Will the AGW fraud discredit science?

In response to the mounting evidence of fraud, data falsification, and criminal conspiracy by the “hockey team” clique of climatologists pushing anthropogenic-global-warming (AGW) theory, there has been serious and concerned speculation that the collapse of this scam may damage the credibility of science in general.

This is a reasonable thing to be concerned about, given that the species of toxic slime mold known as “creationists” have been oozing all over the blogosphere with suggestions that evolutionary biology is just as bogus. I think there are three important lessons to be drawn here: one is some reassurance from the history of major scientific frauds, another is a heuristic about when we should be suspicious of “science”, and a third is the importance of transparency.

There have been major scientific frauds before. You have to go back a ways to match the AGW fraud in scale and audacity, but the nearest parallel example — Lysenkoism — is instructive in several ways.

The good news, for those inclined to worry, is that Lysenkoism did no permanent damage to science or its reputation. It failed to cast biology into disrepute because it became understood as a political creation serving political ends. Not that non-politicized frauds have been more damaging — Piltdown Man, anyone? — but the example of Lysenkoism is reassuring. It suggests that the political angle of AGW (that is, its close association with environmental statism) will mitigate the long-term consequences of its collapse.

Lysenkoism is also instructive in another way. It teaches us a lesson which, if heeded, might have accelerated the exposure of the AGW fraud — or, perhaps, prevented it from getting traction in the first place. The lesson is this: always, always, always distrust the “science” that accompanies a political power grab.

This is actually a narrower category than politicized science. To see how, contrast creationism with AGW. Creationism is certainly politicized science, but it is marginally less noxious than AGW because it is not cannot effectively be used as a rationalization of control by the permanent political class, a weapon against free markets and individual liberty.

For many AGW boosters, as with previous environmentalist scares, rationalizing coercive control was precisely the point. If it saves just one polar bear…and this was our lesson from Lysenko, too. When science becomes the instrument of political ambitions, science is either already corrupted or will be as soon as makes no difference.

Therefore…the next time we hear a ginned-up panic over some vast environmental crisis, the prudent thing to do will be to remember Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” It will be prudent to suspect that the science is probably already corrupted and demand extra-stringent scrutiny of it under that assumption.

(My bet is that the next bogeyman will be “environmental estrogens”. Watch for it…and remember that I called AGW bullshit back when that was a genuinely prescient and difficult position to take.)

And that brings us to process transparency. I discussed this with particular reference in Open-Sourcing the Global Warming Debate, but there’s another point that deserves attention. Strictly speaking, the rules of science require complete disclosure of all experimental methods, data, and analysis tools so that others can peer-review and replicate the work. We may find it an acceptable to relax those full-disclosure rules to some extent for corporations doing commercially-focused R&D. But that IPR exception should never be granted to scientists whose research touches public policy. Because the stakes are so much higher, disclosure standards must be as well.

If the “hockey team” had been required to make their primary datasets and modeling code available for unrestricted inspection, the AGW fraud could never have turned into a political monster. If Michael Bellesisles had been required to make all his primary data open for inspection, the fraud that was Arming America would never have won a Bancroft Prize. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and full disclosure is the final and deadliest enemy of junk science.

58 thoughts on “Will the AGW fraud discredit science?

  1. Well said. It’s been a lonely road for us climate skeptics who understood the science problems with the CO2 theorey.

    Glad to have all the newcomers on board. 10 years late, but it might not to be to late to avert the disaster of the government/banking seizing more control of the world.

    BTW, being a modeler I also lurk on programming sites, especially this one. Nice to say hello at last!

    David Evans
    http://sciencespeak.com/

  2. “Strictly speaking, the rules of science require complete disclosure of all experimental methods, data, and analysis tools so that others can peer-review and replicate the work.”

    The issue is (and has been essentially since te advent of computers) that the full description is longer and more tedious than can be achieved in a reasonable length journal article. The unremitting complaint is “Well crud, recreating what I did in -that- paper 10 years ago would be nearly impossible.”

    Specifically, minor programmatic details are often not recorded or communicated effectively – and the “correct mathematical approach” is often not precisely equal to the code as-used. Details like which rounding method is the default, or exactly how many digits should be retained are codified in scientific best practices.

    When I was publishing code-intensive work (prior to the explosion of the internet), I essentially compiled every single scrap of information necessary to recreate my publication as an “Unpublished Appendix.” If someone wants to know precisely what I used from reference 47, I have a sheet tabulating the data as used. And the program it was plugged into.

