Is climate science just a belief?
The alarmists in the climate debate have what they think of as this magic ace of trumps card, called peer review. If they actually knew something about the peer review process, perhaps they’d realise it isn’t a guarantee of anything much. It really isn’t.
In brief, the process is as follows. A scientist does some research, writes up the results in the form of a paper and submits it to a scientific journal for publication. Whether it’s published or not, is an editorial decision. The editor, who obviously can’t be an expert in all branches of science, has to seek advice from other experts in the field the paper is dealing with. For each area, the editor will have two or three experts he can ask to review or referee the paper. Some journals ask the author for a list of potential reviewers. The reviewers are usually unpaid and working scientists themselves.
There is no reviewing standard. Time and circumstances allowing, some will just flip through it, making the odd comment on anything that catches their eye. Some will go through it in fine detail. Either way, they come back with some comments and a recommendation to the editor. The recommendation will fall into one of four categories; publish it, publish after comments have been addressed, reject it outright or reject it for resubmission after rework at a later date.
What’s important to note here, is that even if the recommendation is to publish, the reviewers are not giving any guarantee that the science is correct. The most they’re saying about it is that it’s plausible and uses generally accepted methods of research. That’s it. Nothing more.
There are some very serious concerns about the peer review process, and they all revolve about our old friend human nature. In terms of quality assurance, it’s very light and there is a complete assumption of integrity on the part of the author submitting the paper. Unless the numbers look very strange, the reviewer assumes they’re truthful and accurate. If the numbers are being generated by a computer model, then because they don’t have access to the model, they’re obliged to accept them. They’ll go with anything that looks reasonable.
Another more difficult problem is what’s commonly referred to as gatekeeping. When a reviewer is looking at a paper which is critical of, or suggesting an alternative theory to the one the reviewer is a fan of, it’s an understandable temptation to reject it for publication. Essentially, any alternative view is being excluded from the literature. It’s also not unheard of for a reviewer to give a paper a hard time out of no other reason than personal spite.
If there’s one thing the climategate emails reveal, it’s gatekeeping of the consensus about global warming. They even conspire to intimidate journals by starving them of papers, if the journals publish any papers in disagreement with their favoured theories. It’s okay to mount a spirited defense of a theory you believe in, but to actively suppress a contradictory viewpoint, by threatening to put a publication out of business, is really beyond the pale. As far as integrity in science goes, it’s pretty much the dark underbelly. Every one of the so-called enquiries into climategate, steered well clear of this blatant subversion of the whole peer review process.
There are a number of other minor concerns, but the major one I have is that the whole peer review process is stacked against innovative science. Again, despite what many people think, peer review in science is a quite recent development, only coming into widespread use in the 1950′s. You really have to ask yourself what chance a patent clerk in Switzerland, with nothing more than a teaching qualification, would have of getting his paper, which was going to turn our very understanding of the universe on its ear, into a physics journal nowadays. It simply wouldn’t have happened if peer review had been in place then. Too much of establishment physics would have had too big an investment in a Newtonian view of the universe. Under a peer review system, my feeling is that Einstein simply wouldn’t have been published.
So, if the peer review process is no indication that the science is actually correct, what is?
There are two ways to attempt to verify the science. The first is simply to test the theory by thinking up an experiment, which if the theory is correct, will give the results predicted by it. If the results differ from what is predicted by the theory, then the theory is quite simply wrong. If the results are as predicted, then it’s indicative that the theory is correct. It’s important to note, that while a theory can be tested, it can never be proved. A theory can only be disproved.
The second method is replication. The experiment or research, as described in the paper, is repeated using the same data and methods. If the results differ, then there’s a problem with the paper. If they don’t, then again, it’s indicative that the science is good.
If you can’t test a scientific theory by doing one or both of these things, then it’s not a scientific theory, it’s a belief, masquerading as science.
Underpinning and generating the alarming predictions being made by climate science, are computer models. Whatever they’re predicting the climate will be like in a hundred years, there’s simply no experiment that can be done to verify or disprove the assertions being made. When the same models are used to make seasonal predictions, they’re hopeless, as evidenced by the UK’s Meteorological Office recently giving up on making seasonal predictions, in the light of the last five years of hopelessly inaccurate ones. Even if the short-term predictions had been accurate, it’s still no indication that the long-term predictions would be accurate as well.
Since there’s no way to test the models, all that we can fall back on to verify the science, is checking and replicating the published research. To do that, access to the raw data, and in some cases the computer models, is required. In too many cases, the independent researchers cannot get access to the raw data, and there’s no good legal, scientific or ethical reason for that.
The only explanation is an unethical one, and again it’s revealed in the climategate leak of emails. What they show is a systematic and endemic pattern of withholding raw data, deleting data, hiding behind loopholes in Freedom of Information legislation, the abuse of real world data to make it conform to specious prognostications and the wilful deletion of emails to further withhold information. Again, none of these activities were ever looked at hard by any of the investigations into climategate.
In the end, independent researchers have had to resort to Freedom of Information laws, to force the release of the data, but even now, nearly three years after climategate, the same pattern of withholding data, for a plethora of dubious reasons, is still at work. Quite frankly, when I look at some of the papers being published and the pattern of behaviour being exhibited to prevent the verification of the science, I’m reminded inescapably of the terminal phase of an outbreak of pathological science.
The answer to the above question is simple. If there’s no means to check it, then climate science is just another belief.
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