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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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  • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:48PM (#32133658)

    In science vs media,

  • Politics (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:48PM (#32133660)
    Politics is a sin, and those who practice it should be forced to repent. If only it were illegal - then only criminals would be politicians. Oh, wait...
    • Re:Politics (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vxice (1690200) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:07PM (#32134262)
      the sinners are not the politicians but the people who vote for them. Until we get people to think about the issues or just remove themselves from the process we will continue to get crap politicians. Blaming anyone else, at least here in the U.S., is taking the easy way out and will not fix anything. Although I would like to know what form of government you suggest.
  • It won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SomeJoel (1061138) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:49PM (#32133664)
    As long as the average person thinks the relative likelihood of "science being right" and "nutball propaganda being right" is about the same or worse, nothing will change. It pays to keep people uneducated: it's easier to scare, persuade, and misinform them.
    • Re:It won't work (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:20PM (#32133854)
      And now all we need is to get loud-mouth aggressive "scientists" to stop labeling everyone they don't agree with as "nutball propaganda". The scientific method doesn't have "keep shouting the other guy down until he goes away" as part of the process. The scientific method doesn't resort to name calling and insult as a means of proving the hypothesis.

      When I read this summary, I thought "hurray, the antagonistic, dogma-preaching 'scientists' were finally going to be told that debate IS allowed and questioning the data and methods IS allowed and you don't get to question the ethics of the guy with the opposing ideas just because he disagrees with you." But no, it's the ones who need control that are complaining about being picked on. The poor dears, they behave boorishly in public and then cry about how boorishly they are being treated.

      It pays to keep people uneducated: it's easier to scare, persuade, and misinform them.

      And that's why every time you ask a strong AGW proponent to support his claims he resorts to name calling and saying things like "it's a fact" and "the debate is over". Never explain how you got to your conclusion, pretend the other guy is an idiot for asking, and you'll have "uneducated, scared, misinformed" people at your feet. And the scareder they are, the more money they'll keep pumping into research on how to "fix the crisis."

      I know "climate scientists" who behave exactly that way, so pretending they don't exist won't earn you any points in this discussion.

    • Re:It won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:17PM (#32134364) Homepage Journal

      Scientists in this letter are not however encouraging people to educate themselves. They're encouraging blind acceptance.

      I don't care which side you agree with in any debate -- its the sign of a weak argument to require the silencing of your critics.

      • Re:It won't work (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shark (78448) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:42PM (#32134660)

        I like how the summary mentions "climate deniers". Does anybody seriously deny that there is such a thing as climate? I thought it was all about it warming up (or not) because of human activity.

        For me it doesn't speak very well for the um... Climate believers(?) sense of rational argument. No, the opposing view isn't questioning our computer models or the accuracy of our data. Nope. They deny climate altogether!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bhagwad (1426855)
        Here's something you should have figured out for yourself:

        There are lots of theories that we take for granted and which we rely on scientists to tell us the truth. Take the General theory of relativity for example. Even though I have a background in physics, I still don't have the math expertise to prove it. Yet I "believe" in it. Why? Because all the scientists claim that it's true. They say they've proved it and over the last 100 years, no scientist has challenged it. So I take their word for it. I h
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OldSoldier (168889)

      I think part of the problem is something most of us here on /. are blind to, namely that there is a large fraction of the population who do not understand the scientific method and have been brought up on a culture of relative right and wrong.

      Who is at fault in a traffic accident? Depends on who has the winning lawyer.
      Did that CEO break the law or just push the law to its limit but did not step over it?
      And who made those laws anyway? If those laws were repealed would that CEO suddenly be "right" again?

      I was

  • Integrety (Score:3, Insightful)

    by riverat1 (1048260) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:49PM (#32133668)

    Too bad the denialosphere doesn't have to live up to the same standards of integrity that scientists have to.

  • Specifically... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:50PM (#32133676)
    Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's lawsuit against former UVA faculty Michael Mann [washingtonpost.com]. In criticising Cuccinelli's lawsuit, I'm not even saying he has to admit or agree with everything or anything that Mann wrote. But political persecution of scientists is bad... like 15th century Vatican bad.
  • No mention (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rmushkatblat (1690080) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:51PM (#32133682)
    And, of course, they say nothing about the subversion of the peer review process discussed in the emails.
    • Re:No mention (Score:5, Insightful)

      by techno-vampire (666512) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:08PM (#32133778) Homepage
      I was thinking the same thing. Apparently, subverting the peer review process to keep contrarian papers from being published is OK; complaining about it in public is EVIL.
      • Re:No mention (Score:5, Insightful)

        by moogsynth (1264404) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:13PM (#32133818)

        I was thinking the same thing. Apparently, subverting the peer review process to keep contrarian papers from being published is OK; complaining about it in public is EVIL.

        You're right. Here are some of the conclusions the scientists have made about climate change.

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

        Well go on then, refute them. I eagerly await your reasoned discourse replete with accurate facts and figures explaining why it is all, in fact, a crock and a sham! If the evil money-grabbing scientific conspiracy community won't accept or peer review your findings, then I'm sure Slashdot will. What have you got to lose, eh?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by astar (203020)

          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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BitHive (578094)

      This attitude is like saying you're never going to use open source again until all open source developers admit that the Debian OpenSSL incident proved that open source is fundamentally and flawed.

