't true" is a bit dangerous.

    If AGW is happening, you should be asking for completely revised infrastructures and policies, for you own sake. It is your responsibility and in your own interest to find out what the truth of this matter is. Skeptics shouldn't expect others to do this work for them.

    Maybe we live in different parts of the world, but I don't share your view of how skepticism has been dealt with. On the contrary, I find it commendable how some find the effort to continue arguing with, usually misinformed, deniers. But there comes a point when the discussion needs to be settled, because it could truly go on forever, or there will be no time left to act.

    Rather than continuing to escalate the rhetoric, climatologists need to return to their core data and analysis methods to present their cases in a fair and rational manner.

    Precisely that, is what peer-reviewed scientific journals are for. Have you been reading them?

  • by microbox (704317) on Friday May 07, 2010 @10:19PM (#32135442)
    We've all been painted with the brush of religion because some Scientists forgot their place and their core principles in pursuit of Being Right(tm).

    We've been painted with the brush of religion because market research shows the people are more comfortable talking about people's motives than they are about the actual issues. That was probably determined very scientifically.
  • Re:It won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by osgeek (239988) on Friday May 07, 2010 @10:21PM (#32135464) Homepage Journal

    And with all due respect, considering the gravity of this matter, skeptics are a bit unwise to require this incontestable proof to be served on a silver plate in front of them. This kind of attitude that "if someone doesn't convince me, then it isn't true" is a bit dangerous.

    Gotta run, so can't reply to everything, but that's a bit of a Pascal's Wager. Like the fallacy of the wager, the fallacy of that is that there are infinite things that can do us in environmental disaster, war, asteroids, gray goo, skynet, etc. As a society, we don't have time to evaluate and consider them all. Climatologists really need to toe the line on following the very best Scientific methods so that those of us sincerely interested in doing the right thing won't be turned off or confused by waters muddied up by a bunch of politics.

  • Re:It won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday May 07, 2010 @10:22PM (#32135478)
    No, I am making a prediction about what life would be like today. You said that the auto industry would not be (present tense) on life support it would be dead and buried. That puts the rest of the statements in the present tense.
    Right now, we have nothing that can replace fossil fuels as an energy source within the next 20 years.
    In my opinion, it would be more cost effective to address the symptoms of global warming than to try and remake our economies to try and stop it.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday May 07, 2010 @11:30PM (#32135966) Journal

    As someone who spent a decade battling Creationists on talk.origins, I can tell you right now that the pseudo-skeptics pretty much ape the anti-evolutionist pseudo-skeptics to the letter. It's like they lifted the Panda's Thumb tactics and applied it to climatology.

  • Re:No mention (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday May 07, 2010 @11:36PM (#32135998)

    I don't see how regulating the amount of emissions amounts to "complete control", though. We already regulate other polluters - for good reasons - so why not CO2?

    So, that means regulating everybody, because everybody emits CO2. If we regulate every activity that causes the emission of CO2, we regulate every activity. Now you may be fine with that idea, but don't try and say that you haven't heard of proposals for complete control of all economic activity, because you just called for it.
    Additionally, I don't consider CO2 a pollutant. Please list one other pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act that the complete absence of would destroy the overwhelming majority of life on this planet.

  • Re:It won't work (Score:1, Interesting)

    by d1r3lnd (1743112) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:02AM (#32136158)

    Just because you have a collection of facts does not mean that you are guaranteed to be correct about what they mean. For example, here's another perfectly true collection of facts:

    http://www.seanbonner.com/blog/archives/piratesarecool.jpg [seanbonner.com]

    The fact is, even the best climate "models" are woefully inadequate - they have a hard enough time explaining the data we already have, let alone predicting what values we might expect in the future. They're also remarkably incomplete. Yes, I know they're "only models" and that means that they're simpler than real life. But do you know what they're modeling? The whole fucking globe, which is a complex fucking system. There's only so much simplification you can get away with, and to be perfectly frank, present models are missing too much.