    But this level of detail is most decidedly not standard everywhere. I have had good results in the physical chemistry realm – no one is too excited about their cheesy little programs, nor too cowardly to report “I just used AVG() in Excell vXX.YY” or whatever.

    But science would be tremendously helped by anything remotely like SourceForge.

  3. I don’t think it will have a lasting effect on the scientific community as a whole. But in the short term, while this is fresh in the public memory, it provides an excuse for cynics of legitimate science. Those people are mostly ignorant but there are a lot of them.

  4. Note my comment on your previous entry. Your make some serious mistakes in your analysis of the IDL file: briffa_sep98_d.pro

  5. “When science becomes the instrument of political ambitions, science is either already corrupted or will be as soon as makes no difference.”

    That’s a great point made quotable. Thanks!

  6. > the species of toxic slime mold known as “creationists”

    On one hand you stand up with the naysayers of one field of science in the name of openness, and good science; and on the other you go calling another group of naysayers names?

    Evolution has more holes in it than a sive, and is far from absolute.

    I don’t care if you hate what they stand for; I don’t care if you disagree with their science; but I don’t see you as needing to call them names.

    debate is good for all science, evolution included

  7. Great post.

    Madoff’s “Computer Guys” were recently arrested for falsifying and fabricating financial data, but Madoff’s $40 Billion Ponzi Scheme is chump change compared to the fraud that the Cap and Tax Bill the U.S. Congress is trying to shove down the American taxpayers’ throats.

    Not sure which is more reprehensible: lying about financial data or lying about scientific data.

  8. Jeremiah (November 26th, 2009 at 5:02 am): I think you have hit an important point. Evolutionists have seldom shied away from debating creationists, AGWers have positively tried to shut up even the mildest signs of doubt…

  9. I’ve looked closely at the Evolution/Creation thing. The science around evolution is pitiful, can’t answer my basic questions (how information is added, how the first cell got started). You might be able to rule creation out as a science… but who makes the rules?

  10. >On one hand you stand up with the naysayers of one field of science in the name of openness, and good science; and on the other you go calling another group of naysayers names?

    Yes, and will continue doing so. Go away, troll.

  11. In Econometrics, authors are required to post their data and code in a Supplementary Information to every published paper. One of the early critics of Global Warming alarmism was Ross McKitrick, an economist specializing in environmental issues.

    A second point: creationists aren’t the only anti-science group out there. I think the anti-vaccine crowd and the various alternate medicine movements pose a greater danger. That’s why it’s important to discredit AGW alarmism on scientific grounds, not treat it as a political dispute.

    BTW, Professor Judith Curry has an interesting take on the dispute at http://camirror.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/curry-on-the-credibility-of-climate-research/. Worth a read.

  12. I think it’s instructive that you (rightly) critisize creationsists, while engaging of their own anti-science tactics of cherry picking and quote(or in this case, code)-mining.

    Lets look at your last couple of posts on the code you claim shows some outright fraud. Which published paper or data is this code used in? If you don’t know, how can you claim to know that any published science has been manipulated.

    Secondly, the manipulation, and decline fudging, is related to paleodendrological records that diverge from measured temperatures around the 40s onwards. This is a known issue, published in Nature by these very scientists. The code you’ve looked through specifically says that this data shouldn’t be used and is articfically corrected, because it doesn’t match observed temperatures.

    Your outrage over “hockey-stick-fakery” seems to mask any objective reviewing of such code, such as where it was ever used, which data was manipulated and what effect this has had on any relevant science.

    Please point out any piece of science published in the IPCC report that has been shown to have fixed or erroneous conclusions due to your viewing of these emails. Thanks!

  13. Creationism is certainly politicized science, but it is marginally less noxious than AGW because it is not cannot effectively be used as a rationalization of control by the permanent political class, a weapon against free markets and individual liberty.

    I think the “cannot” in that sentence is overly optimistic. Creationism is part of an argument for a Christian theocratic approach to government which is absolutely a weapon against individual liberty. That it would initially concentrate on the non-economic aspects of liberty (in particular sexual freedom) means that free markets would be a long way down the list of targets, but you only have to listen to Mike Huckabee to know that they’d get there in the end. Dominionism, which is what creationism purports to argue for is a full-spectrum totalitarian movement.

    Certainly, dominionism is a long way off.

