Scientific Controversies

It is a hallmark of good science that it can withstand critique. In fact, science generally advances by facing the critical appraisal of peers and the contrasting of competing theories. The scientific consensus of the day on a specific issue may well be correct if a theory has survived rigorous testing over an extended time period, but even so there is always a rest of uncertainty attached to any theory. New facts may emerge at a later stage and require a reassessment – such as e.g. Newtonian mechanics, which has been superseded by Einstein's relativity theory. 

 

Physics has long ago arrived at a frontier where its foremost theoreticians can no longer test their theories experimentally, respectively are forced to wait – often for decades – before sufficiently advanced sensor equipment becomes available. Consider in this context the hunt for the Higgs particle. Theoretical physicists (one of whom was Peter Higgs) first postulated its existence in 1964. The testing equipment necessary to confirm or refute its existence – a sufficiently large and powerful high energy particle accelerator – only became available in 2010, almost 50 years later (see here for details on the complexity of the equipment).

On March 14 2013 physicists working at CERN's Large Hadron Collider announced that the existence of the Higgs boson has been 'tentatively' confirmed (the thorough examination of the test results is very time intensive and it will still take a while before one can be absolutely certain). A brief summary of the discovery and the work associated with examining the data can be found here.

 


 

higgs event
A schematic of the 'Higgs event', the particle collision that purportedly created a Higgs boson for a fleeting moment.

(Image via prosperosbooks.typepad.com)


 

The Higgs particle is required to confirm the validity of the so-called 'standard model', a theory about the electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear interactions that mediate the dynamics of sub-atomic particles. The model is a 'work in progress', continually driven forward both by theoretical and  experimental advances. It is a theory that enjoys broad support among physicists. However, there is no doubt that the model has certain deficiencies – for instance, it does not include the 'graviton', the particle thought to be responsible for gravitation. It is not a 'theory of everything'. As a result, numerous competing theories or extensions to the standard model have been proposed. A summary of these can be found here. 

One important and well-known theory that extends the standard model and proposes a 'grand unified' scheme including gravitation is string theory. It replaces 'point' particles by one-dimensional objects called strings, the oscillations of which give rise to particles and their interactions. We don't want to delve too deeply into the details here. The main reason why we mention it is that a number of prominent physicists are known to strongly support string theory, believing it to be the correct step toward a proper description of all the fundamental forces of nature, while others are critical and oppose it. There are also variants and extensions of string theory such as superstring theory and the  11-dimensional M theory, which is thought to unite and supersede the five existing 10-dimensional string theories.

As one might imagine, there is a lively debate between supporters and opponents of string theory. However, no-one is likely to throw hysterical fits if observational evidence were to contradict the tenets of any of the current theories of quantum physics. Theories that could no longer be supported would simply be discarded and replaced by better ones.

Here is what therefore isn't happening:

There are no 'crusher crews' trolling the internet in order to 'drown out string theory deniers' or 'standard model deniers'. There is also no-one out there as far as we are aware demanding the death penalty for  either standard model or string theory 'deniers'. However, there are examples for the death penalty being demanded for critics of the claims of the AGW (anthropogenic global warming).

The fact that the earth's climate has stopped warming since 1998, which flies in the face of the predictions of AGW theory, has ironically resulted in a flood of ever more hysterical claims. In fact, a great many of the apocalyptic predictions made by supporters of the AGW theory over time are rather conspicuous by their failure to come true. 150 million 'climate refugees' did not show up on Europe's doorstep. On the contrary, the populations in the regions that were forecast to be depopulated due to global warming have massively increased. Micronesia stubbornly refuses to sink beneath the waves and polar bears continue to proliferate – they have happily seen their population strongly increase as well over the past four decades.

 

“I knew I was in trouble when the biologist from the Manitoba Conservation Department sat down next to me. "The bears look good," he said. "I haven't seen them this fat in years."

 

Indeed. While the alarmists become ever more shrill with their forecasts of imminent doom, one of the foremost proponents of the AGW theory, the MET Office, was just forced to admit under questioning in the UK house of commons that “the temperature rise since about 1880 is not statistically significant”.

