Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kruse on Science

Michael Kruse makes some very interesting observations and some very valid points in his piece on the current relationship between politics, science, and money, in America.

Selected excerpts:
Centuries ago Renee Decartes wrote, “A man is incapable of comprehending any argument that interferes with his revenue.” Thus the lobbyist we will have with us. Almost any public policy change has financial consequences for multiple parties. Some stand to benefit directly, while others will lose. Some will see competitor’s fortunes aided, while some will see competitor’s fortunes reversed. Competing interests are going to pursue courses that maximize their positions.

Within the climate change debate, frequent mention is made of Exxon’s efforts to “muddy the waters” on climate change science as they seek to limit regulation on their industry. Whenever a scientist or policy wonk publicly questions climate change, bloggers and media sources are quick to identify that the contrarian receives grants from firms and institutions that would stand to benefit from a muddied climate change science. These are legitimate issues to investigate insofar as they go but it only answers part of the “follow the money” question. To answer the other part we need to look into the very human enterprise of science.

The problem is that the determination of what is a “problem” becomes less a scientific question than a political one. If you want to get funding you better study what the funders see as “the problem.“ The late 1970s were a time of focused efforts in studying and developing energy alternatives. It was during the 1970s that Energy Secretary James Schlesinger became interested in the possible impacts of fossil fuels on global climate change; or as it was known then, “global cooling.” The global temperature had been declining from the 1940s to the 1970s and it was feared that emissions were blocking the suns heating capabilities, thus putting us into an ice age.

James Hansen of NASA indicated in congressional testimony in 1988, that we could expect the temperature to increase nearly 3 degrees C (well over 5 degrees F) in the next fifty years. It was an exaggeration by about a multiple of four. He later justified his extreme scenario because he needed to get the attention of policy-makers who were largely unaware of the “problem” of global warming.

Scientists advance in their fields by publishing in peer reviewed journals. The reviewers are people who have established a track record of publication and are believed to be experts in their fields. They are also people who have been competing for federal funding dollars with everybody else. They review your article that challenges the conventional wisdom about global warming and reject the article as flawed or in some way “unscientific.” The scientific community is a relatively tight knit community and suddenly you find you can’t get any of your research published. No publication eventually means no job; or at least no advancement.

MIT scientist Richard Lindzen wrote:

To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air.

Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.

So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear.

Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers. (Richard Lindzen, “A Climate of Fear,” Wall Street Journal, April, 2006)

In the meantime, politicians benefit by being able to build themselves as protectors of the people against malevolent forces. The sensationalist media benefits financially by being able to feed a steady diet of news stories and “investigative” studies that create anxiety and increase the number of viewers. The UN, the parent institution of the IPCC that periodically publishes the climate science reports, stands to benefit much in terms of prestige and power by becoming a global manager of economies. Some large corporations would benefit from seeing their competitors saddled with heavy regulations.

The bottom line is that the adage of “follow the money” is an important one but it alone can’t answer the question of legitimacy. Science has become such a big industry that almost all research, not just climate change, is funded by someone and these “someones” all have their own interests. In the end, the attempt to discredit opponents by identifying funding sources ends up being a game of mutually assured destruction.


Buz said...

(I will try this again...)

What should be obvious is that in any community or association, ego and desire for power, not truth, is what ultimately drives the decisions on what to do and how to do it. That is just as true in the scientific community as it is in the political or religious arena.

Which should be a wake-up call for those believe in "science" rather than religion, because science tells us the truth and religion doesn't.

In Michael Crichton's book "State of Fear" one appendix (I think it was "A") is devoted to the verification of all the charges he makes in the book. Some of the articles cited were govt. studies on govt. web-sites, which goes to prove that the govt. knows than most of the "Global Warming" religion is a hoax at best. Interestingly enough, after the book was published, those sites with the reports were removed.

A second appendix ("B", I believe) was devoted to case histories of what happens when the govt. takes those "scientific" pronouncements and acts upon them ... including forced sterilizations and executions to do what is "scientifically correct."


David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

What happened to your site? The link isn’t working.

Buz said...

Well, no one was reading it, and when I tried to get in, BlogSpot put up a new page that was so full of junk that it took me several minutes to even find where to edit the blog. Then it tried to force me to move to GMail. So far, everything that I have gotten from GMail has been spam. I figured that I didn't need all that extra hassle. They had something that worked and they broke it, so I left. If they get it fixed, I might rejoin.

Besides, I always have the Buzdor Institute for Applied Philosophy at ... if I want to get on and rant, I can go there.


Buz said...

(I also noticed that your comment hack is going to the oldest comments rather than the newest ... I don't have that code handy, but iirc there is a sort in it, might want to check that.)


David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

When I switched to the new Blogger, I changed the recent comments to Bloggers recent comment feed. There must be a bug in their feed because it was working, slow, but working, before and now it is broke. I’ll wait and see if they fix it.

Nobody reads most blogs, but that doesn’t stop us from opining. Didn’t you know blogs are for writing, not reading?

Buz said...

I suppose you are correct about blogs. However, writing when no one cares to read is like standing on the street corner and shouting at passers by. If you have a real message like "in 40 days God will destroy Ninevah", then even if no one listens, you gotta do it. But if you just are shouting to hear the sound of your own voice, then I think it is a sign of arrogance and you should probably save your breath.

Besides, I consider my wisdom to be a thing of great value. I will not waste it on those who will not treasure it. That is probably a greater arrogance than shouting on the street corner, but so be it.