ClimateGate: Was Data Faked? – Megan McArdle

ClimateGate: Was Data Faked? – Megan McArdle

Some things are just so good that I hope to forever catalog them in my little blog here… how long the link will last is not quite known, but this exercise in the pros and cons of global warming is excellent.

Some of the comments (particularlly of one Carl Pham) are just pure wisdom…

That’s actually fine as far as it goes. But what you should bear in mind is the key distinction we always teach youngsters between a hypothesis and a decent theory: empirical verification. It’s simply not enough to say oh, A follows logically from B. That’s Aristotelian “science,” the way the Greeks deduced that there were four Elements (fire, water, earth, air) from which everything was made. The same way 18th century chemists came up with the theory of phlogiston to explain combustion. The same reason Michelson expected to find an ether drift.

No, it only becomes plausible theory when you actually run the experiment, and show that B produces A, every time, and not B produces not A, every time. Unless and until you do that, you merely have a plausible speculation.

As you know, the big problem with climate “science” — I’m inclined to call it “climate studies” myself — is that it is impossible to do the relevant experiments. We can’t take a planet and jack up its CO2, then see whether the climate changes relative to some identical planet where we hold the CO2 constant. In the absence of that kind of experimental test, you do not have an empirical science. Yes, the components of climate studies — molecular physics, atmospheric chemistry, complex systems simulations — are all legitimate sciences, because you can do the experiments that directly confirm or contradict the theories. But when you assemble all these pieces into predictions of climate — of what happens to the whole damn planet, over centuries — then, alas, it stops being a science, because the experiments can’t be done. (It’s like theories of history: in the same way, we can’t run history over again, have Truman make a different decision, and see whether lives were on balance lost or saved by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This is why history is not an empirical science.)


2 Responses to ClimateGate: Was Data Faked? – Megan McArdle

  1. hkyson says:

    “Climategate” started out when there appeared on the Internet a collection of e-mails of a group of climatologists who work in the University of East Anglia in England. These documents reveal that some climatologists of international preeminence have manipulated the data of their investigations and have strongly tried to discredit climatologists who are not convinced that the increasing quantities of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are the cause of global warming.

    It is true that a majority of the scientists who study climatic tendencies in our atmosphere have arrived at the conclusion that the world’s climate is changing, and they have convinced a group of politicians, some of whom are politically powerful, of the truth of their conclusions.

    A minority, however, is skeptical. Some believe that recent data that suggest that the average temperature of the atmosphere is going up can be explained by natural variations in solar radiation and that global warming is a temporary phenomenon. Others believe that the historical evidence indicating that the temperature of the atmosphere is going up at a dangerous rate is simply not reliable.

    Such lacks of agreement are common in the sciences. They are reduced and eventually eliminated with the accumulation of new evidence and of more refined theories or even by completely new ones. Such debates can persist for a period of decades. Academics often throw invective at one another in these debates. But typically this does not mean much.

    But the case of climate change is different. If the evidence indicates that global warming is progressive, is caused principally by our industrial processes, and will probably cause disastrous changes in our atmosphere before the end of the twenty-first century, then we do not have the time to verify precisely if this evidence is reliable. Such a process would be a question of many years of new investigations. And if the alarmist climatologists are right, such a delay would be tragic for all humanity.

    The difficulty is that economic and climatologic systems are very complicated. They are not like celestial mechanics, which involves only the interaction of gravity and centrifugal force, and efforts to construct computerized models to describe these complicated systems simply cannot include all the factors that are influential in the evolution of these complicated systems.

    All this does not necessarily indicate that the alarmist climatologists are not right. But it really means that if global warming is occurring, we cannot know exactly what will be the average temperature of our atmosphere in the year 2100 and what will be the average sea level of the world’s ocean in that year.

    It also means that we cannot be confident that efforts by the industrialized countries to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will have a significant influence on the evolution of the world’s climate.

    Alas, the reduction of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would be very costly and would greatly change the lives of all the inhabitants of our planet–with the possibility (perhaps even the probability!) that all these efforts will be completely useless.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

  2. totalterry says:

    I’m not a scientist nor have I even read any of the material leaked from the CRU. And I’ll even agree that there is much at stake here; either environmental damage if AGW is true or trillions of dollars wasted if it is false.

    But what I do know is that many “experts” have been hiding climate data for years… the CRU and NASA have both been the recipient of FOIA requests and both refused.

    What a load of crap.

    If the data is so unquestionable why does it remain unexamined? Wouldn’t an innocent man want the court to see evidence that proves beyond a doubt his innocence? Wouldn’t the subject of criticism rejoice at proving his accusers not just false, but UNQUESTIONABLY false?

    Instead we are asked to trust those who have a vested interest in propping up AGW theories. Careers, funding, and egos are at stake – these are not the sources any rational person would turn to for an objective analysis.

    Show the data.

    Just show the data and if it stands up to critical scrutiny I will be quiet.

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