Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Abandoning Official Science

Junk science has several warning signs: It advocates a cause, pays little attention to the investigative process, ignores contrary evidence and advertises a high moral purpose.

- Ron W. Pritchett, "Recognizing Junk Science," The Professional Geologist (December 1997)

For its two-decade history, the "global warming" craze has been an outstanding case - perhaps the supreme one in our time - of something I've called Official Science. It's not quite the same as what some people call "junk science," although it includes a fair amount of that. But it has something else: an authoritarian mummery that looks like science, but isn't. I've called this "para-science." In the case of climate, the key elements - the IPCC and its false "consensus" - are political in nature, not scientific. Blame it on Rio: they were enshrined in the policy world by the 1992 Rio "Earth" summit, a party to which scientists, for the most part, were pointedly not invited. The summit was a jamboree of environmentalist politics and activism, not ecology, climate, or any other science.

The kernels of Official Science are the pet theory and the politically, ideologically, or theologically predetermined conclusion. Science, among other things, is mostly bottom-up and inside-out knowledge. In areas where many open questions remain, it's stimulated by surprise discoveries and unexpected insights. Basic research is especially important here because it tries to frame questions and find answers with potential for wide-ranging impact, both in theory and application. Official Science is the opposite: top-down and outside-in. Non-scientists (politicians, political intellectuals, journalists, activists), often in alliance with ex-scientists either cynical, ambitious, delusional, or all three, apply the pressure from the outside. Blow-ups, dilemmas, and intellectual corruption begin where the two cultures - science and "para-science" - collide.

Cultures in collision. This is origin of the unusual social phenomena associated with the "global warming" craze. They include the misrepresentation of an actually non-existent "consensus" about "climate change," which consensus is then repeatedly invoked to isolate and demonize "deniers," skeptics, and fence-sitters (who, all told, actually make the up the majority of climate and geoscientists). Environmentalists attempt to smear scientists with often false or misleading "reports" detailing alleged "secrets" about funding sources.* Quasi-official institutions (bureaucratic leaders of government and academia, scientific journal editors) create an echo chamber where otherwise normal skepticism and criticism are silenced. Publications once noted for their high standards (like Scientific American) degenerate into politically correct propaganda outlets, with scientific reasoning playing less and less a role in their arguments. In its place are invocations of authority, something having no place in science. In fact, in no other area of science are such non-scientific procedures so routinely made use of. The mere existence of an "official panel" on climate (the IPCC) is far from scientifically kosher.

Follow the (public) money. Scientists in climate and allied areas have protested, repeatedly, against the fake "consensus." The protests are ignored by the IPCC and the non-science media. But the situation is more subtle and disturbing than a simple black-white opposition. Incentives both positive and negative have been applied to reshape the sociology of the field (and don't doubt that this reshaping is a conscious political effort.) Public funding has moved from open-ended basic research, in which questions are paramount, to a situation where the larger answer is assumed and research proposals have to be tailored to "get with the program." Professional societies (American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, American Statistical Association, etc.) leave the provinces and move to Washington, where their staffs shift gears and become political players in a politically- and journalistically-shaped arena, leaving scientific questions far behind. These societies - or at least their headquarters staff - then join the "consensus," often over the protest of their scientific members.**

The IPCC itself offers a particularly insidious temptation for scientists, the IPCC reports' scientific annexes, which are produced by a large body of "working groups" (a couple thousand scientists) routinely confused in the media and by politicians with the the much smaller IPCC staff (a couple hundred). To compare the working groups' annexes and the IPCC's summary report is to compare two apparently different planets. The couple thousand scientists in the working groups become, in effect, wittingly or not, ventriloquists' dummies.

The folks back home. So why the scientific annexes to the IPCC reports? Essentially, to impress the rubes. Nothing else can explain why the scientific reports keep getting included, yet contradict what the Summary report says. The gap has not closed in 16 years of these reports. The rubes are politicians, journalists, even other scientists, and you and me. It makes the reports look authoritative, while allowing the IPCC and "global warming" fanatics to ignore scientific criticism and demonize and isolate individual critics as "skeptics" or "deniers" (as if skepticism is out of place in science, instead of being its daily bread). Meantime, outside of their respective scientific disciplines, few actually read the scientific reports. (I've read parts of the 2002 and 2007 reports.) Under the baleful influence of Official Science, scientists amongst themselves and individually express one view, but assembled "officially," express a very different view. That's a sure sign of arm-twisting and Official Science overriding of scientific criticism. It's no road to knowledge: science makes more progress through criticism, by demolishing bad ideas and disproving wrong hypotheses, than through converging on correct ideas. Not that these processes are separate: converging on the right conclusion requires a lot of clearing away first.

