‘Climategate’ sows confusion over ‘consensus’
When the story broke about hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, it resonated with me on many levels.
Much of the work I’ve done as an engineer, systems analyst, or attorney has involved some form of mathematics, especially statistics. My emphasis has always been on the integrity of both the data and models using the data.
In what has become known as “Climategate,” supporters of anthropic (man-induced) global warming allegedly manipulated data and models to support their theories, while at the same time preventing a fair hearing of those who did not support them.
This led to the public perception — for which Al Gore won a Nobel Prize and an Oscar — that there is a consensus among reputable scientists that the planet was in mortal danger of global warming, now repackaged as “climate change,” which requires an immediate global remedy. The key words are “consensus” and “reputable.”
The CRU was a heavy contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Indeed, the IPCC, relying on CRU data and models, shared the Nobel Prize with Gore. Significantly, the CRU and its supporters conspired to keep global warming detractors out of the IPCC process.
The data issue is not just limited to the United Kingdom. Many of the e-mails having to do with data manipulation and suppression of opposing views involved a professor at Penn State. Additionally, a U.S. researcher is about to sue NASA for release of the same kind of climate data held by CRU, alleging NASA has refused for two years to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how the agency has shaped its climate data and would explain why the agency has repeatedly had to correct its data going as far back as the 1930s.
The governments of the world are descending on Copenhagen this week to see if they can arrive at protocols to reduce anthropogenic global warming based on recommendations derived from the work of the CRU and the IPCC. The issue is, given the revelations in the CRU documents and the reliance on the IPCC reports, whether any protocols should be adopted at all in advance of validation or disqualification of the CRU data upon which they are based.
The study of Talmud is supposed to be done in a communal setting where everything is open for debate. One of the purposes of such a setting is to develop a rigid form of logical reasoning and precise forms of expression. Contradictions are to be reconciled and harmonized. Shouldn’t the same process be brought to bear on the existence and causes of AGW before applying nostrums of uncertain effectiveness, but at admittedly high cost?
Scientific inquiry is like the talmudic model. There is an ever-growing core which is subject to interpretation. If the accepted norm was not periodically challenged, we would still have the Ptolemaic geocentric model of the universe and Einsteinian physics would not have developed out of Newtonian physics.
Importantly, we would not be debating AGW today because over 30 years ago we were told that it was incontrovertible that we were entering another Ice Age. Mirroring the certainty of AGW adherents today, Time magazine in 1975 reported, “Telltale signs are everywhere” of another ice age. Newsweek, reporting the same phenomenon, stated, “Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change,” and “The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.”
There is no long-term advantage for a proponent to manipulate data and models to achieve a desired result, especially with political overtones. This was done in the former Soviet Union under the guise of Lysenkoism, with disastrous results for Soviet agriculture. In politics and in the media, this is called spin. Nor is it beneficial to deny would-be opponents access to your raw data for fear that your theories might be undercut.
It is to everyone’s advantage to allow all to have access to the same data. The peer review/talmudic process will lead to debates, but eventually it will lead to harmonization of competing theories. Things can be done to improve the environment and to come up with a rational energy policy. As others have written, a rational energy policy would lead to less dependence on foreign energy, leading to a freer hand in foreign policy.
However, there should not be a priesthood of adepts which claims to have the revealed wisdom that they impose on others and has the power to banish deniers of the revealed wisdom as heretics. If the adepts are so sure of their position, let them open the books and records and let all, including the “heretics,” read them. The world will be better for it.
Jews have a tradition of tikun olam, repairing or perfecting the world. However, the world cannot be perfected on imperfect data and models or, worse, data and models which have been manipulated to reflect the agenda and inherent bias of their sponsors.