  14. >I think the “cannot” in that sentence is overly optimistic.

    I can replace “cannot” with “has not been” without damage to my general argument, as I think you recognize.

    Even supposing I grant your argument, I think the cases are still different. The link between AGW and coercive politics is far more direct.

  15. >The link between AGW and coercive politics is far more direct.

    Not only more direct, but it’s CURRENTLY coercive, not just wannabe coercive like dominionism.

  16. “Will the AGW fraud discredit science?”,

    It might be premature to assume it will discredit AGW (in the eyes of most people).

  17. Jeremiah Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 5:02 am

    > the species of toxic slime mold known as “creationists”

    On one hand you stand up with the naysayers of one field of science in the name of openness, and good science; and on the other you go calling another group of naysayers names?

    As an athiest, I am generally quite tolerant of people of faith and their beliefs. Their beliefs may, on balance, be beneficial to them and innocuous to me, as long as they are not imposed upon me. However, there is substantial scientific basis for evolution, natural selection, and the Universal epoch. For creationism, there is only faith. Nothing wrong with faith, but it should not be mixed with science. That’s why, in science, we have theories and unknowns (and they are stated as such).

    Evolution has more holes in it than a sive, and is far from absolute.

    Almost nothing in science is absolute. It’s rarely, if ever settled. It’s a pursuit. Nothing is ever just thrown in to a faith-based container, never to be questioned again.

  18. “Specifically, minor programmatic details are often not recorded or communicated effectively…”

    BS. Those “minor programmatic details” are communicated by the source code, and SHOULD be recorded in source control. If they’re not, then it’s the same as if the work was never done — either you can produce it for review, or it never happened.

    I’ve spent six years working on a system that makes relatively simple predictions — how much sales a given store will do in a week. Now, the numbers are only used internally to my employer, so we’re not subject to Sarbanes Oxley, but we can still easily access our code history back 2.5 years and back all six years with some effort. We have our complete issue history; two years easily accessed, all six with some effort.

    Just about every week someone asks “where did this number come from”. We can trace our work through from the original models to the final prediction, and need to explain the process in laymen’s terms.

    If we can do this — with no PhDs on our staff, a technical team averaging just six people, and no claims to be predicting a global disaster — why can’t CRU and other AGW claimants?

  19. BTW — I’m such a stickler for source control that I have one-off code I’ve written for homework assignments under version control.

    If programmers for scientific organizations aren’t professional enough to use source control, why should we trust the results of their code?

  20. >On one hand you stand up with the naysayers of one field of science in the name of openness, and good science; and on the other you go calling another group of naysayers names?

    >Yes, and will continue doing so. Go away, troll.

    Of course Eric is entitled to his own opinion, but not without committing the logical fallacy of ad hominem. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem. This is what happens when science and philosophy are combined into one system.

  21. Why anyone should be surprised by this, I don’t know.

    Twenty years ago, Steve Schneider of Stanford stated that to be effective advocates on the issue of global warming, scientists would have to “offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” His disciples have tried to suppress criticism of the “hockey stick” graph; when that proves impossible and researchers such as Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick expose the graph’s deep flaws, they settle for ignoring or downplaying the problem.

    I find it hard to see how these guys can continue to have a career as scientists.

  22. Corporate R&D is mostly engineering, rather than science. Thus, either it produces a working product (the precise definition of “working” may vary, but only the sponsoring organization’s definition and the market’s definition matter, and the latter only in the case of customer-facing projects) or it doesn’t…and if it doesn’t produce, then the methods behind it are irrelevant to anybody but the people who tried it.

    The epistemological constraints on an engineer are thus easier to meet than those on a scientist. Peer review is still a good thing, but the integrity of the result isn’t dependent on it the way it is in the sciences, because the result is self-verifying.

    ESR says. A telling point. Thank you.

  23. The difference between evolutionary biology and climate science is this:

    On some fundamental issues, evolutionary biology simply says “We don’t know, the data is incomplete. From the data we do have, we can make the following predictions X (exposing bacterial infections to toxins in doses too small to kill them all means that the offspring of the ones that survive develop a resistance to the toxin), Y (By checking mitochondrial DNA, we can trace back the generations of dogs to get a good idea of when they began cohabitating with humans) and Z (by isolating genes that give resistance to diseases and inserting them into plants that don’t have them, those plants gain that resistance).

    Evolution has had more real world predictions come about than any other scientific theory out there; Relativity comes close.