  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:53PM (#32133688)
    All these ridiculous denials of basic scientific principles reminds me of the Flat Earth Society [wikipedia.org]. It's interesting to read about them because, no matter how much evidence was accumulated, they could always fashion some reason why the Earth was flat and the evidence was misunderstood. Hell, even when satellite images showed a round Earth, Shenton (FES head) remarked: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye."

    We have essentially the same thing today. No matter how much evidence is shown for evolution, anthropogenic global warming, and so on, the fundamentalist wackos will rail against it and find some rationale for continuing in their thoroughly disproved ideas. About 25% of the American public cannot in any way be convinced, no matter how much evidence is shown them. These are the same people who think Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and who still believe Obama is a Kenyan citizen and George W Bush actually cares about them and their Christian religion.

  • Main points (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Friday May 07, 2010 @06:56PM (#32133704)

    TFA says:

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

    Exactly.

    The problem is political, not scientific. Exxon & Co. have managed to convince the tin-foil-hat gang that all scientists are united in a vast conspiracy against people who own SUVs.

    Scientists are scientists, not marketeers, how can they convince people who believe the world is 6000 years old that CO2 does absorb infrared radiation?

    • Re:Main points (Score:5, Insightful)

      by etymxris (121288) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:30PM (#32133912)

      Academia can be very insular. It's publish or perish and it's difficult to get published if the editors think you're part of the "tin-foil-hat gang" or being paid by Exxon. There is also a great bias against publishing negative results. Climate science is full of models that are plugged into a computer and out comes a result. These models depend on many variables, some of which are measured, some of which are estimated, and some of which are guessed. In addition the whole algorithmic process by which the "model" works is at best an approximation. Certain methods of modeling future climate result in lots of warming, some less. Right now there are large margins of error and much disagreement about exactly how "much" climate change we will experience.

      Now, it certainly seems plausible that there are models out there with variables and assumptions that result in no warming, or a cooling. What is the likelihood these would get published based purely on their results? Not good. Well then what is it about a model that makes it better than others? It's ability to "predict future changes" when plugged in with past data. However, as we go back in time we quickly start losing variables in quantity and precision. 100 years of good solid data (if it's even that much) is not much when it comes to modeling how the Earth's climate changes over it's vast history.

      We are at least aware of many radical changes in climate that had nothing to do with humans over the Earth's history. If we can't account for those, then we are woefully unprepared to predict future changes.

      The issues are very complicated, but it's not quite correct to say that scientists are solely interested in "truth". Academia has a culture, and this culture can create biases. These biases can affect entire research programs in ways that are more nuanced than simple conspiracies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mangu (126918)

        Academia has a culture, and this culture can create biases

        Maybe. Now go look at the changes in the human condition since the scientific method was created in the 17th century and compare the evolution in these 400 years with the 40000 years that preceded it.

      • Now, it certainly seems plausible that there are models out there with variables and assumptions that result in no warming, or a cooling. What is the likelihood these would get published based purely on their results?

        Close to 100%. There are "fringe" journals such as the notorious Energy and Environment [sourcewatch.org] that are extremely friendly to critics of global warming. While not highly regarded by serious scientists, there is little doubt that E&E would publish such a model. Besides, one can publish one's model

  • by Itninja (937614) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:00PM (#32133726) Homepage
    ...but does anyone remember the V mini-series (the original 1983 version, not the new sucktastic version)? In that story/prophecy the aliens systematically persecuted, and eventually 'disappeared', all the scientists on Earth (accept for those who went into hiding). Now I'm not saying the science haters are secretly lizard aliens trying to steal our water and eat our children. But why haven't they denied it? Makes one wonder...
  • by unitron (5733) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:06PM (#32133764) Homepage Journal

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"

  • by CODiNE (27417) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:09PM (#32133790) Homepage

    an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences

    Shouldn't have used an 8-bit int for their member count. Oh well, at least it's unsigned.

  • by crepe-boy (950569) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:17PM (#32133844)
    I don't trust the reasoning behind this group of people. Note that they are largely from the east and west coast of the USA, or from e.g. Australia. It sounds as if they have a vested interest in keeping sea levels low.
  • by Phrogman (80473) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:21PM (#32133860) Homepage

    to be harvested amongst the people who don't understand Science, specifically Climate Changes. Its much easier to convince people its all conspiracy to waste their money and that they should oppose it, than it is to educate them in something extremely complex and involved - and which we are still figuring out.
    The Climate Change deniers can muster a lot of political capital by marshalling all the ignorant masses against making changes that might cost them money but are intended to be for the good of us all.
    Personally, I expect humanity will do precisely *nothing* that is effective to deal with climate change and that millions of people will have to die first before the rest of us accept the fact that our lifestyle and population growth has been writing checks we couldn't afford, and now the collection agency is here for their money. Lots of corporations owned by rich individuals have made trillions of dollars off of the world's resources without worrying about environmental impact - now we deal with it. Tons of damage has been done to the environment by those same companies and we are left to pay the bill. Our great grandchildren will *still* be paying that bill I expect, those that aren't dead that is.
    Do I want to see responsible research, yes of course. Will it happen? I am sure its happening now. Will the media report on it and the average human learn to understand it? No way. The Media has no interest in dispensing the truth, the average person is too stupid to understand, and doesn't want to hear anything that implies *they* have to make sacrifices and can't get the latest shiney.
    When enough humans have died that we no longer can cause global warming, thats when things will settle down again. Humanity is too stupid and shortsighted. Its much more important to figure out whats happening on America's Got Talent...
    Yes, I am a bit cynical and bitter today, what clued you in? :P