    Look at earlier models - with their 100 foot deep "oceans," and all the other completely completely ignored confounding factors. Do current models fix some of those flaws? Sure, but there are plenty of flaws they haven't fixed. Find me a climate model that accurately accounts for the effects of clouds. What about all the biomatter at the bottom of the ocean, which, by the way, we've barely even studied?

    Yet for DECADES, these folks have been claiming that they know they're right, they know why, and we should engage in some kind of large scale terraforming project on the basis of their half-assed models.

    Do humans have an effect on the environment? Undoubtedly. Do we know what kind of effect, and how much, and why? Not yet.

  • Re:No mention (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:20AM (#32136254) Journal

    So, that means regulating everybody, because everybody emits CO2. If we regulate every activity that causes the emission of CO2, we regulate every activity.

    Wow, what a strawman. By that logic, we already regulate every activity - ever heard of taxes?

    Additionally, I don't consider CO2 a pollutant. Please list one other pollutant regulated under the Clean Air Act that the complete absence of would destroy the overwhelming majority of life on this planet.

    It's a matter of quantity (like so many other things). We're not talking about regulating how you breathe, or how cows fart. We're talking about regulating extremely large-scale emissions (in cases of cars, small emissions that add up very quickly due to large scale of the phenomenon), that, by all scientific accounts, have direct observable and undesirable long-term effect on our environment.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horningNO@SPAMnetzero.net> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:30AM (#32136306) Homepage Journal

    Where I have a huge problem with those promoting "anthroprogenic global warming" is the complete and total denial that any other mechanism might be in play, and that other sources of that climate change may be happening. I've listed those on other /. posts, and I still assert there are other factors beside CO2 production we should be concerned about. Even the more recent "concerns" about the impact of smoke and dust (or lack thereof now that we have environmental regulatory agencies like the EPA eliminating that form of pollution from traditionally smoky industries) only begin to scratch the surface of what may be causes of climate changes around the world.

    I've discussed in more formal forums concerns about these "missing variables" in climate models, and the response for why they are not included is usually rather lame.... mostly that they need to simplify to be able to make any sort of prediction and then wonder why their models no longer make good predictions.

    BTW, I agree that we need to be better stewards over the things we are responsible for in this world, and that we should make some significant headway with some of the major issues you mention here too. I would even go so far as to suggest if we were to be more responsible with our environment and it resources, that the other issues like AGW and CO2 production would be put back into balance and be much more effectively dealt with rather than creating whole new levels of government bureaucracy to deal with one or two narrow issues that are oh so easy to overdo.

  • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:32AM (#32136320)

    You also know that CO2 has a maximum absorption limit, right? And that after that saturation point, it cannot possibly contribute to more warming, right?

    Look, your big problem here is the lag time in the ice core record. CO2 increases lag temp changes by about 800 years. Not sure exactly what the world looked like 800 years ago since we only have proxy data, but there you go.

    Now, if CO2 actually LED temp increases, maybe you'd have a point (although not such a strong one if the lead was something like 800 years...that's a long time to adapt). In any case, despite the creative reasoning of some modelers (hard coding in scenarios where CO2 can lead and lag, based on some mythical "trigger" and an absence of any explanation of how the positive feedback loop of runaway warming is stopped), the statistical analysis of anything might lead to correlation, but not causality. For causality, you're going to have to build a falsifiable hypothesis, not a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition.

  • Re:It won't work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by quokkaZ (1780340) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:58AM (#32136426)

    And you wonder why people get sick of hearing nonsense like "mystery models with hidden data"? Because it is fundamentally a lie repeated by people like yourself either willfully or through being too lazy to actually look and see what is publicly available. I recommend that you start at the handy page of links provided by the climate scientists who run the RealClimate site. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/data-sources/ [realclimate.org]

    On that page you will find links to NCDC raw station data which is used to compile the NCDC and NASA GISS global surface temperature reconstructions. You will also find links to the Global Paleo Climatology Network, maintained by NOAA, containing vasts amounts of proxy data such as tree rings ice cores etc. You will also find links to freely available climate model code. And lots more besides. Try visiting the NASA GISS site where just about everything they do is downloadable - data, papers, models, code - the lot.

