I am a man without a label. I don’t “believe” in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the quasi-religious way that many of its most fervent adherents seem to degenerate into. But I don’t disbelieve, either – I’m willing to listen to science on the subject, as well as to interpret the evidence of my own senses and reason. Call me a moderate skeptic.
I’m willing to believe that the globe is getting warmer, or that climate catastrophe could be caused by man’s tinkerings – it’s not inherently impossible, there have been lots of climate catastrophes before on this planet, and we sure seem to have some considerable power over the environment in many ways – so why not this one?
At the same time, I am extremely skeptical of many of the people sounding the AGW alarm. I don’t believe many of their claims. I think a lot of them are making stuff up, and a lot of them are acting in bad faith. I think this is much more true of activists than of pure scientists, but that many “pure” scientists are in fact de facto advocates of a position (we must deindustrialize and deenergize our economies) who came to that “what must we do” conclusion before they had ever heard of global warming, and seek justification in the empirical world for their starting preference. Most such advocates are doubtless honest. It is inevitable, human nature being what it is, that others are not.
This CRU email flap is, on its face at least, pretty stirring evidence of that being true. George Monbiot chides, quite fair-mindedly I think, his fellow environmentalists for minimizing the problem that CRU represents. Now, it is acceptable for scientists to have a point of view; it is certainly acceptable for them to engage in the routine politicking and chitchat that accompanies every human endeavour aside from mime. (And even the mimes have politicking.) But it isn’t acceptable for them to fudge data points or engage in highly arbitrary correction factors without documentation, transparency, and published justification for same. And most damningly for the research team at CRU, it is not acceptable to hide data and methods from outside inquiry.
A researcher may certainly administer requests in an orderly way and provide data on a schedule convenient to him or her, but the public has a right to know what public researchers are doing. It does not matter that the FOI requests coming to CRU were from hostile activists on the other side of the divide from most, if not all, of the CRU team – good science *welcomes* even hostile review. If my enemy’s attack is honest it will reveal every weak point in my argument that can be revealed, and my repair of those weak points will strengthen the argument; if my enemy’s attack is dishonest I can prove it with my good science, neutralize his attack, and weaken his credibility in the community. That CRU was quite evidently hiding information and material from outside inquiry is damning in and of itself; the nature of the material is almost secondary.
AGW moderate skeptics such as myself have long been stymied in our sense that there was something wrong with the AGW orthodoxy, especially as it strengthened its hold. In regular arguments over the last decade or so with college chums, men and women of good will and intelligence who were convinced that AGW was real and a huge problem, they have regularly pointed to the science and the positions of the leading climatologists. I applied some discount to these evidences because of their source – climatologists are a lot more likely to get funding for detecting huge threats than they are for studying how clouds make pretty patterns, so they have a natural bias towards wanting to find something – but, though skeptics make a brave case of the dissenters, there were just so many climate people saying “oh my, it’s such a problem” that one couldn’t help but wonder.
CRU is certainly not the only climate research group in the world, but it is one of the more important ones. That this level of (possible) scientific malpractice and (definite) betrayal of their duty to be open and honest in their work could be so unquestioned and apparently rife at such a place opens many questions about the reliability of the scientific data worldwide. What other curves have been corrected, what other critics have been deflected? (/jessejackson)
Until we get some real answers to those questions, until we know what the true picture of scientific truth and political corruption is in the research centers of the climatology industry, I think we should be very leery of making drastic economic adjustments on the say-so of scientists whose only check appears to be their own self-control and honesty. I have no doubt that those virtues find wide distribution within the scientific community, but I also have no doubt that they are far from universal. We have to protect our ecosphere, the place where we all live, but we also have to make a living here – let’s not throw away our ability to do that until we are quite sure about the trustworthiness of the people advising us.
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Bob Hayes is the senior partner at DocRocket, a web content and writing services company. He is a freelance business consultant with particular expertise in software, Internet business development, and operational efficiency. In addition he maintains a personal blog at Bob Hayes Online.