  • Climate Deniers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frist (1441971) on Friday May 07, 2010 @07:41PM (#32134002)
    So scientists who challenge the prevailing politically-correct liberal thesis are "climate deniers" - this is the basic problem. Even the term is ridiculous. Compare it to "holocaust denier". The holocaust was undeniably real - because there are still some living eye witnesses, photographs, original videos, documents etc. that clearly prove that it happened. What does it mean to be a "climate denier"? No one denies there is "climate". For too long people who challenged the "science" behind global warming were shouted down and ridiculed by their "peers". Now for a little bit, the shoe is on the other foot, and they don't like it a bit. BTW - CFL bulbs are a perfect example of why this type of "science" really has to be tried before accepted, and not pitch a fit if it is challenged - http://www.energystar.gov/ia/products/lighting/cfls/downloads/CFL_Cleanup_and_Disposal.pdf [energystar.gov] Just think about that - what about places where there is no window, where the only ventilation is forced air. Give me an incandescent bulb anyday. If it breaks, worst you worry about is a cut. When it burns out, you can safely toss it w/out worry about what its components will do to the environment or your local groundwater. Not to mention that the CFLs do not last anywhere as long as promised if you don't follow their optimal usage pattern (leave on for at least 15 mins, etc.) Certainly there are places where they are appropriate, but "environmentalists" pushing them down everyone's throat, and corporate greed (Walmart) jumping on the green bandwagon and being dishonest with people - you wonder why people with a brain are skeptical? If they posted the cleanup instructions next to the bulbs on the shelf, would people still be buying these?
    • by Cyberax (705495) on Friday May 07, 2010 @10:06PM (#32135348)

      "The holocaust was undeniably real"

      Nope.

      "because there are still some living eye witnesses"

      Worldwide Jew conspiracy.

      "photographs"

      Faked.

      "original videos"

      Staged.

      "documents"

      Faked and/or misrepresented.

      "etc. that clearly prove that it happened."

      Hah! You are sheeple if you believe in that crap. Hail Halliburton!

  • 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 rbrander (73222) on Friday May 07, 2010 @08:32PM (#32134540) Homepage

    I'm a proud skeptic, that is, somebody who wants to see evidence of extraordinary claims.

    George Monbiot has pointed out that "skeptic" is not an appropriate word for somebody who goes far out of their way to ignore evidence presented to them and seizes upon the thinnest contrary statements. That was his defense of the word "denier" and it started me using the word again. I remained skeptical until about five years ago, when the evidence started to look very convincing. Then the 2007 IPCC report won me over.

    What we're seeing the last few months is, to me, a fascinating study of how resistant people are to news they don't want to believe. The climate science has been slowly building up for decades, one peer-reviewed article after another, one dataset after another, the same story emerging from multiple angles. The scientific disputes dwindled away until we now have 97% of climate scientists surveyed last year on board with the same basic conclusions. Some thousands of scientists represented by the IPCC summary.

    Yes, Michael Crichton was correct that science isn't subject to voting and one guy can be right and a thousand wrong. But public policy makers should go with the preponderance of evidence, just like a court; leaning to the views of a small minority is not sound policy-making. If 97% of 1000 nuclear scientists thought a nuclear plant would blow up, would you build it?

    Then along comes "climategate" and everybody is actually told that they are being read a few sentences cherry-picked from thousands of E-mails, stripped of context. Hundreds of voices protest that the word "trick" is widely used for legitimate data manipulations.

    Nonetheless, not only do the denier voices, many of them from organizations shown to be funded by Exxon, immediately proclaim this to outweigh decades of work by a couple of battalions of PhDs, the general public starts polling sharp drops in agreement with climate-change theory that had slowly won them over.

    Conclusion: when people don't want to believe something because of its terrible costs, you have to convince them with a weight of evidence on the order of magnitude of 1000:1.

    A thousand to one. Oh, man, we get all the hard jobs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Svartalf (2997)

      A thousand to one. Oh, man, we get all the hard jobs.

      Heh... Sometimes you also have to do it for things that people don't want to believe because of their cherished notions that run so counter to the idea you're proposing.

      World not being Flat...
      A heliocentric universe as opposed to a geocentric one...
      Disease vectors...
      Antibiotics... ...and MANY, MANY more.

      The problem with anything world changing/shattering is that it absolutely does require that level of weight of evidence. And if you want the honest trut

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