Global warming and pathological science.
There are many aspects to the style of science underpinning the theory of global warming that remind me of something the American scientist Irving Langmuir christened pathological science. Wiki for once is accurate and defines it as –
“Pathological science is a psychological process in which a scientist, originally conforming to the scientific method, unconsciously veers from that method, and begins a pathological process of wishful data interpretation.”
It goes on to say it has the following characteristics –
- The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results.
- There are claims of great accuracy.
- Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses.
- The ratio of supporters to critics rises and then falls gradually to oblivion.
If ever there was a thumbnail sketch of the “science” behind global warming and what looks to be the life-cycle of its popularity, it would be the above.
Basically, they’ve a theory which they are single mindedly determined to prove and therein is the essential problem. Good science works on the basis of not only trying to prove theories but also trying to disprove them as well. If you can prove or disprove a theory, you’ve learnt something either way. The characteristic of a pathological scientist is they can never entertain any suggestion that their pet theory is incorrect. If there’s real world data flatly contradicting their beloved theory, then it’s a data problem.
The wishful interpretation of data in climate science is fairly obvious and indeed goes a bit further in that it is blatantly selective on so many occasions. A good example of this occurs in the treatment of land based temperature stations. In the 1990s there was a worldwide network of approximately six thousand stations but of these, only about a subset of sixteen hundred are used today to measure the global temperature. Even allowing for malfunctions, it’s difficult to see a plausible explanation for why the data from four thousand three hundred of the originals is now being ignored even though they still work.
Of the remaining stations being used, the raw data from a significant number of them would appear to show the Earth is warming but when a corps of citizen volunteers actually went and looked at as many of these stations as they could get to, there was a simple explanation of why they were showing the increase. Roughly eighty percent of those examined now failed the original siting criteria because encroaching urbanisation meant they had become surrounded by heat sources such as housing, air conditioning ducts, car parks, barbeques and even aircraft runways.
This pollution of the raw data has now supposedly been offset by applying an arbitrary correction which “normalises” it but to us folk of a skeptical persuasion, they’re just torturing the data to make it conform to the warming they’re absolutely convinced is happening. If you have a large enough sample of decent raw data, a small number of anomalous spikes, or noise as it’s called in statistics, will be drowned out; normalisation is simply not required. If the data has too many spikes, then it’s rubbish data and should be discarded. You’d have to be out of your mind to attempt to use it as the input data to make any valid statistical inferences.
Within that sixteen hundred being used, there are blatant instances of cherry picking; my personal favourite being the use of only 25% of the available stations to measure the ground temperature of Russia. When you consider that most of this 25% are situated in urban areas of that vast country (you could fit the whole of the USA into it nearly twice, by the way), you can see why the data is easily interpreted as evidence of global warming occurring, even in Russia. The Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) concluded two years ago that the average temperatures calculated for Russia were quite simply wrong.
Given the relatively small number of sampling stations being used and the big question marks over both the siting and data quality, one would think it foolhardy to apply sophisticated statistical analysis to derive a global temperature trend but that’s exactly what they do. Statistics is a tricky branch of math that is usually taught in conjunction with Probability not just because of the obvious congruence but also for the very good reason that so much of the time, the correct technique or answer is counter-intuitive in both of these disciplines.
It’s an experimentally proven psychological fact that most people are naturally and appallingly bad at probability and statistics and the whole of the gambling industry is predicated on this, as is my continued long-term ownership of stock in that industry. If you doubt this, ask a friend what the odds are for “heads” on the single flick of a coin and they’ll quite rightly reply 50:50. But then ask them what the odds of getting two “heads” on two successive flicks of the coin and you’ll see what I mean. If you know the answer to that one but they didn’t, get ready to draw some diagrams for them. If you didn’t say one in four, then speaking as an investor, you’re my sort of punter.
