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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ENVIRONMENTALISM AND MAD SCIENTISTS

"The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science."
Mike Hulme

Recovering AGW Hysteric
I have a confession to make. I'm an environmentalist. I don't know if that's because I live in Oregon, the greenest state in the union, or because I was raised with ecology on the brain, or it is just a natural inclination. I like recycling and separate much of the trash. I pick up junk on the side of the road and put it in the trash. I turn in cans and bottles for their refund that I find. I like my surroundings to be beautiful and natural, even if shaped and tended by man.

I've grown up with this, its a natural part of me now, and surely the teaching I got as a kid to "Keep Oregon Green" contributed, as did my parents who love the outdoors. I'm not like the lunatics who spike trees and launch terrorist attacks on laboratories. I don't feel compelled to reduce my carbon footprint (I imagine it is minuscule to begin with, as I don't even own a car), nor do I worry that breathing out will destroy the planet. Much of what passes for modern environmentalism is just crazy to me, but there is a level at which sensible care for the world around us simply seems proper and natural to me.

We are, I believe, given this world by God, and as such are stewards of something greater than us which does not belong to us. We must use the world properly and justly, with care and love - but use it nevertheless. This distinction is one between conservation and preservation. A conservationist wants to keep the environment from being misused and destroyed, but enjoyed by man. Trails and camping sites are perfectly proper, as is mountain climbing, hunting, fishing, and hiking as long as it isn't overdone. Just pack out your trash and try to stay on the trails when you hike.

A preservationist wants nothing to change, they think that harvesting trees is a horrible rape of the environment, that the wilderness ought never be touched by (white) men, and that there should be no roads, no trails, no hunting, no fishing, no touching the environment at all. It must be preserved, pristine and untouched by the evil hand of mankind. This is an idiotic and self destructive attitude. The world is ours to use responsibly and carefully, not to stand aside and look at as if it is in a museum, behind glass.

THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
And it is this environmentalism which I hold to, this conservationist attitude which lead me first to dislike the global warming hysteria. Ten years ago or more I was telling people that all these cries of warming and ozone holes and doom were crying wolf. That it wasn't wrong to warn people of wolves after the sheep... its wrong to lie about it for some personal scheme. The little boy who cried wolf was doing so out of a delight in the excitement and attention it caused. His motivations were poor, so he was lying to gain what he wanted.

And in that children's tale, when the real wolf came, nobody wanted to pay attention any longer, because they were sick of his lies and didn't even care if it was real this time. The child had worn out his welcome, he had lost the benefit of the doubt that he enjoyed as a shepherd originally. And in the end, everyone suffered for it.

By now everyone who reads blogs or news online is familiar with the Hadley CRU emails and what they contain. Most people who get their news from outside the US know about it as well. In the US, so far the legacy media has gone out of its way to ignore this story, even though it is the biggest news of the last year at least. Those who know about this don't need reminding - if you are unfamiliar, just look around the internet a bit - especially on conservative websites - and you'll get an eyeful of something you'll find hard to believe but if you are like me, you have long suspected.

The greatest victim of all this is not global warming, or Hadley CRU, and not even Eastanglia which has never really gotten over the Piltdown Man hoax*. The biggest victim of all this is genuine, well-executed science done in good faith.

It is difficult for some on the left to believe, but those of us on the right love good science. We consider science a great tool (in its place) and a proper way to make a living, if you are so inclined and capable. What we on the right have a problem with is bad science, the kind of science which disregards the rigorous rules and techniques of investigation and discovery, the kind of science which is more interested in supporting what one believes or wants to be true rather than finding out the facts and facing whatever those results are out of a sheer love of the work and discovery.

All too often, groups such as Center for Science in the Public Interest are simply tools to push an agenda: don't eat meat, stop farming that way, give more power to the federal government, and so on. And that's what the entire Global Warming industry has been about. Make no mistake this has not been about science for the leaders in this area. It has always been about the industry: the fame, the acclaim, the respect, the money, and the way it can be leveraged into changing society and government to what these people believe it ought to be. Oh yes, and the money, did I mention that? There are dump trucks full of cash backed up to people working on this project, huge amounts of it.