This admission was preceded by a remarkable show of obstructionism – they attempted to evade having to answer the question with every means they could think of.

One must ask: what is the reason for all these attempts to drown out debate and suppress countervailing evidence?

 

Fabricating a 'Consensus'

One of the arguments used over and over again to deride the critics of AGW is the notion that there exists a 'scientific consensus' ascribing the slight increase in temperatures since 1880 to human activity. This argument is of course untenable in principle already: even if such a consensus were to exist, it would not prove the correctness of the theory. There once was a consensus that the sun revolved around the earth. When evidence came to light that disproved this contention, a new consensus emerged. In short, the veracity of a scientific theory does not depend on the 'scientific consensus'. Nevertheless, this argument keeps being forwarded. The problem is however that it isn't even true: there is no such consensus. A team of researchers recently even set out to 'prove' that a consensus indeed exists. This attempt appears to have backfired mightily. According to 'Popular Technology':

 

“The paper, Cook et al. (2013) 'Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature' searched the Web of Science for the phrases "global warming" and "global climate change" then categorizing these results to their alleged level of endorsement of AGW. These results were then used to allege a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming.

To get to the truth, I emailed a sample of scientists whose papers were used in the study and asked them if the categorization by Cook et al. (2013) is an accurate representation of their paper. Their responses are eye opening and evidence that the Cook et al. (2013) team falsely classified scientists' papers as "endorsing AGW", apparently believing to know more about the papers than their authors.”

 

(emphasis added)

Not only does it appear that a great many scientists alleged to have supported AGW in their papers haven't done so, one must also consider that the 'gate keepers' at many of the scientific journals in which climate related papers appear are trying their best to suppress critical material. In one of the e-mails  that have come to light in the 'Climategate scandal' Michael Mann, the famous inventor of the 'hockey stick', proposes to blackball a journal that dared to publish a skeptical paper:

 

“As anonymous reviewers of choice for certain journals, Mr. Mann & Co. had considerable power to enforce the consensus, but it was not absolute, as they discovered in 2003. Mr. Mann noted in a March 2003 email, after the journal "Climate Research" published a paper not to Mr. Mann's liking, that "This was the danger of always criticising the skeptics for not publishing in the 'peer-reviewed literature'. Obviously, they found a solution to that—take over a journal!"

Mr. Mann went on to suggest that the journal itself be blackballed: "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal. We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board." In other words, keep dissent out of the respected journals. When that fails, redefine what constitutes a respected journal to exclude any that publish inconvenient views.”

 

(emphasis added)

A comment by Dr. Nir Shaviv, one of the scientists who said that their papers were wrongly classified in the recent Cook 'consensus' study, is quite illuminating:

 

“Science is not a democracy, even if the majority of scientists think one thing (and it translates to more papers saying so), they aren't necessarily correct. Moreover, as you can see from the above example, the analysis itself is faulty, namely, it doesn't even quantify correctly the number of scientists or the number of papers which endorse or diminish the importance of AGW."

 

In short, consensus is not a sufficient condition to prove a theory's correctness. In this particular case the so-called 'consensus' moreover appears to be manufactured – something that the 'Climategate' e-mails inter alia revealed, as the scientists who are the greatest supporters of AGW evidently were the 'anonymous peer reviewers of choice' for scientific journals and employed all sorts of underhanded tactics to help suppress critical material.

 

Follow the Money

Let us return to the question we asked above: what is the reason for all these attempts to drown out debate and suppress countervailing evidence?

For one thing, scientific reputation is at stake. For instance, the CRU (the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia which was at the center of the 'Climategate' scandal) refused to honor a freedom of information request concerning the release of certain tree ring data on the grounds that releasing the data might 'damage the reputation of CRU scientists'. Seriously. As Anthony Watts commented:

 

“After Climategate in 2009, I’m not sure how CRU’s reputation could be damaged any further, but that was the reason given for not sharing the data. Maybe it has to do with the lack of definitive hockey stick and the dwarfing of the present by the Medieval Warm period being counter to some of the unsupportable claims that have been made about tree ring data and unprecedented warming.