If you really want to hear a very dense technical debate, listen to two statisticians discussing the correct technique to be used to analyse any non-trivial data set. It’s no place for amateurs, even if they’re fully qualified climate scientists. They’re just as bad at it as everyone else, which is why one of the “enquiries” into climategate recommended they should get some professional statistical help. That is official speak for they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to statistics and in my reasonably well-informed opinion, they certainly don’t.
The most graphic illustration of their statistical incompetence is the famous hockey stick graph. When Steve McIntyre, a man who actually knows something about statistics, looked into its derivation, he realised that the particular technique being used was not only inappropriate but would always produce a hockey stick shape, irrespective of the data. You can even feed it random numbers and it will still produced the same shape.
You have to ask yourself why the graph’s creator or any one of its vast host of IPCC supporters, never tried that same simple sanity test, just to be sure the correct analysis technique was being used. They never did because all they’re interested in is proving that the theory of global warming is true rather than raising any challenges to it. This is not so much post-normal science but rather half science or 50c science as I call it, because they’re simply not attempting to do the disproving bit. Show me a decent attempt at the other 50c and I might even become a reluctant believer but at least go for the full Dollar.
It’s normal for people think that science is all about discovering and proving theories but if they know a little bit more about science, they’ll know it’s also about seeking to disprove theories but even then, the truth is a bit more subtle. The reality is, no scientific theory can be proved incontrovertibly, to use that particular word now made infamous by of all people the American Physics Society, who should really have known better.
A scientific theory can only be tested, never proved. However, a theory can definitely be disproved, which is why this facet of science is so important. It’s actually what drives progress in science. The philosopher of science Karl Popper called this vital process falsifiability or refutability. Einstein put it in a nutshell, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”
Isaac Newton’s theory on how gravity worked overturned every previous theory in that area and eloquently so. Einstein’s work overturned Newton’s, showing it was unfortunately just a special case and if the recent measurement of particles exceeding the speed of light turns out to be accurate, then Einstein’s theories are about to join Newton’s in that great Elephant’s Graveyard that all wrong or superseded scientific theories end up in. If that happens, the hunt is on for a whole new theory of gravity and we’re really talking here about back to square one for so much of Physics. Grown men are holding their breath and secretly hoping for a mensuration error as I write this.
Science can never be “settled”, neither by science itself and certainly not by consensus, an even sillier idea. Anyone pushing that line of argument at you is a scientific ignoramus. Any scientific theory can only be disproved.
The hard physical evidence continues to pile up that there is no untoward global warming occurring but supposedly reputable scientists continue to insist in public that the planet is getting warmer, it’s just a matter of finding the missing heat. Kevin Trenberth privately in one of the climategate emails complains about it, “the fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t” and Phil Jones, giving evidence before a UK parliamentary committee, publically admitted there’s been “no statistically significant global warming for a decade.”
As more and more temperature data comes in from satellites and the story the satellites are telling diverges from the heat maps they’ve derived for the Earth using the land based stations, their answer is to search even harder for the missing heat. It simply must be somewhere. The satellite data is a really inconvenient truth for them but of late they’ve come up with an explanation for the missing heat and it’s a corker; the heat is actually skulking at the bottom of the world’s oceans, safely out of sight of those pesky satellites and well beyond the reach of any mere skeptic like myself. Perhaps it’s shy, a cousin of one of Rabbie Burns’ wee timorous beasties.
For God’s sake, it could only happen in that crazy topsy-turvy world of climate science that hot and therefore less dense water, could sink to the bottom of cooler and therefore more dense water. Someone should tell the Gulf Stream about that. No, scrub that idea. If it ever found out it shouldn’t exist, it might change its mind. Think Mother Gaia meets the precautionary principle. Phew, that was close.
