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Warmed over

In my previous post, I suggested that we should be skeptical of those who claim they have incontroverible proof that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming.

Yet lots of scientists claim that global warming is already underway. How can they all be so sure?

Well, at least some of them aren't. They don't care that the research they've done is inconclusive and the models they rely on are unreliable. They consider their mission to be not the gathering of data and testing of hypotheses, but the advocacy of policy and the generation of hysteria.

Don't take my word for it. Ask federal hurricane research scientist Chris Landsea.

Last week, Landsea resigned from a U.N.-sponsored climate assessment team, saying the team's leader had politicized their research:

Chris Landsea, who works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurricane research division in Miami, said Monday that he would not contribute to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's chapter on atmospheric and surface climate conditions because the lead author had told reporters global warming contributed to intense Atlantic hurricanes last year.

In a letter he posted on the Internet, Landsea said there was little evidence to justify Kevin Trenberth's assertion in October that in light of current warming trends, "the North Atlantic hurricane season of 2004 may well be a harbinger of the future."

"It is beyond me why my colleagues would utilize the media to push an unsupported agenda that recent hurricane activity has been due to global warming," he wrote. "My view is that when people identify themselves as being associated with the IPCC and then make pronouncements far outside current scientific understandings that this will harm the credibility of climate change science and will in the longer term diminish our role in public policy...

I personally cannot in good faith contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound."
Landsea's complete letter can be found here.

The Washington Post claims that Landsea's resignation "underscores a larger battle over what role scientists should play in one of the decade's most contentious environmental debates."

I'm not sure exactly what role scientists should play in debates on public policy, but I do know that any contribution they do make should be based on good science. Otherwise, their unique value -- their ability to increase our understanding of the natural world -- is lost. They become little more than lobbyists in lab coats.

Then again, that may be the direction in which environmental science is heading. As the Post reporter notes:
The IPCC, which has already concluded that human activity accounts for much of the warming the earth has experienced over 50 years, is seeking to evaluate how and why the climate is changing. It will issue its next report in 2007, basing its findings on a consensus-oriented process that involves hundreds of scientists as well as senior diplomatic officials.
Can someone explain to me why "diplomatic officials" should be involved in the process of reaching scientific findings? Or why that process should be "consensus-oriented", rather than, say, fact-oriented?

As author Michael Crichton once noted,
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
In a way, it's entirely fitting that the team from which Landsea resigned is sponsored by the U.N., an organization that has proven quite adept at conjuring up its own version of reality -- such as the illusion that it is playing a vital role in delivering tsunami relief.

It's depressing to see the U.N.'s cynical smoke-and-mirrors hucksterism oozing beyond the political sphere and into science's pristine realm.

Truth doesn't need a good PR man.




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