    What set of circumstances created the first eukaryotic cell? We don’t know – we do know that under the right circumstances, we can make proteins from conditions that existed 3 billion years ago, and that those proteins do eventually encapsulate themselves into cell membranes. We do know that eukaryotic cells have a massive competitive advantage over prokaryotic cells, so it likely only had to happen once…and with a mean time between generations of 15 minutes, 3 billion years is a lot of cycles.

    Climate science is trying to reconstruct a continuous proxy of temperatures from tree rings and other tells; unlike the evolutionary record where we know there are gaps, the temperature proxy data is incomplete, suffers from small sample sizes, and is full of inconsistent evidence. We don’t know enough about the data sets to know what they’re telling us, and until recently, filtering out data from noise is problematic as well.

    We don’t have a complete fossil record either, but we can see skeletal and other structures indicating degrees of relation. Birds are the remnant populations of one sub branch of dinosaurs; most of placental mammals come from one source and radiate outwards. We have seed radiative speciation to fill niches in the real world, and invasive species.

  24. Eugenics, in my view, is a closer example of, a supposedly science based, call to shape peoples lives. Its mindset, held by many of the great and good of the western world, contributed to the rise of Nazism. Even today the supposed population problem reflects this mindset. Let us hope, following the CRU revelations, that now AGW will be recognized to be the nonsense that it is.

  25. OT.

    ESR, you mention death threats on an earlier thread. Why did somebody threaten you?

    ESR says: Read my back postings. It will become clear pretty quickly.

  26. I am just wondering: Is AGW really junk science, because one team of experts (let’s say “experts”) did have an agenda?

    Anyway, totally agree with all talk about opening all of science to a greater degree. Have suffered enough from incomprehensible papers with getting basic calculus wrong.

    But why would this discredit science? Science can have an agenda on his own, its for others to debunk it. People caught it? Great. Science wins.

    Last point, who could still believe that AGW itself is junk nomatter what hockey stickers did?

  27. >basic questions (how information is added

    Information is added through random mutation, then unsuccessful mutations pruned through natural selection. Because organisms bearing successful mutations reproduce these mutations, they become incorporated into the new “standard” that yet newer mutations build on.

  28. >Information is added through random mutation, then unsuccessful mutations pruned through natural selection.

    I find that a useful way to speak about this, for people who think of information as somehow conserved, is that selection incorporates the information complexity of the selective environment into the genome.

  29. >I am just wondering: Is AGW really junk science, because one team of experts (let’s say “experts”) did have an agenda?

    No, it’s junk science because the agenda has driven systematic data suppression and fraud. It’s not the agenda itself that matters, it’s the breacjh in standards of scientific conduct. Those have been repeated and severe.

  30. “Eugenics, in my view, is a closer example of, a supposedly science based, call to shape peoples lives.”

    However, it is possible that in practice dysgenic, or anti-eugenic policy outcomes wind up shaping people’s lives as severely as eugenic policies. It is not inconceivable that a genetic signature for higher levels of economic/political self-reliance may someday be discovered.

    Could the libertarian outlook on eugenics lead to less freedom?

  31. > Yes, and will continue doing so. Go away, troll.

    I wasn’t posting to troll

  32. Yes, and will continue doing so. Go away, troll.

    Maurizio was right. You’re shying away, you shier!

    (Heavy sarcasm intended. People who accept the scientific validity of evolution don’t shy away from debate; rather they understand that debating with a lunatic is a futile and hopeless exercise. If you wrestle with a pig, you both get muddy and the pig likes it.)

  33. Remember, God is our Shepherd.

    Which means that we are to God as sheep are to us: An animal that should be manipulated so that it remains ignorant of its fate — to be fleeced or eaten.

  34. > Creationism is certainly politicized science

    Pardon me if that isn’t one of the silliest things I’ve read on this blog.

    There ain’t no science in creationism Eric, “politicized” or otherwise.

    Maybe your category error here sheds some light on your cheerleading for the anti-AGW mob.

  35. I do think the responses to this from economists like the ones from Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen I linked to in your previous post says loads about whether economics is really science.