Another characteristic of pathological science is not just that experimental results cannot be replicated but the exact details of such vaunted experiments are vague to the point where replication cannot even be attempted. As doubts start to rise, the actual details of the science being done becomes more and more guarded. They can give you the details but only if you’re a true believer and promise not to criticise. For years, we’ve had independent researchers trying to get their hands on the raw data on which all the alarmist claims are based. They’ve been fobbed off repeatedly and in the end, they’ve had to resort to Freedom Of Information requests (FOIs) to get anything.
If getting the raw data out of them is hard, just try to get access to one of the Global Climate Models (GCMs) into which the suspect data is being fed and which are the Delphic sources of all these amazingly exact and scary predictions of the coming thermogeddon. The closest we’ve got to that is the harry.readme file that was leaked with the climategate emails and it doesn’t inspire much confidence, quite the reverse in point of fact. Bear in mind that all the GCMs fail Popper’s falsifiability test; there’s simply no way of disproving their predictions about how the climate is going to be in a few hundred year’s time.
What possible confidence could any reasonable person have in a branch of science that requires legal documents to be served on it to force it to offer up the basic data underpinning the audacious assertions it is making?
Believe it or not, they seriously thought they could force the radical restructuring of the industrial economies of the whole of the developed world, without ever allowing any independent checking of their science. Wake up lads and smell the coffee, that was never going to happen. You can frig the data as much as you want and even “redefine the peer review process” but there were always going to be a handful of real scientists left who would make it their business to prick the balloon. Your own arrogant excesses contained the essential seeds of your own downfall. All that was required was a lot of patience and a little bit of timing.
The terminal characteristic of any outbreak of pathological science is the way the level of initially overwhelming support for it fades away to nothing. It’s not mentioned thereafter; it’s as if it never existed. Its name is rarely spoken and when it is, it’s firmly placed in the category of “everyone knew it was nonsense all along” but this time around, I feel it’ll be remembered to the lasting harm of science as a valid field of clean endeavour. Trust, once abused, is difficult if not impossible to regain. That’ll take a generation or two.
Global warming has simply had too high a profile in the public consciousness for its demise not to have that effect on science in general. This is the single bitter reservation I have about watching the death of the global warming craze but other scientists outside the field have to take their own share of responsibility for this damage as well. Privately, too many of them have known for a long time that the outrageous claims being made by it were simply scientific nonsense but having seen what happened to dissenters within the field, they kept their heads down and chose to say nothing.
Not my problem would be their refrain but at the same time, they were careful to include a bit of eco justification into their next research funding application. We all have to do stuff to get by but in the future, don’t you ever start whining about people simply not believing you because you’re a scientist. We all pay for our sins, even the ones of omission.
There is an argument that pathological science is somehow harmless because it is eventually found out and therefore nullified by the scientific mainstream and in most cases this is true. Where it becomes really dangerous is when it is adopted by political forces to advance their agendas. Pathological science morphs into a full-blown pseudo science because it is now state approved and state funded.
It gives a stamp of scientific authority to whatever political aims the state is trying to impose on the people. Of course, any research that might debunk it is neither encouraged nor funded. It’s now bullet proof or should I say “settled” science, since no attempt is being made to disprove it.
If you’ve read the “about me” for this blog, you’ll know that I consider the most damage being done by the cult of global warming is in the developing world but it’s not just confined to there. Gas and electricity supplies in the UK now contain green stealth taxes.
Power bills have gone up by substantial amounts as a result and while the population in general can tighten their belt that extra notch and get used to a steady drop in living standards, there are people already at the bottom of the pile for whom there is nowhere to drop down to. Their choices by now are brutally simple; food or heating. They’ll go with the food because it’s immediate and they have to and people, especially the solitary elderly and frail will slowly freeze to death this coming Winter. It’s as simple as that.
Pathological science in this case, and not for the first time, has a real human cost and it’s not scientific reputations but the lives of our most vulnerable, needlessly lost in a slow and brutal fashion to the cold of Winter and there’s not much dignity to it either.
It’s one of those occasions when I know why I truly, deeply hate pseudo science and all its works.
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