Climategate: Dangers Of Relying On Manipulated Science
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 9, 2009
We have written many stories and given many speeches related to sustainability, and since sustainability is not a new concept we were often asked, “Why now? Why the sudden interest in the subject?”
The answer, clearly, was global warming. This both directly created urgency and created the basis for expected government action, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade which, in turn, made business leaders certain they needed to get ahead of the issue.
The recent news reports regarding the release — either by a hacker or a leaker, it is a little unclear — of a large number of e-mails and other data from the Hadley Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia has come to be called Climategate.
Just as a “third-rate burglary” known as Watergate brought down a President, the release of these e-mails may well break the global consensus regarding anthropomorphic global warming.
In our reading about global warming, the data and models coming out of CRU were not trivial; they were the key data and key model that informed the case for global warming around the world. It was the data the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relied on for its report, and this report was the basis for almost all government policy in this area. Even the EPA relied on this British data.
Now with some confidence we can say the following:
1. The faculty members who were most influential in this area did not behave as scientists. They were advocates for a position and intent on stifling dissent. They were willing to manipulate the numbers to get the outcome they wanted. They simply became detached from real science.
2. They manipulated the peer review process and so acted to prevent those who came to different conclusions from them from being published and denied data to independent researchers.
3. They were willing to break the law by conspiring to destroy data subject to the British equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request.
4. The models they used did not, in fact, produce the results they published. Manual interventions were made so that these “buggy” models would come out with the “correct” answer.
5. They destroyed or disposed of the raw data on which all the research was based, thus preventing any third party from either confirming or contradicting their findings. In a sense we are no longer in the realm of science, we are in the realm of faith when we look at their data.
Although many are going on as if all this doesn’t matter, it most decidedly does. Of course, it does not prove there is no global warming but it means the scientific foundation for belief in anthropomorphic global warming is so weak that there is no basis for the world to adopt exceedingly expensive policies to fight global warming.
Really the science needs to be looked at from square one.
This won’t kill off sustainability as that has morphed into a kind of business management system that involves consciousness of all costs.
It is a word of warning to the industry about the dangers of relying on science. When science can be manipulated on the scale of global warming, everyone is at risk, and we are seeing a related issue in the pesticide regulation in Europe, some of which we discussed here.
The danger is the widespread adoption of something called The Precautionary Principle, which basically encourages action to protect the environment even when the science doesn’t justify it.
Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal wrote a great column on the matter, called Climategate: Science Is Dying:
I don’t think most scientists appreciate what has hit them. This isn’t only about the credibility of global warming. For years, global warming and its advocates have been the public face of hard science. Most people could not name three other subjects they would associate with the work of serious scientists. This was it. The public was told repeatedly that something called “the scientific community” had affirmed the science beneath this inquiry. A Nobel Prize was bestowed (on a politician).
Global warming enlisted the collective reputation of science. Because “science” said so, all the world was about to undertake a vast reordering of human behavior at almost unimaginable financial cost. Not every day does the work of scientists lead to galactic events simply called Kyoto or Copenhagen. At least not since the Manhattan Project….
… The East Anglians’ mistreatment of scientists who challenged global warming’s claims — plotting to shut them up and shut down their ability to publish — evokes the attempt to silence Galileo. The exchanges between Penn State’s Michael Mann and East Anglia CRU director Phil Jones sound like Father Firenzuola, the Commissary-General of the Inquisition.
For three centuries Galileo has symbolized dissent in science. In our time, most scientists outside this circle have kept silent as their climatologist fellows, helped by the cardinals of the press, mocked and ostracized scientists who questioned this grand theory of global doom. Even a doubter as eminent as Princeton’s Freeman Dyson was dismissed as an aging crank.
Beneath this dispute is a relatively new, very postmodern environmental idea known as “the precautionary principle.” As defined by one official version: “When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” The global-warming establishment says we know “enough” to impose new rules on the world’s use of carbon fuels. The dissenters say this demotes science’s traditional standards of evidence.
The point is this:
If science is politicized, it won’t stop with global warming. Scientists will be drafted for every political agenda, and that is what is happening with pesticide regulation. Henninger gets the point perfectly:
The Obama administration’s new head of policy at EPA, Lisa Heinzerling, is an advocate of turning precaution into standard policy. In a law-review article titled “Law and Economics for a Warming World,” Ms. Heinzerling wrote, “Policy formation based on prediction and calculation of expected harm is no longer relevant; the only coherent response to a situation of chaotically worsening outcomes is a precautionary policy…”
If the new ethos is that “close-enough” science is now sufficient to achieve political goals, serious scientists should be under no illusion that politicians will press-gang them into service for future agendas. Everyone working in science, no matter their politics, has a stake in cleaning up the mess revealed by the East Anglia emails. Science is on the credibility bubble. If it pops, centuries of what we understand to be the role of science go with it.
If you want some heavy reading, you can review all the released e-mails and data here.
If your taste runs to Jon Stewart, you may get a kick out of his take on Climategate