Proof-reading vs. climate science

Joss Garman is a climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK and a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He blogs at: www.jossgarman.com.

The respected BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin has published an original but controversial piece criticising the Royal Society, which concludes: “If the great science academies can’t find ways of including the best experts from the blogosphere in their deliberations they may find themselves badly left behind.”

Harrabin draws particular attention to well known “climate sceptic”, Steve McIntyre. He writes, “He has taken on the scientific establishment on some key issues and won. He arguably knows more about CRU science than anyone outside the unit – but none of the CRU inquiries has contacted him for input.”

But I disagree with Roger because the kind of ‘scepticism’ which is the meat and potatoes of bloggers is qualitatively unlike the organized scepticism which questions, refines and replaces theories about how the world works – i.e. it is unlike science.

What most ’sceptics’ do (and I include the benign ones here) is to look for ‘proof’ that confirms their preconceived ideas, looks for inconsistencies in data, bad referencing, sloppy language etc, and in doing so builds up enough of a ‘list of mistakes’ to give themselves and their friends the comforting illusion that they are doing the same as the climate scientists, only better.  But they are not.  They are extremely efficient proof-readers, who mistake book-keeping for an informed understanding of climate science.

Elevating these folk to the same status as professors of oceanography, for example, seems to me completely the wrong reaction to their onslaught.  Proposing to have them undertake reviews and sit in judgment on climate scientists is proposing the death of rational enquiry.  I just don’t think it’s sensible to give people who have no training in a particular scientific discipline, intellectual authority over those who do.  It’s a back-door to censorship by the inter-mob, and to abuse of science by those with a political agenda.

Just ahead of the Copenhagen summit, I wrote in The Times, “Nasa, the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences — once we would have allowed these authoritative, trustworthy, dependable voices to shape those parameters. Instead, the scientists we rely upon have become a target for hackers and death threats. In the face of consumerism, these establishment institutions have been cast in the role of radicals.”

Harrabin would no doubt point out that the Royal Society is now being criticised by some of its own Fellows too, and not just bloggers. But the word is that none of these rebel Fellows are climate scientists, and they’re all refusing to explain publicly why they have doubts. As Bob Ward, the policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at LSE, said, “If these scientists have doubts about the science on climate change, they should come out and speak about it,” and Professor Martin Rees has very openly told the doubters, “It has been suggested that the society holds the view that anyone challenging the consensus on climate change is malicious – this is ridiculous.”

The only named rebel is an electrical engineer and a member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank which refuses to say who funds it even as it seeks greater transparency from scientists, and whose head, Lord Lawson, has explicit links to the fossil fuel industry. Benny Peiser, not a climate scientist but a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University who is the foundation’s director, said in December last year: “We look out of the window and it’s very cold, it doesn’t seem to be warming.”

As the UK’s chief scientist, John Beddington, has said:  “This is just not science, its commentary.”

2 Responses to “Proof-reading vs. climate science”

  1. Harold Forbes

    I went to see another of the “sceptics” Lord Christopher Monckton, debate with Declan Murphy in the City of London last week. Monckton put forward a robust and detailed analysis that seemed to prove there was nothing to worry about. However, I couldn’t help but hear the old saw of lies, dammed lies and statistics go over and over in my head. John Abraham, a US professor of engineering evidently had the same sensation when he heard Monckton speak in Minnesota and decided to check out his arguement. He found that Monckton had misinterpreted and or misrepresented the work of others or simply used unattributed data. You can see the whole piece at http://bit.ly/jpadebcm

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  2. Andy Russell

    It is interesting how many climate change “sceptics” have been elevated in the media despite having little relevant scientific background or evidence of skeptical analysis. (Although maybe this argument falls down as some of my favourite climate bloggers [Deltoid, Skeptical Science, Deep Climate etc.] aren’t climate scientists either!)

    Maybe the big test will be how WUWT? deals with the SurfaceStations issue, which I blogged about here a while ago.

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