  36. Well, I have been an Australian Greens voter for more than ten years now and my political persuasion has always made me sympathetic to all environmental and social causes pursued by the Left. But I also studied history and philosphy of science at tertiary level, and this has made me wary of the doom and gloom predictions of this new science called climatology. I have always thought there was an unnecessary rush towards a particular direction whereas science should move slowly and cautiously. As an atheist, I was especially disturbed by what appeared to be a ‘scientific’ crusade. So, with regard to the AGW, I have been sitting firmly on the fence for the last 15 years, rarely expressing an opinion. I’ve finally come out firmly as an AGW critic following the recent revelations.

    As to whether science will be discredited, I don’t think so. Climatology maybe, but not science across the board. I have been reading quite a lot of comments at the Real Climate blog, which has suddenly become very open to criticism, and I can tell you the impression I get is that the consensus among commenters claiming to come from other scientific disciplines is that Climatology has some explaining to do as to how it produced the AGW science. This is quite heartening because it does not appear that other disciplines will allow Climatology to taint the reputation of science and get away with it. They have begun probing slowly at a blog first but, as is the nature of science, there will be greater scrutiny in coming months, years and even decades with an ever growing chorus of criticism of Climatology in scientific circles, journals and books. Science will be discredited if other scientific disciplines do not put the discipline of Climatology under scrutiny.

  37. Yes, Science will be seriously damaged. I have been worried about this for years. How many scientists, science magazines, science journals, science writers etc, have loudly proclaimed their support for and belief in AGW despite the fact that they have no access to the data and no expertise in the analytical methods?

    What we will hear again and again is:

    If you were soooooo sure about AGW and you were wrong, why should I believe your claims and conclusions about virology, astronomy, geology, anthropology, physics, computer science, whatever???

    And you know what? The question is justified. Perhaps the science in the other fields is equally corrupt and inbred. Certainly scientists act like members of a priesthood.

    The only answer is open science. Put all raw data and methods used to analyze the data on the Internet for other to examine, replicate and comment on.

  38. The commercial publishers of the peer reviewed scientific journals had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century where the open source concept is widely understood. Now nearly all of them finally offer the possibility to publish supplemental data electronically, but there are still pretty arbitrary limits on the amount of data that can be posted. I suspect a lot of it has been simply incompetence; some of the old, established dead-trees publishers (I recently realized that Elsevier published Galileo) took a long time to grok web publishing and probably still don’t realize what could be done with databases and primary data. In my field (protein structure and molecular biology) there are some public efforts to collect massive databases of primary data, cross-index it with peer-reviewed publications and make everything available online. The commercial for-profit publishers have seemed relatively useless for a time now, and as the datasets get bigger and bigger the more it looks like it should all just go in an online database along with the articles that describe and analyze it. I’d guess the future looks something like PLoS One.

  39. The other really big scientific fraud, which did unfortunately “win” was Ansel Keys’s crusade against fat and cholesterol which politicians, charlatans and family doctors still preach.

    Science has pretty much disproved most of the theory by now and even back in the 50s through the 70s when the peer review debate went on. However he used many of the same tricks that the CRU club did. Unfortunately heart disease and obesity is way higher today than before it got the government stamp and many people attribute this directly to Ansel Key’s fraudulent science.

    It is cool though that a new generation of young science bloggers are reexamining his results just like climate audit has done for the CRU guys. Like Peter of the HyperLipid blog:

    http://high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com/2009/02/cholesterol-presentation-between.html

    A full historical account of how it happened and how Keys got away with it can be found in Gary Taubes fantastic “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/07/gary-taubes-goo.html

  40. William, Thank you for pointing out the Ad Hominem Fallacy Fallacy. It never ceases to amaze me how many people misunderstand this. Ad Hominem is trying to disprove an argument by attacking the one making the argument. Calling people names might not be nice but it doesn’t necessarily mean bad science – and sometimes it’s necessary in my opinion.

  41. I have always said that belief in catastrophic AGW is much lower amongst those who hold science or engineering degrees than it is in the populace as a whole. Anyone who has ever designed something as simple as a heat sink knows that trying to solve for the temperature of a system as complex as a planetary climate is a fool’s errand given our current state of knowledge. We can use statistical tricks to try to tease out correlations but at best this could eventually lead to an understanding roughly the equivalent of what we now have of how the stock market works. We are a long, long way off from even that level of understanding and anyone who argues differently is not to be trusted. In fact anyone who argues we should rearrange our entire society based on “models” that can predict nothing and who refuse to show their work should be treated as a charlatan and not a serious scientist.

    This much has been obvious all along to anyone who engages in real science or design work.