Like AIDS research, any scientific endeavor which is politically expedient and excites the proper group of left leaning pundits and cultural icons is assured huge sums of cash. When that cash and the acclaim starts rolling in, it doesn't take an especially weak man to start nudging data to support what's bringing all that to him. And the Hadley CRU scientists - along with their comrades around the world - were not strong men.

MAD SCIENTISTS
One of the greatest myths of science is that consensus manufactures truth. In reality, facts and truth are not subject to a vote. It doesn't matter what most people think or believe, the truth still keeps being true, and facts still being factual. 2+2=4 no matter if 9 out of 10 mathematicians say otherwise. And the consensus its self - such as it was - was deeply misleading.

The mistake is easy to make: people think of scientists as being generic scientists. The guy in the white lab coat, with a chalkboard covered with gibberish and a pocket protector. He's the one you turn to when giant spiders attack your town, he'll set up the radar dish to project sound only the creature from Planet X can hear, and chase him off.

Except scientists are not one big generic group. There are thousands of different areas of science, applied and theoretical, and each one is very specialized. Beyond basic shared training such as math and essential scientific study, they all know things the other does not. A metallurgist has special knowledge and experience a particle physicist does not, yet he has special knowledge that a paeloarcheologist lacks, who has still more experience and learning that the molecular biologist does not know. And even within similar fields there is divergence. An atmospheric chemist is different from a meteorologist, who is different from a climatologist. Each of these fields is very similar, but is specialized and separated by their training.

It has to be that way, because other than Doc Savage, no one human can understand and learn all that needs to be learned to be good in each field. There's not time to learn it all, there's no human capable of remembering and doing it all. Albert Einstein was not a chemist. He could do basic chemistry, but he was no match for an expert in the field.

So when the chemist reads an article in a scientific journal about climate change caused by a greenhouse effect brought about through an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he's relying on the expertise of others and the trustworthy nature of science its self.

Those scientific trade journals are trusted because they are carefully edited and tend to screen out the nonsense. They've built a reputation over decades of being careful and letting only the most reputable, expert, and rigorously examined material through to print. Science has built a reputation over the decades to the point that in polls which ask about trust in professions, scientist always ranks high on the list. It is an earned position which scientists covet and enjoy.

So what happens when one group of scientists gains acclaim and immense prestige - so much so that they are changing public policy, laws, and even the public's understanding of behavior - then turns out to have been crying wolf? What happens not just to the cause they were promoting, but the profession they belong to?

HOWLING WOLVES
-THE CAUSE
Wolf SongThis is the most frustrating thing to me about the whole global warming scam. Not only is it becoming apparent that the entire body of data is untrustworthy and manipulated, but that the belief that the world was growing steadily and catastrophically warmer was fraudulent. We've been sold on the idea that the entire planet on average has, for more than 100 years, been steadily growing warmer and in the last 20 years grown significantly, dangerously warmer in a trend that was alarming.

Yet upon more careful examination, it is becoming apparent that the planet is not becoming significantly or dangerously warmer, nor has it been a steady average trend. That in fact there have been warmer and cooler periods and the overall is not a trend upward at all. What's worse is that the data which these scientists used to produce the graphs we've seen and the original cries of alarm has been destroyed. It's gone. The dog ate their homework, as several wags have said. There's nothing to check against any longer. And when you compare that revelation with the emails talking about how they'll delete data before they let anyone who doubts them get their hands on it - even in violation of the Freedom of Information laws - the picture becomes even more alarming.

As I said above, I'm an environmentalist, a conservationist. I believe polluting is bad and should be reduced to minimum possible levels. Yet what happens to a generation of people brought up in the terror of global annihilation due to human pollution when they find out that was all a lie? What do people usually do in response to finding out they've been manipulated and duped, that they were frightened to no positive end and have been lied to? What happens when the boy cries wolf once too often?

