Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Climategate, sure! But... Amazongate!?

Thank you, Ron Bailey, for bringing even more dereliction of scientific duty to my attention today.

I honestly don't know that I really understand why the "climate change" issue is so prone to such extreme dishonesty, but here's where we stand:
  1. Climategate: A series of hacked or whistle-blown emails released to the public showing that East Anglia University Scientist, Phil Jones and his a team of prominent climatologist have a pattern of deliberately obfuscating their data by manipulating models, colluding to block "skeptical" scientists from being peer-reviewed (conveniently allowing the "consensus" scientists to claim that there aren't many peer-reviewed "skeptics"), and, as if that weren't bad enough - there's evidence to suggest that these same scientists were purposefully trying to avoid full compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests to prevent skeptical researchers from obtaining and trying to replicate their results.
  2. Glaciergate: The IPCC used a plagarized quote from a 1999 article in "New Science" magazine to extrapolate that the Himalayan Glaciers would have all melted away by 2035. Turns out that the scientists studying the glaciers have since realized that this isn't actually true and while the glaciers are melting (as one might expect in a long term warming trend that follows an ice age, right?), they aren't going to disappear in 25 years. The IPCC, of course, went for hyperbolic hysteria and left science at the door.
  3. Hurricanegate: In 2007, the IPCC claimed based on little to no evidence that hurricanes & other severe weather anomalies would worsen due to global warming. As a result, the UK and other nations pledged hundreds of billions of dollars to help the 3rd world cope... By which I mean they assuaged their undeserved guilt to the tune of a few hundred billion. Turns out, there's no credible evidence to substantiate that claim. I'll be expecting an apology from Al Gore.
  4. Amazongate(!): Yeah... That's right, Amazongate. The IPCC, in a flagrant display of being entirely brainless as a group, raised the alarm that 40% of the Amazon rainforest would be destroyed by the effects of global warming. Where did they get their figures? From an advocacy paper by a group working within the World Wildlife Fund, of course!
Yeah, that reminds me of a college Biology teacher I had who voiced some obviously ridiculous number of acres of rainforest being destroyed each year in class. At the time I wrote down the number and then Googled (cool thing having laptops in the classroom, huh?) the amount of rainforest that existed in the amazon... Then for fun, I looked up the surface area of the Earth itself.

Know what I found? For my bio professor's figure to have been correct, essentially about 70% of the planet would have had to have been covered in rainforest, and all of it would have had to have been destroyed between about 1965 and 2004. I wish I'd saved my notes on that... I can't remember the figures involved, but believe me, it was massive.

To this day, I don't know if he was being deliberately misleading & alarming or if he just simply made an error and said like "thousand" instead of "hundred" or something to that effect.

(Coming soon to a park bench near you!)

Regardless, there seems to be a pattern, and it's the same pattern religious people follow to get people to believe in their faith much of the time. Hyperbole is immaterial to people who are evangelizing their ideological position because what matters is that people are scared into some kind of action. It doesn't matter if the basis for that action is true or false, it only matters that people just get on board and do what the evangelicals want. I have a ton of "skeptic" (as in Michael Shermer, not related to global warming) friends who I'm regularly disappointed by purely because in reality they aren't consistent skeptics at all!

They suffer some of the worst types of hubris and confirmation bias primarily because they are unwilling to believe that the high priests of their religion - scientists - are capable of being corrupt, greedy or in some cases, just plain wrong. There is a really serious tendency towards believing all kinds of incredulous things simply because that belief is the dogma of the day. Now ironically, named skeptic above Michael Shermer has written books about why people believe stupid things... In his books, he's usually referring to why people believe in woo-woo nonsense like dousing rods, psychics, ghosts and even "god". Then of course there is the "God Delusion" author, Richard Dawkins to come to terms with a well. Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and many other scientists & philosophers of science have all covered this topic at length.

But almost never do they even acknowledge, much less deal with the wide-spread reality, that even scientists and fans of science... Even people who are self-described skeptics, can have major blind spots when the ridiculous belief is something they are emotionally attached to.

And let's be honest, Global Warming has hugely religious and extremely emotional undercurrents, doesn't it?

On the one hand, there's the arrogance of humanity that we have this massive power to alter a 4 Billion year-old planet with just a century of driving cars and using electricity. There's the guilt component because rich westerners so often feel (or claim to feel) bad about being so much wealthier and having so much higher a standard of living than other people around the world - though they almost never recognize *why* that happened, and instead reduce it to either some Marxist polylogism and say that certain groups/classes/races/nations were born poor and exploited, or they'll blame it on "Capitalism". Neither of which are true, of course... But some people just aren't that good at self-analysis. Additionally, there's the emotional issue of being invested in "saving the planet", and doing all sorts of other "good works".

At any rate, I view most of the "save the world" business as primarily religious. It is clothed in religious language, it's a supremely belief-driven issue, it's adherents have unshakable faith - either in their god or in some other "higher power" like government. And like all religions, all those who question its fundamental truths are treated like heretics and heathens, cast out and exiled (in this case, prevented from getting peer-review or tenure), and all evidence that runs contrary to the common dogma should be purged.

I suspect that that is the underlying psychology behind all this, but it is really very bad for everyone. It's bad for science and scientists because the public is rapidly losing faith in their credibility - I actually think this is good though, since I strongly believe people need to spend more time questioning "experts" rather than just sheepishly bleating the party-line. It's bad for the public though, because a lot of scientists aren't in the "save the planet" business, but the "doing good research" business. And those people are going to lose out if people start thinking all scientists are as slimey as the bunch who've been messing about in Climatology.

ALSO... In general, it's really not the scientists at fault here, but rather the "intergovernmental" politicians who write these so-called IPCC Reports.

Funny isn't it, that the minute government people get involved with things like this "science" is thrown out the window in favor of propaganda that gets the most hyperbolic, alarmist sentiments out to the public. I wonder what incentive they might have for alarming people... Couldn't possibly be used to drum up support for people giving even more power and money to politicians, now could it?


[Bonus "I told you so" Blog: The Oh-So-Unbiased IPCC Report Process from Nov. 21st, 2007]

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