Posted by: Taylor Hoff | December 13, 2009

Mr. Climate Scientist, Tear Down This Wall!

Here’s something I find interesting and of note, both Bill and Phillip make some interesting points, and I wanted to post the conversation (or argument) on here to demonstrate the kind of debate that needs to be going on right now, which is whether Climate Change should be funded by the government and what kind of things we need to expect from a scientific community whose results aren’t open to the public and other researchers. It doesn’t matter who is right, Climate Change or no, we need a scientific community who treats both sides with respect and works to share information with each other, closed walls and ivory towers make for a situations where the mind can become polarized. An environment where when you look for a result, you often will find it.
-TDH

From Bill Whittle, writer of Eject Eject Eject:

I read a comment on the original post that I thought deserved a brief response. Long time readers know I am incapable of a brief anything.  I actually thought it raised enough interesting points to not have it buried in the comments.

So here’s the original  comment, and my response below:

From PHILLIP:

It seems, for all your criticism of liberals, you’ve only shown your anti-science and intellectual biases.

“a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity”

This is talking about the risks inherent in pure science vs. Applied science, not so much just federal money. Pure science is studying something for it’s own sake (ie, Newton’s studying gravity as a curiosity). Federal funds, particularly in military research, sometimes grasp at the basic pure science questions, but always have the bent towards a practical application. This is what restricts curiosity. It could be said of privately funded R&D, particularly when business fund university research. The novel “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis captures this quite well in it’s character Max Gottlieb.

“The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money”

This is goes back to the issue of funding. Grants are necessary to fund research. Industrial and military grants limit research potential because there is almost always an expectation of certain results, be they practical technologies or monetary gain.

The federal government could give money to answer the basic questions without immediate practical gain, but often as not Congress representatives will protest this, but have no problem backing pork projects in military or highway funding.

“danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.””

Let’s first recall Eisenhower says science should be respected, which the right has often not respected.

Unlike people in business or politics, there is a lot more self reflection by academics of their role in society. Putting aside the social scientists who often try to force there way in, academic scientist usually have the least interest in influencing the whole of society. Note the novelty when Rep. Bill Foster, a particle physicist, replaced Dennis Hastert in Congress.

They’ll often be content in doing their research and presenting the evidence as is. They’ll try to apply their findings to solve societies problems, but often the offices they seek are still within academia and out of the public spotlight or directly involved in public policy.

The scientifc-technological elite is important. This means defense contractors. They have a direct interest in government funding of their projects, but the cost is several times higher than would be pure research, and often benefits from there being more conflict, war, and instability.

Note the F-22 that Obama cut out of the budget. It was a plane for a war long since over, of little use against terrorism, and severely overbudget and over-inflating the pockets of private interest. Yet the businesses that made the plane or it’s parts, and the Congressmembers who received donations or had parts of the plane made in their districts, fought to keep it. This is the influence that Eisenhower is warning us of.

It’s not an EPA scientist measuring pollution or the university physics professor probing the workings of sub atomic particles, or the climate scientists warning us about warming or the biologist writing of evolution. it’s those who try to wield science in a way to put a strangle on our government, it’s polices and its budget of private gain.

Phillip:

I am critically short on time today but I feel that your reasoned answer (well, most of it is reasoned) deserves a response.

It’s a shame you have to lead with the unreasonable — and arrogant — assumption: “..Your anti-science and intellectual biases…” I have been a research assistant for many years. I began teaching Astronomy at the Miami Space Transit Planetarium at age 15. I have been an astronomy research assistant at the University of Florida and I spent several years as a lab technician at Beta Analytic, which is the world’s preeminent Carbon 14 lab. I have spent most of my life using what intellectual powers I possess making science understandable to the layman.

I don’t need to be lectured about anti-science bias. I know what science is, and what it is not. And what is coming out of East Anglia is the PRECISE OPPOSITE of science. When I learned, only through “Climategate,” that the internal algorithms of the computer models were not open to everyone you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Furthermore, you will note that I have not denied that AGW is real, or that it is serious. But the POLITICAL intersection of science has ruined the scientific method — which is a way of thinking — at least at that installation. You don’t think that’s important? I think it is CRITICAL. You cannot wield the sword of science as a politician. POLICY is separate from THEORY, RESULTS and DATA. When scientists become involved in policy decisions, you get Climategate. And you DESERVE Climategate.