Steve McIntyre writes:

In resisting the FOI, CRU said that production of the 2006 regional chronology would damage the reputation of CRU scientists. The 2006 version appears to be the “Urals raw” chronology illustrated in SM9 as Greater Urals (shown below), though it is not identified as such in my first reading. Readers can judge for themselves whether their foreboding was justified.

 

There is a further interesting detail regarding this particular case. As Steve McIntyre reports:

 

“Leaving nothing on the table, Briffa excluded the Khadyta River from the present reconstruction, pointing out that recent trees in this area had been growing poorly (thereby lowering the late 20th century uptick.)”

 

In other words, they excluded data that appeared not to support their favored hypothesis. As one commentator noted: “The trees were sick….sick with worrying about being abused for dubious research. They are probably feeling better now and growing better by the day.”

Reputation is one thing – if you have staked your life on the 'hockey stick', recanting is probably difficult, but not impossible. What is decidedly more difficult is letting go of the grant money that supports alarmist research. In fact, it is the alarmism itself that keeps the money flowing.

Prior to the popularization of AGW, climate research was truly insignificant in terms of the funding it received. That has certainly changed rather notably. The US government alone has spent $68.4 billion between 2008 and 2012 to 'battle climate change' (it seems to be working, given that global temperatures are no longer rising and we have experienced a string of record cold winters around the world). This is about the same amount that was spent from 1989 to 2008 (see chart below) –  the spending has been consistently ratcheted up from  zero in 1989.

 


 

climate_money
US government climate related spending from 1989 to 2008. Between 2008 and 2012 another $68.4 billion were spent additionally – via Joanne Nova – click to enlarge.

 


 

Here are a few details from the US government's 2011 'climate change' budget (when $10.6 million were spent on it every single day):

 

“Check the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2011 budget request, and go to chapter 15: Climate Change in the FY 2011 Budget. The numbers are staggering. In 2011, your government will spend $10.6 million a day to study, combat, and educate about climate change.

The big winner in the climate change money train is the National Science Foundation — they are requesting $1.616 billion. They want $766 million for the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program, a 15.9% increase from their last budget. They also need another $370 million for the U.S. Global Change Research Program(USGCRP), an increase of 16%. They say they also need another $480 million for Atmospheric Sciences, an increase of 8.1%, and Earth Sciences, up 8.7%. Oh, and $955 million for the Geosciences Directorate, an increase of 7.4%.”

 

It is definitely no coincidence that the spending spree began in 1989. There was a congressional hearing with über-alarmist James Hansen in 1988. As former senator Tim Wirth admits in this video, the hearing was on purpose scheduled on what according to the meteorological office was going to be the hottest day of the year. Not only that, to further buttress the 'science', they opened all the windows the night before and turned off the air conditioning in the hearing room – clandestinely of course. “It was really hot”, as a smiling Wirth relays, apparently proud of having successfully bamboozled the committee. He's just lucky they didn't invite Al Gore, who is followed by blizzards and bitter cold wherever he goes. In that case they might have had to cancel the hearing due to an unseasonable snow storm.

Anyway, we think it is quite legitimate to 'follow the money' as the saying goes. 'Climate change' (as 'global warming' has been renamed ever since temperatures have stopped rising) and the associated research is a truly giant racket sucking up tax payer money like no other scientific endeavor.

However, there is more to it than just this direct cost. The decisions made in terms of regulations affect every human being on earth. As 'Mr. FOIA', the anonymous hacker who released the CRU e-mails remarked to this:

 

“It’s easy for many of us in the western world to accept a tiny green inconvenience and then wallow in that righteous feeling, surrounded by our “clean” technology and energy that is only slightly more expensive if adequately subsidized.

Those millions and billions already struggling with malnutrition, sickness, violence, illiteracy, etc. don’t have that luxury. The price of “climate protection” with its cumulative and collateral effects is bound to destroy and debilitate in great numbers, for decades and generations.”

