Over on Technology Review there’s a good article by Richard Muller on the discovery of the K-T impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, and the history of the science behind its discovery. He makes the point that science is inherently a process of asking ever more questions, each concrete answer generating a host of new questions.
The article is worth a read on its own merits, but as soon as I read it I immediately thought of this article on global warming, written by people who claim to be conducting scientific inquiry, but then end with this astonishingly dishonest statement:
The science is settled. The “skeptics” — the strange name applied to those whose work shows the planet isn’t coming to an end — have won.
I’ll usually give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what they believe about global warming, since the science is complex and information is still coming in. The state of the field is rapidly evolving, so disagreement is not just reasonable, it’s mandatory for the health of the science. However here we have three people claiming scientific credibility while making utterly inane statements which to a layman might seem like solid proof, but which don’t pass even the most basic scientific smell test. Let’s take a look at the quote above in detail:
The science is settled.
Bullshit. Simple, barefaced bullshit. The science is not settled until a model exists which is consistent with all the observations. The fact that there are difficulties with a certain subset of observations (atmospheric temperature data for example) does not mean that the null hypothesis (no warming) is true: in fact, if there is other reliable data that is inconsistent with the null hypothesis, the question is very much not settled. There is ocean surface temperature data, for example, which cannot easily be reconciled with the null hypothesis.
The “skeptics” — the strange name …
Apparently the authors are unfamiliar with the meaning of the word “skeptic” – it is entirely appropriate to apply it to people who doubt, who question, who disbelieve orthodox views. To be a skeptic in science is a good thing – it’s what the whole enterprise is about.
…applied to those whose work shows the planet isn’t coming to an end …
Ah yes, the signature of scientific integrity: distorting the view of your opponents beyond all recognition. The generally accepted view within the climate research community is that the world is warming and that there will be negative consequences. The difference between that and “the planet coming to an end” is the difference between a hangnail and death.
… have won.
Riiiiiiight. Questions about consistency of a subset of data completely overwhelm all of the data in favor of the hypothesis.
As I’ve said before, there’s a lot to be done before we’ll have a clear picture of what is up with global warming. There are entirely reasonable arguments that the warming is primarily natural rather than caused by humans, there’s plenty of reasonable doubt about the magnitude of the warming, there’s reasonable questions about wether the net long term effect might in fact be beneficial, and there are reasonable grounds to argue against any given policy regarding climate change. There is not even a slight amount of reasonableness to claims that the science of global warming is even close to settled, let alone settled in favor of the theory that there is no warming.
The authors of the TCS piece might have a defensible position if they were engaging is strictly political polemic, but they are not: they are brandishing scientific credentials on the one hand, and making blatantly false statements on the other. They are using scientific credentials to bolster claims which any credible scientist simply would not make. If you want to use scientific credentials to establish credibility, you have an obligation to meet a certain standard of integrity. Saying things which any scientist would know to be false, but which a member of the general public might believe, violates the most basic standards of personal and professional integrity. These guys are liars, and should be treated as such.