Your first point about pure science versus applied science is interesting. If I have a large set of contrary data, and I am doing pure science to try to understand the cause, I do not throw that data away and try to fire publishers that agree with it. If the contrary data points are outliers I can prove that statistically. If not, then I need to modify or scrap the theory. One compelling set of repeatable data can –AND SHOULD — destroy a theory. There is nothing pure science about AGW research.

Furthermore, I utterly reject your assertion that “one kind of science” is susceptible to budgetary pressures while the other kind is not. There is only one kind of scientist, and that is the human kind. All humans make mistakes. Science, when it is allowed to work, corrects most of those mistakes. When scientists know they are right and disregard conflicting views in the manner we have seen, that is not science. That is politics.

You go on to say that “Industrial and military grants limit research potential because there is almost always an expectation of certain results.” That may or may not be true depending on the individual case, but the ENTIRE POINT of the post is to point out that “the expectation of results” is PRECISELY the effect we have seen in East Anglia CRU, and if it is there, (and given the hugely politicized nature of the other climate research centers and their directors) then it is not unfair to assume that the anti-scientific protocols seen at EACRU are present elsewhere. Given the magnitude of the change AGW proponents want to create, and given shocking anti-science activities at one of the leading AGW centers, I would say fair-minded people believe the burden is on you.

You say that “Let’s first recall Eisenhower says science should be respected, which the right has often not respected.” CATEGORICALY TRUE. It’s shameful. That doesn’t impact this argument, but it is a point well taken.

However, when you write “Unlike people in business or politics, there is a lot more self reflection by academics of their role in society” it makes me wonder: have you read what is going on at CRU? Do you not realize how completely and transparently you reveal the bias you have? Scientists certainly DO NOT spend more time on self-reflection than people in politics and business. This assertion on your part goes straight to the heart of why you cannot make your point with just the data. Self-reflection would seem to indicate that there is a problem with the data sets. CRU chose to bury that problem. A SELF-REFLECTIVE person might see that this was a problem. I am NOT saying that the conflict in data means AGW is not happening. I AM saying that a real scientists would have to modify a theory to include contrary data, rather than congratulate themselves on how self-reflective (and therefore correct)they are IN SPITE of contrary data.

Now on to defense contractors. How many do you know? Personally, I mean. How many defense workers do you have drinks and dinner with? For me, it’s quite a few. Because when you say that they have a vested interest in “there being more conflict, war, and instability,” you have shown me you have not the slightest idea what or whom you are speaking of. Yet to make such a statement goes straight to the arrogance and narcissism that got us Climategate.

Defense Contractors have dedicated their lives to making the weapons that keep a society free and safe enough so that science and poetry may thrive. GOT THAT? That’s what they do. They — unlike you — have studied history and conflict, and they — unlike you — have had enough experience out in the real world beyond the bubble of freedom and security that you have spent your life in to know that bad things and bad people are out there trying to get in. They don’t need to be slandered by the likes of you, no matter how subsconciously you do it.

Furthermore, you specific criticism of the F-22 as “a plane for a war long since over, of little use against terrorism,” shows a remarkably poor understanding of the modern battlespace and furthermore carries the same short-sighted arrogance common in scientists: namely, the idea that they way things are now, politically, is the way things will always be. If China, or even Vladimir Putin decides to do something, on his own and for his own demented reasons, then we are left with a choice between A.) fleet of F-22’s or B.) your assurances that those wars are long over. I’ll take A.) I’m not arrogant enough to say what type of wars will never be fought again.

Scientists are good at detecting patterns. Detecting a pattern here, are we Phillip?

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Responses

  1. While I would hardly call it civil, it is at least a dialogue.
    Transparency is the key here. Many scientists studying a topic and sharing data will be more effective than any single government or privately funded venture.


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