How climategate destroyed the science of global warming.
We are engaged in a debate that has polarised into two distinct factions. On one side, the skeptics of global warming and on the other, the believers in it. Depending on how heated the debate becomes, the skeptics are called deniers and the believers are called alarmists in response. I am on the skeptic side of the argument.
The word skeptic is interesting. It does come with some subconscious baggage. For instance, it doesn’t mean habitually prone to cynicism about everything, even though in a lot of people’s heads, it might have that tone to it. A skeptic who is skeptical of most things is, I’d have to say, usually a cynic but that’s a case of the tail wagging the dog; their skepticism of everything is just a manifestation of their underlying cynicism about everything. Cynics need to look at the world with a better pair of eyes. The balance point of course is that a reasonable skeptic is usually skeptical of some things but not of all.
It also comes with a subtle connotation to pessimism, though it actually has no relationship to pessimism at all. In terms of outlook on people and life in general, I am certainly more of an optimist than most of my friends. I know there is an essential goodness and decency in most people because I see it every day. That is one of my beliefs in people and I’ll never be able to prove or disprove that proposition in any formal logic sense. It is a belief and I freely acknowledge that simple fact.
Believing in anything is easy because you don’t have to look for proof; it’s a belief. That simple statement explains why some people can accept the most outrageous things as being true. Most of the time, people who believe in a given thing are basing that belief on trusting what’s been said to them by experts or authority figures. Trust is the vital word in that last sentence. Being skeptical is rather more difficult because you have a suspicion that something other people believe in may not be true and you’re obliged to look for proof of that.
There are spiritual things in life that I consider can only be accepted on the basis of faith, which is a form of belief, but anything else in the concrete world can validly be looked at skeptically and that most certainly does include any branch of science. If you’re not prepared to do that, then by refusing to do Popper’s refutability test on it, you’re implicitly admitting it cannot be falsified and it is therefore a belief and not a science.
If you have a branch of science that appears to presenting a compelling case for the complete restructuring of industrial society across the face of the earth, it would appear manifestly prudent to me that it is examined critically through skeptic eyes.
In an ideal world, anyone who had doubts about such a seemingly vital branch of science would take the time to become an expert in it to verify that what it was asserting was correct or disproving it. Personally, I do have formal reasons for entertaining deep doubts about it and they mostly centre on the forecasting ability of the computer models being used. When you subtract the models from climate science, there’s not much science left.
We do not live in an ideal world. Nobody has the time or interest in becoming an expert in everything. Everybody operates on the traditional basis of trusting others who have a specialist knowledge.
When your electrician tells you that you need a new fuse box, you let him fit one. When your car mechanic tells you the problem is with the carb, you let him fix it. When your financial adviser tells you to put your money into Treasury Bills, you make that adjustment to your portfolio. The list is endless. We operate on this basis of trust every day and for most of our lives.
But what happens if you find out you actually didn’t need that fuse box, or the problem wasn’t with the carb or the advice to switch into T-bills was only given because your adviser was getting an under the table kickback on the swap?
You immediately stop believing them is what happens, because you’ve just found out that you can’t trust them. The whole world operates on this simple basis. It always has and it always will. We trust other people only for as long as they don’t abuse that trust. If they do that, we never trust them again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Both releases of the climategate emails show the same pattern. Private doubts about things they were telling us publically were beyond doubt. Telling us there was a rock solid consensus when they’d been actively suppressing quite valid but dissenting science. An incestuous relationship with a mainstream media that was supposed to be independent but had in fact degenerated into a mere organ of propaganda. The systematic and endemic abuse of real world data to make it conform to specious prognostications. The collusion to remove people who disagreed with them out of positions of influence and in some cases, their livelihoods. The wilful withholding of the data by hiding behind loopholes in Freedom of Information legislation. The deletion of emails to further withhold information. The list goes on and on.
Above all, it’s the pervasive stench of the worst type of scientific and intellectual arrogance. Even in the aftermath of these revelations, not a single one of them has yet to lose a single job or paid sinecure.
The ordinary person cannot prove that climate science is right or wrong but they don’t have to. They can simply make that old decision as to whether they still trust these people any more and they’ve made that decision.
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