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The W - Current Events & Politics - Climate Change and the Integrity of Science
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samoflange
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Since: 22.2.04
From: Cambridge, MA

Since last post: 428 days
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#1 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.26
This open letter from members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (sciencemag.org) popped up in in my science news feed this morning. I also saw it linked to from Slashdot (science.slashdot.org). The summary given there is pretty good and there's not much I would add to it so I'll post it here:

    Originally posted by Slashdot post
    ...an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates, decrying the "recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular." The letter lays out the basics of the scientific method, and explains how certainly highly-regarded theories — such as the big bang, evolution, and Earth's origin — are commonly accepted due to the strength of the evidence supporting them, though "fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong." It goes on to "call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them." According to the Guardian, the letter "originated with a number of NAS members who were frustrated at the misinformation being spread by climate deniers and the assaults on scientists by some policy-makers who hope to delay or avoid making policy decisions and are hiding behind the recent controversy around emails and minor errors in the IPCC."


The summary references this Guardian piece (guardian.co.uk).

-------------------------------------------------------

I think the letter is very well written and properly provides the scientific community's point of view on the current state of affairs. I am a science/engineering graduate student with several family members who are in the "anti-science" camp, so this letter addresses a particular sensitive issue for me.

Note: I know the term "anti-science" is very loaded, but I'm not sure of a better term to use to describe the segment of the population that is steadfast in their condemnation of things like evolution and climate change.



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Downtown Bookie
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Since: 7.4.02
From: The Inner City, Now Living In The Country

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#2 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.85
    Originally posted by Slashdot post
    an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates, decrying the "recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular."


Since they're opposed to "political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular" I would presume that they would, of course, also oppose political attacks on those scientists who disagree with the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming.

    Originally posted by Slashdot post
    According to the Guardian, the letter "originated with a number of NAS members who were frustrated at the misinformation being spread by climate deniers...."


Though I suppose that I could be mistaken.



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Mr. Boffo
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Since: 24.3.02
From: Oshkosh, WI

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#3 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.50
Unfortunately, scientists have become like expert witnesses: in theory the idea is good, but in practice with enough money you can find someone who is willing to reach the conclusion that you want them to.

It makes it hard to know who you can trust.
DrDirt
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Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

Since last post: 14 days
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#4 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.56
    Originally posted by Mr. Boffo
    Unfortunately, scientists have become like expert witnesses: in theory the idea is good, but in practice with enough money you can find someone who is willing to reach the conclusion that you want them to.

    It makes it hard to know who you can trust.


Being one of them for almost 20 years, your statement is sort of correct but not really. There is a difference between a scientist/researcher who obtains funding in a competitive grant process either on a public or private level,a scientist while working in an academic setting who accepts funding from an outside entity in a noncompetitive process, and a scientist who goes to work for say the carbonated beverage institute or for a specific company. Academic integrity demands objectivity as does the scientific method in an institute of higher learning or govermentally. The guys working in private settings should theoretically maintain the same standards but often it is hard because of their personal beliefs. And sometimes even in an academic setting their personal desires interfere.

IMO, the problem they have with the abit climate change group is their inserting political belief into science directly. I.e. their interpretations are based on belief, not fact. A similar situation exists in the evolution arena.

Having said that, some "scientists" on the climate change side have been guilty as well.

The problem is really politicians, pundits, and the public who don't understand the scientific method. That is the fault of us as scientists for several different reasons.

Finally, if you want to take your money concern out of it,adequately fund public institutions and the problem would go away.

(edited by DrDirt on 8.5.10 1712)


Perception is reality
TheOldMan
Landjager








Since: 13.2.03
From: Chicago

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#5 Posted on | Instant Rating: 4.86
    Originally posted by Downtown Bookie
      Originally posted by Slashdot post
      an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates, decrying the "recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular."


    Since they're opposed to "political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular" I would presume that they would, of course, also oppose political attacks on those scientists who disagree with the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming.


I don't think that's quite correctly presented. 'Scientists who disagree' have a clear recourse against accepted science - do your own research, and have it published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. As I understand it, that's generally how science works.

While the process wasn't as well developed in the 17th century, Galileo is an example of using scientific methods to overturn the prevailing science of the day, which held that the Earth was the center of the universe.

Even today, you have people arguing that the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old, based on biblical history. This despite the evidence of fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years. 'Intelligent design' has run up against the problem that ultimately it's based on faith - and so incompatible with the standards of scientific proof. So proponents insist we "teach the controversy". There's no controversy, evolution is researched and reviewed - I.D. is unprovable. (Yet school boards are elected, so politics can trump fact.)