This all causes more harm to the concept of environmental responsibility than ten thousand skeptics ever could. This fraud and the public finding out causes more damage to the efforts of people like me who call for environmental care and responsible stewardship than any big corporation's pollution. When people finally figure out they've been taken for a ride, just how many Priuses will sell? How much effort will people put into recycling and lowering their impact on the environment?

And what will happen to a generation of children raised in nearly stark terror about the future of the planet and how awful their parents are for using old fashioned light bulbs and not separating the glass from the cans? What happens to their trust of authority, their ability to discern what is right and what is a lie, what happens to their trust in science?

-THE PROFESSION
Which leads us to the other problem. For scientists, when one of their group is doubted, they will tend to leap to that group's defense. After all, they are all doing scientific work, and it all is done with the same rigorous standards and method. If you doubt Joe, you doubt me, and might even be one of those weirdos who believe in creation. When people doubt or disagree with one part of the profession, the perception is that they are doubting the entire profession. They aren't questioning one scientist's efforts and work, they're questioning the entire concept of science. You can't do that, or you are anti-scientific, a sciencephobe.

Compounding this is the system of "peer review" which in principle is a very fine thing. In breif the idea of peer review is that scientists need to have their fellows in the field examine their data and findings, to check their work. When a "peer" in the field does so and agrees the work is proper and reliable, this gives the report a higher level of esteem and trustworthiness. The problem is that a field may be permeated with like-minded people who are willing to wink at problems, shrug at fudged data, and support manipulating the report as long as the results are proper. When that group of scientists becomes so insular and incestuous that they shut out and destroy anyone who dares even begin question them, the peer review process becomes junk entirely.

Its like having a bunch of frat boys judge whether or not their fraternity brother is guilty of date rape. Dude, she was asking for it, that slut was always wearing trashy clothes; she wanted it. It's like having a bunch of tobacco company executives judge the dangers of their product, or a bunch of congressmen decide whether or not one of their members acted unethically by doing exactly what they all do.

The peer review system was supposed to screen out bad science, but instead because of the nature of the work, it instead institutionalized bad science. And since the system was so trusted and relied upon by scientists, nobody questioned the institution. The proper steps had been followed. Thus, you'd have tens of thousands of scientists - few actually in the field of climate research - signing on to various papers and documents. The IPPC reports are full of this kind of thing. Men who knew little about what it was, but trusting the system and the profession.

Now those scientists are starting to read the reports. They are reading the emails and they know about the controversy. This isn't interesting to CNN or the New York Times, but it is interesting to the men who work in the profession, because they read about everything. And this is a huge scandal for scientists and science. They read this and it angers and frustrates them even more than it does you or I. Because this smears the entire profession. This makes them all look like asses, fair or not. And that means their professional credibility and even funding is on the line.

THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Now, when we read a report or see a study, we have to ask: how reliable is this? How much can I trust this? When we think back to other, previous scientific work that is said to be completely reliable and enjoys a consensus, that is used as a litmus test for scientific acumen and even intelligence - can we rely on that as well? We've seen climate change work done with such abandonment of professionalism and the principles of scientific research. How many other areas has this happened in or is happening in which we do not know about?

The entire profession of science has lost the benefit of the doubt. When a guy in a lab coat says something now, we cannot and should not trust them simply because they are a scientist. That's what this has cost us all.

*Ace at his blog notes that a reader tagged Dr Michael Mann (he of the hockey stick graph and major Hadley CRU player) "Piltdown Mann." That's the kind of monicker that sticks. Ouch.

1 Comments:

Anonymous sean000007 said...

Christopher,
Terrific article. Captures exactly how I feel about environmentalism. I wanted to write something like this, but you've done it much better than I ever could hope to.
Thanks.

7:22 PM, December 02, 2009  

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