Posted by: climatewonk | February 11, 2008

I am not impressed

that a new skeptic has turned up at CA to join with the other naysayers and deniers. But you can be sure the acolytes there will herald this as evidence of a growing revolt on the part of scientists against the consensus.

Dr. William M. Briggs — the writer of this article in the Canada Free Press pulls the usual stunts outlined on deniaismblog, especially the “poor me I’ve been silenced by the mean eminent scientists and am afeard” schtick.

Here’s a quote:

Scientists like to see discussions about uncertainty in their methods and results kept inside peer-reviewed journals and not dragged through the press. They have strong opinions on this. Witness the scorn heaped up the physicists Fleishman and Pons when they first released their “cold fusion” theory to the press and not to other scientists; for example, see this article which says that what the pair did was a “‘classic’ example of what not to do as” scientists. Actually, this is an odd statement because the incident ended well—because it was the initial public announcement that spurred the flurry of research that showed that cold fusion was false.

Notice the words — heap scorn. The reasons why research findings are not released in public are that usually the results are preliminary and peer review is necessary to sort through what is valid and what is just the result of bad research techniques or overreaching. Why cause needless consternation in the public if the results of one paper cannot be verified ro replicated? That makes sense. But does Briggs make this point? No — in fact, he suggests it would be a good thing by referencing cold fusion. He uses it to attack his fellow scientists by suggesting that they are hiding their bad research or uncertainty behind the facade of peer review in science journals. In other words, those deceitful scientists don’t want the degree of uncertainty in their work to be public knowledge.

What else does he claim in this most telling article?

Prominent scientists have taken to using the press as a bludgeon to discourage reasonable dissent. An example: R K Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, and now co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has compared anybody that dared question mad-made climate change to those who believe in a flat earth.

“Well, there will always be some skeptics,” Pachauri said. “As you know, there is still in existence something called the Flat Earth Society. There are people — a very limited number, thank God — who believe the Earth is flat.” Source: Washington Post

These excruciating comments are asinine and irresponsible, and they must be answered publicly.

Why, I ask, have prominent scientists taken to commenting in public? Because of a concerted effort on the part of the fossil fuel industry and its shills to discredit the whole of climate science and the science of global warming. This has reached into the White House as evidenced by the attempt to “wordsmith” research findings and control the public contact of Dr. James Hansen (and others). The tactic is to downplay certainty and highlight uncertainty so as to create a climate of doubt in the minds of the public and press in order to control the public policy agenda.

Plain and simple.

Scientists who take active part in this discrediting of their own discipline should be pointed out for what they are.

Here’s more:

Typically, however, the excessive surety of scientists is tempered by the peer-criticism process, which has the effect of reducing, but never eliminating, prediction error. But this service won’t work well if experts are made to feel squeamish about making their critiques because of a public browbeating by autocratic scientists, politicians, and “activists.”

Once again, we see the “I’m a poor persecuted skeptic” tactic. Peer review is broken in other words, because the mean eminent scientists and politicians are preventing us from voicing our opinions on the findings of research. Balderdash. Scientists make their reputations on advancing the science and if a scientist can present research that moves in new directions, even if it doesn’t agree with other research, will improve his or her standing — as long as the science is sound. Crappy research will not convince anyone of anything and putting it forward in non-science journals as so many so-called skeptics have done — will garner the ridicule it deserves.

There is also a shade of “groupthink”—bandwagon research—not so much with climatologists, but with the mass of secondary and tertiary investigators who use climate model output as input to their own models of economics, public health, sociology, and so on. These models invariably show what they were programmed to show: that climate change of any kind is bad. This is, of course, physically impossible; but these are not physicists who are making these remarks—which of course quickly find their way into the press—and thus they are not held accountable in that sense.

Ah, the “groupthink” charge — how often have we read this from skeptics? Wegman is the chief proponent of this attack, claiming that climate scientists are a small group who mutually reinforce each other in an incestuous manner, thus they fail to see the errors in their work. I would suggest that there is actually more competition among scientsts working in a similar area — competition to move forward, to make new findings, to improve the science. Groupthink is a red herring.

Finally, the issue of models and predictions that climate change of any kind is bad — well, it will be bad for some, whether humans or other species of animals and plants. This is one of the big moral failings of skeptics and deniers. They say that we cannot make the argument that global warming will be bad, and that in fact, it will benefit some people whose climate is cold. They fail to account for the fact that while we in the North and West are chiefly responsible for the GHGs that are leading to climate change, it is the poor people living in the south and east who will pay the price through droughts and desertification. Many species will be faced with extintion if they can’t adapt to changes in their environments due to global warming. The breadth of their arrogance is startling.

Briggs doesn’t think we can really understand the climate:

I am not skeptical that man causes changes in his environment; in fact, I argue man must cause changes (see this post). I am only skeptical about the extent of these changes and about our ability to understand them. I am skeptical of the results from climate models that are used to posit large and harmful shifts in the earth’s temperature.

Of course, if global climate models eventually show skill, then I will believe what they have to say.

Here is yet another example of a denier tactic — claiming that models underpin everything and since the models are not accurate, there is no validity to claims about global warming. Bogus of course — there is a temperature record and despite its uncertainties, it does show warming, and of course there is the fact of arctic melt and glacier melt. Models are never perfect. Anyone who works with them understands that. The issue is that the models all show that increasing CO2 will lead to increasing temperature and a whole host of problems around the globe as a result. Yes, these are not predictions — they are projections of various scenarios based on changes in certain parameters. In other words, they give us an idea of what might happen given a certain level of increase in GHGs. Yes, it is impossible to completely represent the earth’s climate system in all its complexity. But hadn’t we better give it a try regardless? We plan all the time for threats once we learn about them. Part of planning means getting the best information possible and at this time, models with all their flaws are part of that information.

Deniers want to have it all ways: they want to deny that climate change is occurring by pointing out uncertainty, and then when they do admit that climate is changing, they deny that it is because of anything humans have done, and then when they want, they claim that human GHG production might prevent the next ice age!

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