For global warming, there is the "Oregon Petition", which purports to be signed by over 31,000 American scientists. Putting aside whose money is behind the organization that promoted the petition, or the often dubious validity of the PhD's and other signators (If my TV Repairman says the problem with my car isn't the carburetor, why would I take his opinion over that of my mechanic?)...

Putting aside those problems with the petition... it's just a petition, not peer-reviewed research. The accepted avenue of publishing contradictory research remains open to every one of those signers.

But you can't use George Will's trick of cherry picking data to retroactively fit your pre-existing beliefs.




lotjx
Scrapple








Since: 5.9.08

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#6 Posted on | Instant Rating: 1.62
Scientist now are what witches were in the dark ages. People don't understand it, so they lash out. It hasn't gotten any better thanks to the past administration. I also understand that not all findings are going to be a like, there a number of different variables that go into something like climate change where data is not going to come up the same. However, living on the east coast and getting dumped with 40 inches of snow in two weeks, as well as it being 38 degrees today and the continual global problems like Tawain seeing a rise in their sea levels makes me believe we have a problem. I have no problem with the petition since the scientific community has been talking it on the chin for the last decade, if they want to fight back I say let them.
samoflange
Lap cheong








Since: 22.2.04
From: Cambridge, MA

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#7 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.27
The point is that the scientific community shouldn't have to fight back against anything. The general public does not understand the scientific process because it is not depicted on television news where sensationalism rules. The process is based on gathering evidence and making conclusions from that evidence and is anything but sensational.

Of course there are going to be some conclusions that go one way and some that go another way. That is inherent to the process. We don't know the answers and are looking down every possible pathway to find them. But, when enough evidence has been gathered to support a particular branch of these conclusions to a far greater degree than the rest, it follows that more attentions should be paid to these conclusions than the others. Nothing should be abandoned, but progress does not come from dismissing what is evident and looking instead into alternative conclusions.

Believe me, scientists of every discipline are well aware of any argument that challenges their work in their area of expertise. Every question I've ever fielded after a presentation or publication has been designed to be in direct opposition to one of my points. That is peer review, it is how we keep ourselves in check. Careers are made on challenging old concepts and proving your predecessors wrong. Part of a scientist's job is to confront these challenges head on and show why they are or are not valid. If they are seen to be valid, they are further explored and followed. That is the scientific process. That is how current theories were developed over the years.

Currently, the public hears about arguments in support of and in opposition to topics like climate change and evolution at a nearly equal frequency. That ratio does not even come close to the makeup of the scientific community. News stories say "some experts conclude A" but never say "but the majority of experts in the field conclude B." Certain lobbies support the minority opinions and use their influence to promote them. But, these influences have no bearing on the scientific process themselves. They are like fans at a sports game. They can yell and scream all the want, drawing the attention of other fans, but they can't directly affect the game itself. But if they are exceptionally loud and obnoxious, they can eventually affect the game, and it is almost always a detriment to the performance.



Lloyd: When I met Mary, I got that old fashioned romantic feeling, where I'd do anything to bone her.
Harry: That's a special feeling.
DrDirt
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Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

Since last post: 14 days
Last activity: 2 hours
#8 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.56
    Originally posted by lotjx
    I have no problem with the petition since the scientific community has been talking it on the chin for the last decade, if they want to fight back I say let them.


Part of the reason that we are taking it on the chin is our fault. First we want everyone to know how smart we are and use terminology and provide answers that an average individual can't understand. Second, we have a tendency to be a bit aloof and above it all. Third, we need to reach out and make the complex understandable and essentially blitz the media to help people get it and realize that science can be interesting. Finally, we need to do a better job in K-12 and higher education making sure nonscience majors have the basic tools and concepts to understand what is presented to them as citizens.



Perception is reality
samoflange
Lap cheong








Since: 22.2.04
From: Cambridge, MA

Since last post: 428 days
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#9 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.27
    Originally posted by DrDirt
    Part of the reason that we are taking it on the chin is our fault. First we want everyone to know how smart we are and use terminology and provide answers that an average individual can't understand. Second, we have a tendency to be a bit aloof and above it all. Third, we need to reach out and make the complex understandable and essentially blitz the media to help people get it and realize that science can be interesting. Finally, we need to do a better job in K-12 and higher education making sure nonscience majors have the basic tools and concepts to understand what is presented to them as citizens.


Since getting more involved through grad school I've gradually come to see this as a huge problem, too. So much so that I recently decided to opt out of a career in academia or industry and will instead be pursuing a career as a science journalist and teacher instead. When the average person doesn't even know how their refrigerator gets cold, there's not much hope of making judgments on complex issues with real societal impacts.