    The other thing I would like to add is that the environmental scolds are basically the same people as the evangelicals. Human nature is the same everywhere and although religion is frowned upon in certain areas of the country it has its secular equivalent in movements such as environmentalism. Both want to control everyone else’s behavior for the greater good based on belief systems that are at root irrational. The two groups would swear they are opposites of one another but the type of people drawn to each group are exactly the same. Indeed, in Al Gore’s case he started in divinity school and lead the campaign to ban music that espoused views he did not agree with when he became a senator. It is no surprise and not out of character at all that he has now moved on from trying to save our souls to trying to save the planet. It all boils down to trying to “save” the other guy from himself. Somehow the means to achieve this goal always involves a massive transfer of power to the chosen group.

    I have lived in the South all of my life and evangelical Baptists are much easier to get along with than greens since Baptists at least have some sense of propriety and are capable of feeling shame. Even if they were to get their creation myth into schools it would have no practical effect since you can’t produce anything based upon it and it leads to no change in the rest of the biology curriculum. Genes are still genes etc… In other words, we can put up with the Baby Jesus crap as long as we still get to open the Christmas presents!

  42. To Hayek With You:

    As something of an aside in all this, I believe the Baptists in particular (and most evangelicals?) are less troublesome in this respect than many movements because of their support (in principle, though of course there will always be a tendency for power grabs) for individuality. You may find their faith-based belief in the bible ludicrous, but their historical belief in the right (indeed, the duty) of every individual to interpret it for himself mitigates the worry that libertarians ought to have about it – you could make an interesting study, I think, about them as an early thread of western libertarianism given a society in which non-profession of Christianity was all but unthinkable.

  43. To echo To Hayek With You, I’ve always found the debate about whether evolution and creationism should be taught in schools to be a sideshow: what does it matter if creationism is taught alongside evolution in schools? Neither has any real significance on daily life and considering all the other nonsense taught in public schools, another irrelevant but counter-balanced theory is hardly worth worrying about. I am an atheist who believes in evolution- not that I’ve considered the evidence very closely- but he’s dead right about the similarities between the staunch environmentalists and creationists: they’ve both chosen different religions but both ARE religions, one secular and the other sky god.

  44. A note on evolution — our revered friend L Neil Smith has written that evolution involves not “survival of the fittest” but “survival of the fit.”

    Now, so far the most promising theory of major climate shifts and their high statistical correlation with sunspot activity is the Svensmark effect, which hypothesizes that the sun’s increased magnetic field and solar wind periodically shelter the earth from cosmic ray bombardment. When this effect is absent, high-energy cosmic ray particles reach the lower troposphere in greater numbers, ionizing molecules that then serve as kernels for water vapor condensation, increasing low-level cloudiness which in turn increases the planet’s albedo, reflecting more solar heat back into space. Nir Shaviv has shown that correlations between strong cosmic ray flux and ice ages can be seen over the last two billion years.

    It is interesting, then, that high-energy particles are also thought to produce increased genetic mutation. At the very time — severe and relatively sudden glaciation — when life is put under its greatest stress to adapt, a mechanism is provided to diversify the gene pool to improve its chances of survival.

    In my view, Creationism as usually formulated is monstrously silly. On the other hand, I find it interesting that He has set things up so as to load the dice in favor of Life…

    Good article, Eric. Keep combing through the code!

  45. Ken Burnside said:
    “Evolution has had more real world predictions come about than any other scientific theory out there; Relativity comes close.”

    Respectfully, I think if you said this statement in a physics department, you would get laughed out of the room. And rightfully so.

    Relativity can predict precise physical phenomena to >10 significant digits. Same with quantum field theory. Chemistry, as well, can deterministically predict the output states of a chemical reaction based upon its inputs. Engineering or materials science as well can tell you if a structure will break, deform, or withstand a set of physical stresses. These are all exact, repeatable observations.

    Evolution may have retroactive explanatory power, but until scientists can quantitatively describe how genes affect the numbers, types, and characteristics of new populations as well as that of their branching descendants, the science is not prediction.

  46. Question for Eric in this regards. There are two scientists who have been eviscerated in the community in the past few decades for putting forward scientific theories that were profoundly objectionable to the scientific community. Those two guys are Linus Pauling for his proposal that very high amounts of vitamin C had extremely powerful curative properties, and Peter Duesberg for claiming that AIDS was not caused by HIV but by abuse of drugs and other lifestyle choices. (Obviously I have GROSSLY simplified both these men’s positions.) I don’t have a strong opinion on either subject, but in many respects there is an odd smell to the way these guys were treated, especially so since they were both very well respected scientists before their work was published. I have read Duesburg’s book, and it seems to me that he makes a very strong case, and I have read some of the material by Pauling too, which also seems to be not insubstantial. However, I really am poorly qualified to judge, so I don’t have an opinion either way. However, the parallels with AGW are very striking.