    This single page of links provides any thinking person who posseses the requisite skills, with sufficient information to begin their own evaluation of climate science. Or you could start by reading some of the published research.

    People will stop saying "you are full of it" when you stop constructing straw men and telling porkies.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:22AM (#32136536) Journal
    "Seriously, if you believe AGW (and let's be specific here and call it out as Catastrophic AGW, because frankly, nobody gives a rats ass if human CO2 causes an increase in temps of 0.1C/century), give me your falsifiable hypothesis."

    The warming trend is 0.14deg/decade, define "catastophic".

    For AGW you can falsify it by showing Fourier's spectral analysis techniques don't work and therfore throw out much of astronomy, cosmology and quantum mechanics as a side effect. I imagine if you can manage such a feat your name will be immortalised in the history books.

    For CO2 RF = 5.35*ln(C2/C1), (Fourier 1824), where...
    C2 & C1 are repectively the start and end concentrations of CO2.
    RF is radiative flux in watts/m^2.

    Here's a hint -> You don't need a supercomputer to calculate the forcing from CO2. A few hundred dollars worth of equipment [youtube.com] is all you need to start your investigation.
  • Fame? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sjs132 (631745) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:45AM (#32136634) Homepage Journal

    "fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong."

    I thought the goal was to prove something right? You can not prove something wrong unless something is proven right first. So to say, Go ahead, prove me wrong and assuming that means your right would be a fallacy, right? or am I wrong?

    My brain hurts... I need more caffeine.

  • Re:Integrety (Score:3, Interesting)

    by riverat1 (1048260) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:58AM (#32136680)

    Go to the NOAA/NCDC web site to get their code. It's available. Go the the NASA/GISS web site for their data and the Model E code, one of the major GCM's. Read the published papers for methodology. It's mostly out there if you care to put in the work to examine it. There are links to lots of data and code on this page [realclimate.org].

  • by Geotopia (692701) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @03:33AM (#32137006) Homepage Journal

    Damn rights!

    Seriously, AGW is a scam and if these 255 NAS members really resorted to calling those that dissent as "McCarthiests" and "Climate Deniers", they're not helping their cause, but showing themselves as naked hypocrites and fear mongerers.

    Fact is, you don't need a degree in rocket science to see that AGW doesn't congeal either in scale of numbers, or economics, nor in accepted scientific laws. In the realm of numerical scale, one volcano (take for example Krakatoa off Java, circa 1800) can do more "damage" to the environment than the concurrent century of human industry. In the area of economics, politically neutral studies show that totally eliminating the combustion engine might curtail less than a degree of increase in temperature in 50 years, so we have to question if our efforts that have catastrophic effects on human productivity and survival can even slightly curtail the natural forces. Finally, and most importantly (with respect to the scientific method), the issue of AGW is truly such a wedge issue with no middle ground, so highly politicized by both camps (but most recently, these 255 demagogues who rather than debate science are reverting to pejoratives), that critical thinking has flown out the window.

    For example, we have nothing but computer models to support the assumption that so-called "green house" gases contribute to warming. A junior high science student can tell you that a real green house works not because of the flavor of the glass enclosure, but because of the color of the plants and the way they change the wavelength of inbound light. Sure, the glass captures the heat, but not until it was reflected at a different wavelength and energy level than it penetrated. We're all fussing about carbon dioxide, a vital and natural component of the atmosphere, when it's the reflective quality of Earth's various surfaces that contributes more to any warming effect. If you want to capture the heat (say to divert it), paint everything black, to reflect, put a mirrored finish on everything. But 75% of the Earth (the oceans) is already semi-reflective and the remainder brown or green. I'd rather our environment warm a degree or two than deal with the chemical side effects of painting everything.