Lloyd: When I met Mary, I got that old fashioned romantic feeling, where I'd do anything to bone her.
Harry: That's a special feeling.
bash91
Merguez








Since: 2.1.02
From: Plain Dealing, LA

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#10 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.26
    Originally posted by samoflange
    The point is that the scientific community shouldn't have to fight back against anything. The general public does not understand the scientific process because it is not depicted on television news where sensationalism rules. The process is based on gathering evidence and making conclusions from that evidence and is anything but sensational.



This statement is what troubles me the most about what you are trying to argue because it, along with the letter, are trying to change the terms of the debate from policy to science. As I see it, the problem isn't with the science, it is with the policy decisions that are made based on that science and those decisions should be debated and contested. From my perspective, the "scientific community" (quotes because I'm not willing to grant the existence of some sort of unitary community based on science any more than I'm willing to grant that those opposed to irrational policy decisions are anti-science) has made claims that have specific policy implications and aren't willing to defend those policies, instead retreating to a position of "We are Scientists. Believe us."

Let me put it another way to make my position clearer. I don't have the math( 3 semesters high school calculus and 2 more in college) or the climate science background to be able to make any kind of truly informed assessment on my own. I'm forced to rely on others with better qualifications to assess the material and so can only make decisions based on their expertise and persuasive ability. In that arena, I'm following and agreeing with what you are calling the scientific process.

On the other hand, I do have the math and statistics to understand modeling and the accuracy and utility of models. When I look at the kind of fudge factors that are currently seemingly required in every climactic model, I can comfortably say those models aren't worth much. I can also comfortably say that those models have minimal predictive utility given that, so far, the models haven't actually correctly predicted much of anything. In other words, the only way the models work is retroactively and only then with enough kludging to call the whole model into question.

The problem then is how much of this scientific process should I take into account when considering POLICY choices derived from that science. That's where I see the real problem. First, Science does not necessarily lead to good policy. Second, policy arguments are significantly different than scientific arguments and good science may not be good policy. If I think that the science, in the form of what has been explained to me by those with better qualifications is good, how much of a role should that play in my policy choices? On the other hand, if I know that the science, in the form of the models, is junk, how much of a role should that play in my policy choices? When the two are combined, how much weight should I give to each position in my policy choices? I don't know and neither do the scientists.

With that in mind, we come to my biggest problem with both the letter and the underlying arrogance that it reveals. When the science clearly doesn't work at a macro level (the models don't accurately predict), how can we justify making massive policy decisions based on that science. You don't have to be, and I'm not (being married to someone with a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering and who is admitted to the patent bar should be sufficient proof) anti-science to be strongly against some of the policy proposals being advanced based on that flawed science. I don't think it unreasonable to say we might want to wait until the models actually work before committing a significant chunk of GDP to solving the problems that the non-functional models predict.

Tim





Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. -- Erasmus

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DrDirt
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Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

Since last post: 14 days
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#11 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.56
bash91, in theory what you say makes perfect sense but there is a problem. If we wait till we have 100% proof or somthing close, it may be too late to effect the change. In other words, if we see if the models are correct and they are, were screwed. Add into that the fact that many of the changes needed would benefit us in other ways (less dependence on foreign oil, cleaner air for urban areas, etc.)we really benefit even if it proves not to be true.

And given what you state re modelling is true, we have enough empirical evidence now to state with certainty we are in some fashion headed down a bad path.



Perception is reality
samoflange
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Since: 22.2.04
From: Cambridge, MA

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#12 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.27
Models that go out beyond a certain point involve far too much extrapolation. As far as I understand, that point is typically around 10 years. If you see these models with the statistical error analysis included, this is obvious. Such figures are rarely presented to the public because they make the figures look more complicated and the public requires simplicity. Accompanying explanations should reference error analysis, but such things typically get cut because they are boring and dry and temper responses.

The impact scientific conclusions should have on immediate public policy is something that I am in no way qualified to answer. I know chemistry, I don't know economics or public policy. It should be the job of those involved in public policy, and the job of the public itself who votes on such things, to listen objectively to the information and predictions being made and then to decide on the best course of action. My issue is not so much with industry and government not responding strongly enough, it is with those parties that seek to bury the issue under falsely constructed arguments.



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Since: 9.12.01
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#13 Posted on | Instant Rating: 9.01
When was the last time you went to the store to buy a Twinkie and found out that they were out of stock?

