Trust the Science, Not the Scientist?

The Wall Street Journal has a depressing piece about recent examples of unethical and fraudulent conduct in the world of science, including, naturally, the latest global warming flap resulting from the UN mistakenly warning that the Himalayan ice caps were melting away,  and would be gone by 2035. This story, coming on the heels of the East Anglia email revelations, has added to justifiable public confusion over climate change, how fast it is happening, how well it is understood, and why governments are so eager to throw billions at a “solution” when there seems to be so much uncertainty.

This issue appears to be the confirmation bias ( the well-established human tendency to readily accept that which supports what one already believes, and to be skeptical of that which contradicts the belief. Or, as Juror 10 puts it in Reginald Rose’s “Twelve Angry Men” : “What you want to believe, you believe, and what you you don’t want to believe, you don’t! What kind of a way is that?”) episode of this or any other century. For example, the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that contained the erroneous warning was instrumental in winning the group a Nobel Peace Prize. That award has been cited to support the group’s credibility on the climate change issue. One of the scientists involved in the report now says that he knew the glacier claim was dubious, and that the report was released without sufficient peer review to put pressure on world governments to move more quickly to establish CO2 controls. This might explain the Peace Prize, no? Perhaps the Nobel  Committee didn’t care about the accuracy of the data, and were saluting the scientists for utilitarian deception in the interest of environment and humanity. Unfortunately, when one considers other Peace Prizes awarded in recent years, this interpretation is not as far-fetched as it should be.

The matter was further muddled by an apparent conflict of interest by the IPCC’s chairman, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri , who used the mistaken report to raise funds for his research. Not surprisingly, most of the climate change scientists say the unfortunate incident doesn’t alter the absolute certainty of their research. Also unsurprisingly, climate change skeptics say that the mistake is one more bit of proof that the whole global warming issue is a conspiracy by third-world countries and radical environmentalists to destroy the U.S. economy. A ray of hope: one scientist admits that global warming research is “full of uncertainties,” which is obviously true. But not if you have your mind made up already because your job depends on it. In a piece today on the Huffington Post, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope acknowledges the Himalayan ice cap botch. “Regardless,” he says, there are photos that show to his satisfaction that the ice there is melting.

I guess that settles it, then.

For rational people who have not made up their minds, and refuse to either blindly and enthusiastically accept scientific conclusions that they really don’t understand (See: Al Gore) or to reject scientific evidence because they don’t like its implications (I’m talking to you, Senator Inhof), it is unreasonable to trust scientific projections regarding something as complex and difficult to measure as global temperatures unless one can trust the scientists doing the research. The current argument by those scientists, a refrain both arrogant and defensive—-“yes, we have undermined scientific papers that disagreed with our consensus, and yes, a plain English reading of some of our emails would suggest we were hiding data, and yes, some highly publicized projections on matters like storm frequency and ice cap melts have proven completely wrong, and yes, there is some evidence that the Earth is taking a break from warming, which we really didn’t see coming, but listen: there is no question that we are 100% right, and anyone who says otherwise is the equivalent of a Holocaust denier!”—is untenable.

We should not trust the science if we can’t trust the scientists, and so far, they have not been trustworthy.

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