 

Given the immense public interest and the vast costs attached to implementing the demands of the alarmists, we believe that Professor Robert G. Brown's 'modest proposal' deserves serious consideration. What Brown asks is simply that the data be made available without restrictions to the whole scientific community. That's right, currently this is not the case. The most important data series that form the basis for the climate models used by the IPCC and others are only available in 'massaged' form. Here are a few pertinent excerpts from Brown's article:

“Climate research has long since passed from the realm of being a tiny discipline with a handful of researchers whose mistakes had almost no impact on humanity to being an enormous, publicly funded research machine that has a huge impact on the public weal. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis, there is no denying that it has a huge impact on people all over the world. Quite literally every human on earth is currently at risk either way relative to the conclusions of what is still a relatively small community of scientists with a remarkably homogeneous point of view.

[…]

Unfortunately, climate research that not only has impacted, but has led the way in the public debate and scrutiny that should correctly attend the collective expenditure of vast amounts of wealth that could otherwise be put to better use has not, thus far, been conducted in an open way. Critical data and methodology have been hidden and treated as if they were proprietary by the scientific researchers involved, in spite of the fact that the data itself has rather often come from governmental organizations or is the direct product of research funded entirely by public research grants, as in most cases is the published work itself. That this has occurred, and continues to occur, is not at issue here — the evidence that this has occurred and continues to occur is conclusive and indeed, ongoing. The simple fact of the matter is that whatever the truth of the hypothesis, the methodology and data used to support it are largely hidden, hidden well enough that it is routinely true that they cannot easily be merely reproduced by a third party, let alone the conclusions be intelligently and critically challenged. 

[…]

The conclusions of modern climate research are almost exclusively based on published results such as the (now infamous) “Hockey Stick” graphs produced by Mann, et. al. and data sets such as HadCrut3. HadCrut3 itself is currently made readily available, but only as processed results obtained by some means from streams of raw data that are not. It is, in fact, essentially impossible for a third party to take the actual data used in the current HadCrut3 snapshot published by the Met Office at the Hadley Center, feed it to the actual code used to generate the processed data, and verify even the very limited fact that the data and the code do indeed produce the same result when run on different computers, let alone that the methodology used to produce the result from the data is robust and sound.”

 

(emphasis added)

Given the impact it has on society, climate research must be thrown open to unrestricted scientific scrutiny. The fact that the 'critical data have been hidden' as Brown notes is by itself a strong hint that the alarmist story has become a political promotion rather than disinterested science. Good science has no need to suppress criticism and evidence. The fact that climate research apparently cannot do without such tactics is more than enough reason to be extremely suspicious of its 'consensus' conclusions.

 

Addendum:

Here is a link to the 2009 paper (pdf) on the government's monopoly on climate research funding by Joanne Nova, which is the source of the chart depicted above. Although slightly dated, it still makes for interesting reading. Obviously though it failed to have an impact, as climate-related spending has vastly increased since then.

 


 

 

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2 Responses to “The Climate Consensus”

  • Jay:

    In my debates with AGW-theory supporters, I learned early on that folks choose sides on this issue according to their ideology. It’s more of a religious debate than a scientific one, so it’s not easy to convince by reason. The ideology of many AGW-theory supporters is fundamentally anti-man, anti-mind, anti-reason, and anti-technology. AGW theory gives them the chance to shake their fists in self-righteous condemnation at all the wonderful achievements of man, mind, reason, and technology (most of which require energy) that they so deeply resent.

    But there I go, spouting my ideology again.

    • equality72521:

      But you are not just spouting your ideology.

      We live in an age of anti-intellectualism: reason cannot apprehend reality. When reality is incomprehensible everything is the result of a some deus ex machina or other. No one is responsible for the outcome and every one is a victim of circumstance. Therefore, to the anti-intellectual actions do not have consequences. When people do not use reason to interpret reality, they must fabricate an “explanation”. When the reality no longer corroborates the purported facts, change the facts. That is the underlying reason why those at CRU, IPCC and their ilk, but in no way is the list restricted to the field of climate research, are so frequently found to be liars.

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