That's a predictive model, right there. At one point it was probably crap, but now they know when and where to ship Twinkies all over the country.

You don't start with perfection - but you can see general trends. Over time you smooth out the steady state - and only get surprised by spikes.

Climate models are still working on the steady state but should not be ignored. We're still more than likely going to find a Twinkie on the shelf when we need one.




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Peter The Hegemon
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Since: 11.2.03
From: Hackettstown, NJ

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#14 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.04
    Originally posted by bash91

    Let me put it another way to make my position clearer. I don't have the math( 3 semesters high school calculus and 2 more in college) or the climate science background to be able to make any kind of truly informed assessment on my own. I'm forced to rely on others with better qualifications to assess the material and so can only make decisions based on their expertise and persuasive ability. In that arena, I'm following and agreeing with what you are calling the scientific process.

    On the other hand, I do have the math and statistics to understand modeling and the accuracy and utility of models. When I look at the kind of fudge factors that are currently seemingly required in every climactic model, I can comfortably say those models aren't worth much. I can also comfortably say that those models have minimal predictive utility given that, so far, the models haven't actually correctly predicted much of anything.



Oh, if only among all of the world's experts on the subject of climate change, there were a few people who had taken two semesters of college calculus! Then they'd have seen the flaw in their conclusions!

Or, alternatively, these people know more about it than you do, and when they tell us that the models have a high level of certainty, they actually know what they are talking about.

I mean, I'm sorry if the sarcasm is overblown, but the reality is that the experts are basically all saying the same thing, and that the models in fact have been correctly predicting a lot.
DrDirt
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Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

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#15 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.56
Peter The Hegemon is essentially correct. The vast majority of models are pointing to the same overall thing re climate change. The may differ on the finers points but it is as Guru states it. At Ohio State we (as in PhD students) were going to the Battelle institute in the mid to late 1980's and the predictions and what models were forecasting haven't changed much in 20+ years and are pretty much right on.

I really don't want to get into it as it usually devolves quickly but the minority anti-climate change people are as reliable with actual facts as the creation scientists.

Personally, I would love it if Global Warming was proven untrue but shrinking icecaps, sinking tropical islands, and more extreme weather argure differently.



Perception is reality
Eddie Famous
Andouille








Since: 11.12.01
From: Catlin IL

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#16 Posted on | Instant Rating: 5.59

    Originally posted by samoflange
    Models that go out beyond a certain point involve far too much extrapolation. As far as I understand, that point is typically around 10 years. If you see these models with the statistical error analysis included, this is obvious. Such figures are rarely presented to the public because they make the figures look more complicated and the public requires simplicity. Accompanying explanations should reference error analysis, but such things typically get cut because they are boring and dry and temper responses.


Except we DO get "results" from centuries ago that this type of weather "has never happened before". When there is no way of knowing whether it has or hasn't. Is there a 300-year cycle? We can't possibly say because we didn't even have the planet mapped then, let alone have reliable recorded data.

This shouldn't be read to say that change isn't happening.

However, comparing skeptics to "creation scientists" is pure elitist garbage, and one of the reasons people tend to ignore arrogant scientists on any level.



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DrDirt
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Since: 8.10.03
From: flyover country

Since last post: 14 days
Last activity: 2 hours
#17 Posted on | Instant Rating: 7.56
    Originally posted by Eddie Famous
      Originally posted by samoflange
      Models that go out beyond a certain point involve far too much extrapolation. As far as I understand, that point is typically around 10 years. If you see these models with the statistical error analysis included, this is obvious. Such figures are rarely presented to the public because they make the figures look more complicated and the public requires simplicity. Accompanying explanations should reference error analysis, but such things typically get cut because they are boring and dry and temper responses.


    Except we DO get "results" from centuries ago that this type of weather "has never happened before". When there is no way of knowing whether it has or hasn't. Is there a 300-year cycle? We can't possibly say because we didn't even have the planet mapped then, let alone have reliable recorded data.

    This shouldn't be read to say that change isn't happening.

    However, comparing skeptics to "creation scientists" is pure elitist garbage, and one of the reasons people tend to ignore arrogant scientists on any level.


Take a breath, I did not say skeptics were comparable to creation scientists. I said anti-climate change people. Those who dismiss the possibility that it is happening. All scientists are (should be)skeptics if they are doing their job properly. They are not in the taking sides business but the finding out and figuring out stuff business.

And thank you, it's not often that research/extension crop production agronomists are considered elitist. Garbage laden maybe but not elitist.



Perception is reality
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I suggest you watch it. It's a very moving piece, hard to get through a times, but it's a poingant view of the day.
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