Official Science equals bad science. Under the usual circumstances of scientific practice, the extravagant claims of the IPCC - being able to predict future weather; denying or selectively "cherry picking" the behavior of the current, recent, and paleoclimate - would be laughed out of the room, so to speak. Specific instances of sloppily done or simply mistaken scientific embarrassments, the "hockey stick" above all, would have been ripped apart through the usual process of criticism, counterproposals, and so on. Without an externally enforced preconceived and dogmatic conclusion, progress would result, as it usually does when scientists work on something in their usual mixture of cooperation and competition.

But with the "boundary conditions" changed, so to speak, and an externally imposed, preconceived conclusion forced on the issue, something very different happens. Badly done science, embarrassing fallacies, and outright fraud start to win, no matter how horrifying, because they fit the dogma. Really good science, superb insights with clear implications (for example, the ice core results), are disallowed, rejected for publication, ridiculed, or otherwise ignored and languish in a narrow specialty in a way that doesn't threaten the dogma. When editors of leadings journals (like the editors of Nature and Science in the 1990s) undergo conversion and baptism in the Cause of "global warming," excellent work contradicting the official line doesn't get published, at least not their journals.† Mistakes that would be marked wrong on a test or homework assignment, or corrected by a graduate research advisor, instead get perpetuated in prestigious venues.

Official Science must go. There's a lot of positive progress that awaits climate and allied sciences, once they're freed from this monkey on their backs. But before anything positive happens, the big negative has to be cleared away first. There's no "reforming" Official Science, or "making it responsive." The spirit animating it and the spirit animating science are in direct conflict and can't be reconciled. The right thing to do with Official Science is to abandon it.

In the case of climate, the IPCC should simply be scrapped. It keeps committing the same crime over and over, providing the fanatics of "global warming" in the political, environmentalist, and journalistic worlds more clubs (or hockey sticks) to beat up their designated targets simply for practicing science in public. The IPCC carries on under the auspices of the UN, but is rooted in a multinational convention that grew out of the 1992 Rio summit. It's true that this convention, the IPCC, and the Kyoto Treaty that resulted are not in America's interests. But they're really not in anyone's interests. The US should withdraw from any official involvement in or funding of the IPCC and strongly encourage other countries to do the same. What private individuals and institutions do on their own time and nickel is their business. It's become everyone else's business just because ways have been found to force it on everyone else.

That's a first big step in the right direction for the science and scientists and frees them to look at positive possibilities. Such a step also has a whole set of separate implications for policy.

SPOT THE FALLACIES! I ran across this item recently in Physics Today, flagship publication of the American Physical Society. It's a not a refereed technical journal, but a magazine at a high level for physicists and scientists in related areas, as well as students and interested outsiders, with the main articles and much else written by scientists. PT has high standards, so the item came as a shock, if not a complete surprise. It commits at least four climate fallacies in two paragraphs. See if you can spot them.†† (Disclaimer: I don't meant to criticize anything about the research article discussed in this news item. I haven't read it.)
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* Sorry: even if these reports were correct, "funding sources" is not a scientific argument.

** The American Statistical Association, in the past a reputable professional scientific organization, recently announced its endorsement of the already debunked "hockey stick," creating some shock in the scientific world. Important members of the ASA were involved in the earlier debunking and were not consulted in this change of "official" view. Apparently, the ASA is working hard to "get with the program," a political, not a scientific, imperative. The problem is not that the "official" view needs to be changed; the problem is rather that there is an "official" answer to the question at all. This is the essence of what's wrong with Official Science.

Disaster results from such trends: good people leave the field or shut up; good students don't enter, and so on. This has now gone on for almost a generation, and climate and allied scientists are waking up to the cold truth of how much damage this crusade has done to their science, their research, and their teaching. (How do you teach this stuff to students with a straight face, when there are so many things so obviously wrong with it?) These are the sort of dilemmas faced more and more over the last 15+ years by natural scientists in geosciences, climate, and neighboring subjects.

† Then these same editors have claimed - with a straight face! - that their journals don't have many papers that conflict with the fake "consensus."

†† The fallacies I spotted are:
  • Solar radiation is not reflected from the Earth's surface, but absorbed and re-radiated. That's why the Earth's surface warms up. Reflected, radiation can't warm anything.
  • Extra warming does not occur because IR-active (misnamed "greenhouse") gases absorb the IR radiating from the surface. These molecules are good at IR absorption; they're also good at IR emission. They're a more efficient IR "bucket brigade." The "extra warming" is not a retention of heat, but actually a steepening in the slope, or lapse rate, of the radiation temperature.
  • A greenhouse doesn't work like this.
  • The Earth's climate isn't a greenhouse anyway.
Official Science does rot your mind.

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