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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CREATIVE SCIENCE

"Before we do a lot of self-flagellation let’s remember that this is a really hard problem to solve."

Wedge Chart
One of the more frustrating things for any expert in a field is reading or hearing later on what a news reporter has done with the information they've been given. Journalists are trained in a specialized field of writing and interviewing, but have little training in any other field. Science, religion, art, technology, and so on often are unknown territory for the average journalist, so when they write up a piece on these topics, it ends up often being distorted, confused, misrepresentative, and too often quite wrong.

As I wrote in my piece on bias, reporters usually can't really sell a piece on good science because its too filled with uncertainties, jargon, blocks of information that cannot be reduced to a sound bite, and so on. As a result, jounralists will tend to take liberties with what they're told by scientists, cut things down and write them as they understand the topic.

Anyone who has dealt with reporters know that they'll be taken out of context, rewritten, and distorted. Sadly, too often, even people who know that will trust what they are told by reporters without question.

And so with climate science, we have reporters squeezing down science into journalist-friendly boxes, reporting what they thought they heard, jazzed up for the reader, and distorted from what they were originally told. And other scientists read it and figure its representative of what they were told, so why should they doubt it?

Yet that's not all that happened. Scientists did plenty to muddy the waters and misrepresent the data as well. And I'm not just talking about "hide the decline."

In the New York Times recently, Andrew C Revkin wrote about Robert Socolow at Princeton University. Socolow worked up a hypothetical graph showing how emissions could be reduced to maintain a given level of carbon density in the atmosphere over time.
Climate campaigners embraced it as showing that known technologies, if deployed on a massive scale, could end growth in emissions of carbon dioxide by mid-century (an extraordinary feat given that the growth spurt in human populations and resource appetites is nowhere near done). Of course, it’s fine to chart this as a technical possibility but another to weigh it against the realities of global energy trends, which remain locked tightly on the fuels of convenience, coal and oil.

Interpretations of the paper quickly devolved into caricatures. Even Princeton’s press office spun the work as the “wedge solution to the carbon problem,” when stabilizing emissions was only step one on the much longer road to stabilizing the concentration of the long-lived gas in the atmosphere.
It was never meant to be prescriptive, the wedge concept was just a thought piece, something to help consider what the scientists perceived as a problem. Yet people took it seriously as a solution. And the chart presumed absolutely no changes in technology let alone climate science over the years.

Socolow has written a new paper and in it he examines the problems that scientists created by their rhetoric and behavior regarding climate science:
But, I submit, advocates for prompt action, of whom I am one, also bear responsibility for the poor quality of the discussion and the lack of momentum. Over the past seven years, I wish we had been more forthcoming with three messages: We should have conceded, prominently, that the news about climate change is unwelcome, that today’s climate science is incomplete, and that every “solution” carries risk. I don’t know for sure that such candor would have produced a less polarized public discourse. But I bet it would have.
...
acknowledging terrible outcomes of low probability requires acknowledging the other tail -– a world with rising emissions but little change for quite a while. I often hear that any concession to benign outcomes (or, more accurately, outcomes that remain benign for a relatively long time) will foster complacency.
Now, he presumes that the alarmist model is absolutely true and does not have any room in his analysis for the slightest possibility that it might not be human-caused. But Socolow is willing to admit that not only did people exaggerate the consequences, speed, and need for immediate action, but did so deliberately out of a desire to manipulate public perception.

They believed their motivation was valid - we're saving the world! And yet, they distorted their statements and writing to mislead journalists and the public, and they did it on purpose. There probably would be somewhat less polarization, but I doubt it. Because the polarization is primarily coming from people who insist, insist that humans are destroying the climate and anyone who disagrees is an idiot, a tool of big oil, a fundamentalist knuckle-dragging sister-marrying moron.

Science is about skepticism, it is about questioning, examining, doubting, and rechecking to make sure data is accurate. Calling people "deniers" when they question the data isn't scientific, its religious zealotry and that's where polarization starts. And ultimately, the same sort of mindset and ideology which drives people to call anyone who questions their statements about climate names is what made them distort the data in the first place.

Here's the thing: Climate Alarmists and I share a goal: reduce pollution and the use of carbon fuels. I'd love to see both of those things happen. The problem is I question the reasons why they want to see this, the methods they use, and the deliberate attempts to not just manipulate but force everyone to agree. That doesn't sit well with me or nearly anyone else.

I want to see fossil fuels replaced by a better alternative - once which does not now exist, yet. I want to see pollution reduced, but not at the cost of human civilization and advancement. I want to see us not damage the environment, but not by creating a world socialist uber state which redistributes wealth through questionable carbon trading schemes which have been prove to produce virtually no positive effect beyond enriching the people running them.

Combine that with the vile bitter hatred these men show toward anyone who dares question their work and their extreme fight to prevent anyone from seeing their data, and you have a pretty clear picture of deception and untrustworthiness. So much so that even some fellow alarmist scientists refuse to even read what some of these people write.

If their cause is just and right, they've done far more damage to it by their behavior and deception than any thousand "deniers."

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