06 April 2007

Science and Climate

A very interesting guest posting on Roger Pielke Sr's Climate Science Weblog.

What's revealing is that the writer, Benjamin Herman of the University of Arizona, is not a "climate scientist". That is because hardly anyone is a "climate scientist", as in someone who's job it is to understand the climate. Like thousands of others, Herman is an expert in measuring, understanding or predicting one small element of the world's climate processes.

The views Professor Herman expresses on the subject of global climate are pretty much those I would expect.
  • He can see that the anthropogenic CO2 -> global warming theory is basically plausible.
  • He can see many sources of uncertainty that seem to have been ignored in the IPCC literature, with the effect of exaggerating the confidence of its statements.
It seems to me that the majority of scientists with specialties relating to climate hold pretty much these views, along with a third belief:
  • That pushing world energy production away from fossil fuel burning is highly desirable or essential over the long term, for a number of reasons mostly unconnected with climate.
As such, they have until now refrained from speaking up against the dishonesty or bad science in the AGW debate. After all, it might well be true, and it's in a good cause even if it isn't. Why step into the politically charged and dangerous arena of global climate prediction if you don't have to?

The only people who have to take a scientific position on the issue are the holistic climate scientists. And pretty much the only reason for being a climate scientist in that sense is to predict global warming. The vaunted "consensus" that the IPCC represents is a consensus of a small group of people, fortified by the silence of the thousands of relevant scientists whose work they cite but who are not directly concerned with predicting the global climate, and who have better things to do than quibble about the confidence levels. If they have any hostility to the "consensus", it is a kind of resentment that the work they're doing is considered irrelevant: the questions they're spending their careers working on are treated as already answered for the purposes of global climate prediction.

It's an effect of the astonishing specialization in modern science. Scientists do not in general work on "big questions". They work on small questions, and answering the big questions is left to summarizers, who are relatively few in number.

Of course, just because the police have fitted someone up doesn't mean they're not guilty. Even if this scenario has been foisted on us by a dishonest and politically motivated clique, that doesn't mean it's not true: it easily might be, and the alternative explanations of 20th century climate, while plausible, are not any better proved than the IPCC's.

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