Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who's Talking Straight about Climate-gate?

Well, if carbon emissions don't heat things up, this scandal surely will. I've tried to find a non-partisan voice in this matter, and just forget it. So this is what I think.

One Damned Scientist v. A Robust Discipline
Scientists are like everybody else. They love their own results. Sexy science gets funding, approval, attention. 

But---Scientific work is conducted in a community. If some scientist gets a Eureka!, he writes a paper.  Other scientists try to duplicate his results. If they can, or if they cannot,  they write a paper about That. Thus there is a lively confirmation process, or, a huge argument.

If you are competitive for grants, (and you must be), there is a temptation to fudge data. Against this temptation, there is a huge reputational risk. If you screw around, it will come out--your lab has lab assistants, equally ambitious or idealistic grad students (from all over the world, and all smart), colleagues dropping by, and a bunch of people reading your papers. Fudge, and your reputation is toast. Good luck, you jerk.

Big-ticket science grants are reviewed by other science foundations--multiple governments, foundations, and organizations. This is sometimes a grant review. This more formal process is exhaustive. These foundations, etc. also have reputational risk. So the majority tendency is honest results.

Thermodynamics
There is a law of thermodynamics that says moving objects tend to keep moving. Things sitting on their ass tend to stay there.  Therefore, a number of books, pamphlets, reports, and foundations will look like they are not refining their stance, long after they have begun their own review process.

A lot of people seeking funds (such as environmental groups) will also have to stand pat on their old rhetoric until the revisions of data come in. They have to wait for some confirming or correcting data.

A lot of people seeking funds (such as non-environmental groups) can start their editorials NOW. They only have to add one sentence to what they've already said.

Neither side is done reviewing the science. We know some of the most partisan won't review the science either, on either side. So we will have to listen carefully for the academy's quiet reviewing voice.

Conspiracy Theories
The U.S. Press
The U.S. press is not covering this well now. They weren't actually covering it very well before, either. They had lots of material but no understanding. Now they don't know what to do. Their scientific illiteracy is really what is exposed here--much more important than their partisanship.

This issue has always been full of coalitions. That does not make them conspiracies. It does make them special interest groups.

Pro-business states 
Countries that have never had industry want it. The cost of anti-pollution devices creates a barrier to entry into a market economy. They stay doomed to subsistence agriculture. They starve and maybe get handouts. Barriers to entry make it harder to achieve self-help.

Defenders of the downtrodden
These countries are the same ones with cheap labor. A lot of large manufacturers would prefer to keep everything cheap, and make smutty, silty, polluting factories far away from home. A diseased populace also cannot help themselves.

World government sneaks
Many people are against 'world government', but they don't know what form that has taken, so it means little. It's market-driven. Many industries prefer to have international standards, so that
a. they confront similar facilities and methods across the world (think air traffic control, for instance, or airplane repair) and
b. their insurers continue to insure them.

There is an International Standards Organization already. It does a lot of good for companies, cuts their costs over time (but not immediately) and creates worker and public safety. If there is a conspiracy, it is the conspiracy of international insurance and standard practices. And that's pro-business but anti-risk. Not a bad set of conspirators.

For the conspiracies of the UN,  think tanks, the liberal left and the conservative right, etc, see thermodynamics above.

Last of all: three thoughts:
It can't be wrong to be clean. If not for climate, then for public health. How clean, it would be nice to know.

One crazy editorial I read had one very good point. What the Earth does is separate from what we believe. It doesn't matter what we prefer. It only matters what's true. Whatever that is.

Forecasting correctly is a great help to business and the economy. (For instance, do you want your ship running into a hurricane?) So we want to know what's true. Not what's exciting. Not what's expedient.

Answer to the title question: Nobody yet. They're working on it.

4 comments:

Bob G. said...

Ann:
I wonder how MANY of these scientists are thinking about a little something that happened about 125,000 years ago...the earth tilted slightly on it's axis and that changed the orbit about our sun.

The resulting affects were...(drum roll)...CLIMATE CHANGE!
(ta-daaaaa)
Who knew?

Maybe we're just going through another "tilt"...and how in the world (pun intended) can "we" hope to avoid THAT, eh?

NO amount of "greening" will change anything this old planet wants to do in that case...we're just along for the ride, kapeesh?

Good post...like the differing views.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.,
I surely can't deny the earth is on a tilt! And, things are getting more off-kilter all the time!

Ann T.

the observer said...

Ann T

All I ask about climate change stuff:

1. Do honest science, not "political science";

2. Don't use "Green" to become totalitarian or dictatorial, or to take from one group and give to another or to deny opportunity.

3. Don't ask me to worship the earth. That is against my religious convictions.

Let's take care of the place we live in. That makes sense, and jives with the idea of stewardship, present in monothiestic religions including Christianity.

The Observer

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
You bring up some very good points.

1. The politicization of these issues is related to a fund-raising that is totally out of control. Almost all of our hot-button issues attract partisan policy groups, and oh my word. A screamed truth with a detachable donation slip at the bottom is a bad sign.

2. Our puritan side has started dictating moral imperatives. So far, in my condo, you are seen as horrible if you don't use long-last light bulbs.

They don't work the same, but nobody is talking about that. They're also full of mercury, and nobody talks about that either. Countries trying to get going hear the same thing by the bushel.

3. The new agers or hmmm, whatever, have gone into that Gaia thing, and it's not necessary. It is a metaphor that separates us, and upon inspection, does seem awfully silly (or even, scandalous).

I so treasure a rational conversation, and it does seem to be an ideal receding in the distance.

Thank you very much for writing in.
Ann T.