A Climate of Dissent

I’ve been struggling to make sense of the news of “climategate” which revealed through hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) that scientists have been stifling dissent and forging and destroying data. It is not at all clear that global climate change is now nothing to worry about – it just seems that certainty on either side is not justified and prediction models are pretty dubious. That said, I see no reason to think we shouldn’t be attempting to transition from a carbon-based energy economy to a clean-energy economy. A carbon/gas tax or something similar is still a good idea even if “just” for national security reasons. Furthermore, there is definitely no reason to believe that pumping as much pollution into the atmosphere as we do is a good thing – “global warming” is not the only “bad” effect of these gases. Anyway, here are some recent articles and blog posts I read on the topic plus some older video of Freeman Dyson.
Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.

I admire expertise, and scientific expertise especially; like any intelligent citizen I am willing to defer to it. But that puts a great obligation on science. The people whose instinct is to respect and admire science should be the ones most disturbed by these revelations. The scientists have let them down, and made the anti-science crowd look wise. That is outrageous.

Megan McArdle adopts a world-weary tone similar to The Economist’s: this is how science is done in the real world. If I were a scientist, I would resent that. She has criticised the emails and the IPCC response to them, then says she still believes the consensus view on climate change. Well, that was my position at the end of last week, and I suppose it still is. But how do I defend it? There is far more of a problem here for the consensus view than Megan and ordinarily reliable commentators like The Economist acknowledge. I am not a climate scientist. In the end I have to trust the experts. That is what we are asked to do. “Trust us, we’re scientists”.

Remember that this is not an academic exercise. We contemplate outlays of trillions of dollars to fix this supposed problem. Can I read these emails and feel that the scientists involved deserve to be trusted? No, I cannot. These people are willing to subvert the very methods–notably, peer review–that underwrite the integrity of their discipline. Is this really business as usual in science these days? If it is, we should demand higher standards–at least whenever “the science” calls for a wholesale transformation of the world economy

Freeman Dyson: wiki
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