    But the Global Warming detractors (the "climate deniers") are equally entrenched. The same eighth grader could tell you that the first law of thermodynamics is fully applicable. The Earth has to be warming on a global scale. The sun beats on the earth 24/7/365 and the only reduction to the temperature of the Earth's system is what is reflected back into space as UV and visible light, but that can only be in a less-than equal ratio to that which the Earth receives from the sun, so the net increase is always positive on the system over time. So where does the heat go? Natural conduits such as the oceans drive it into the core, which acts as a heat sink. One day, it will have absorbed so much that the surface is no longer inhabitable, but there's no amount of conservation or abuse that man can affect that will change that inevitability, so chill and learn to live life without worrying about that over which you have no influence.

    But the monopoly for idiocy rests with the electric vehicle proponents. These nimby folk need to wise up and educate themselves on how power gets on the grid. Somewhere they pick up a short slogan, start chanting it, and it carries them away in a frenzied euphoria. Fact, 1 mile of electrical transmission has 30% loss (don't believe me, take a 3 foot fluorescent tube under a power line at night and watch it glow). Batteries charge with approximately a 50% loss (don't believe me, feel the heat coming off a battery and the charger circuitry during charging). So a charging station 2 miles down line from the generation source captures less than 25% of the energy input (.7 x .7 x .5), and that's just on charging. A good battery might retain 90% charge over a week, so by the end of the week, you're at around 22%. Back to

  • Re:It won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cidolfas (1358603) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @06:11AM (#32137384)

    I do believe this has been going on for a long time now. It's called publishing in peer reviewed journals. Thousands of times.

    And that model holds up until the peer reviewed journals start rejecting alternate theories because they disagree with the AGW gospel.

    When the baseline for your field isn't "here's the data, this is what I think it means as somebody who's spent a lot of time learning about it", and is instead "here's the data that fits with the theory our backers want us to prove, we justify it by saying there's a consensus, and kick blasphemers out of the consensus to keep it" then you're no longer science - you're religion.

  • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horningNO@SPAMnetzero.net> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @06:19AM (#32137404) Homepage Journal

    Define "mainstream opinions" as a term and perhaps I can respond here. I'll admit that there are idiots and quacks from multiple extremes on this topic, but I will point out clearly that there have been "activists" and other sorts of folks who have been proponents of AGW that have indeed advocated the mass genocide of the human species. This is more a continuum of opinion ranging from merely zero population growth advocates to something resembling the eugenics movement of the 1930's, but they do use the viewpoint that mankind shouldn't be on this planet in one form or another.

    BTW, in regards to carbon sequestration, my concern isn't that dumping it into the atmosphere is necessarily a good thing, but rather that the science behind what the long term consequences of putting it elsewhere hasn't really been done, and that it really doesn't deal with the issues involved with treating carbon in the form of CO2 as a pollutant. Burying the carbon underground in the form of a gas isn't necessarily going to help the global environment in the long run, and I am suggesting it may even backfire when you measure on time scales of thousands of years instead of mere decades.

    It just seems as though similar kinds of projects in the past to "deal with" pollution have resulted in long term problems that eventually had to be addressed. All I'm suggesting here is that pressing the panic button and demanding that a power plant put into place some sort of sequestration technique without knowing the long term consequences of such an action isn't really helping anybody out. There is also no proof that such a sequestration is necessarily less harmful than simply leaving that CO2 in the atmosphere, where larger scale global processes might just work to "scrub" that CO2 and turn it into plant matter or something else more useful.

  • by nerdpocalypse (1807180) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @07:48AM (#32137660)
    It really is very well established. http://www.nerdpocalypse.net/climate.html [nerdpocalypse.net] There's oodles of supporting data. The deny'ers are not very credible. Frankly, you can see a lot of evidence outside my window. personally, I'm rather for reforestation, soil reclaimation as solution (which should have broad support), and I see carbon sequestration as a bit of a scam
  • Re:It won't work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:45AM (#32139056)
    Hah, yeah... when you eliminate mostly northern ones.

    You would THINK that badly situated instruments would be location agnostic.. normal distribution and all that...

    ..but most of the ones that are decided to be "bad" by the graph makers are the ones with cooler than average records.

    Pity that selectively eliminating the northernmost readings for later years tends to increase the warming trend.

All the evidence concerning the universe has not yet been collected, so there's still hope.

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