    I am also reminded on the way the discoverers of Heliobacter Pylori were treated (Marshall and Warren if I remember rightly.) They contended that peptic ulceration was often a bacterial infection (by the aforementioned Heliobacter Pylori), and should be treated with antibiotics. They also were laughed to scorn since this was so far out of the mainstream of thinking. However, later experience proved them to be right, and now their treatment regime is pretty standard for peptic ulcers. So apparently scorn does turn into Nobel Prizes sometimes.

    Anyway, I was wondering Eric if you have an opinion to share of Duesberg or Pauling?

  47. >Anyway, I was wondering Eric if you have an opinion to share of Duesberg or Pauling?

    I agree that the way Duesburg was treated was pretty damn smelly, and I think it may turn out that HIV-1 is a marker organism – that is, a pathogen that isn’t destructive by itself but is opportunistically associated with immune-system collapse due to other causes. This isn’t Duesburg’s exact theory; I’m also influenced by some early reports from a front-line physician in New York who found that his AIDS patients all had undiagnosed syphilis. The one thing I’m sure Duesburg himself was right about is this – HIV doesn’t have the observed behaviors needed to be as damaging as it’s supposed to be, and that means that whether Duesberg’s more detailed causative theory was correct or not, there has to be something huge about the disease that we don’t yet understand. (Nor do I have the faintest clue where to look.)

    I don’t have a strong opinion about the Pauling case, though I have heard of it. I do think there was a whiff of flakiness about him, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

  48. (Note: Cross-posted – nearly verbatim – on Volokh.com, but I thought it was appropriate for this thread as well):

    As an example of how science can still work in this age of “everything is politics”:

    The 20th anniversary of the Pons-Fleischmann experiments passed this May. At the time, the results were greeted with a mixture of hope and skepticism, and quite a bit of small-p (and some large-P) political controversy. The scientists were primarily criticized for the way they publicized their results directly to the popular press, though this was going on in parallel with a normal peer-review process.

    This criticism was completely appropriate and healthy. After all, their finding, if true, would have enormous socio-economic impact. Government funding was almost certainly involved in their experiments, and would come flowing fast if the field had real promise. So, jumping the peer-review gun was not in best interests of science.

    But, what Pons and Fleischmann did NOT do was hide their data and methodology from their peers. Indeed, the first attempts to replicate their experiments were underway within weeks, if not days. There were occasional hints of success, along with many failures, and P-F were in close communication with those scientists trying to replicate. Ultimately the consensus was formed that the results must have derived from experimental error (including the finding that P-F didn’t actually measure the nuclear reaction products they thought they were getting). This process was pretty much completed by the end of 1989 — the main stream had seriously considered the P-F claims, had tested them thoroughly, and had concluded they were not valid.

    Now, the general field of “Cold Fusion” is not dead, but the adherents/proponents are arguably scientific zealots/pariahs proceeding outside the main stream, and probably without any substantial public money. It will certainly take extraordinary proof and crystal clear presentation of the evidence to overcome this status. But, I think it is a possibility, assuming that these methodological principles are followed.

    This story vividly demonstrates that the scientific method of radical skepticism works: any claimed experimental finding should be subject to the highest level of scrutiny, and this must be facilitated by complete transparency on the part of the claimant. Pons and Fleischmann were undoubtedly embarrassed by the workings of this process, but, ultimately, they did cooperate with it and thereby avoided damaging the larger scientific enterprise in which they were involved (or at least made sure that Cold Fusion was relegated to the very speculative realm). That the warmists have evaded this process from the beginning is clear, and it will be their shame.

  49. Eric, I respect your views on science, but environmental estrogen already seems to be having an effect, and for some of us it’s a VERY scary effect. I’d suggest looking into studies at the University of Florida (of course) on gator penis size. Don’t ask me what poor schlub has to check, but it’s said the gators’ dicks are shrinking a LOT, for some reason. Maybe it’s not the estrogen-like chemicals that can leach out of some plastics, but — and I say this as a guy — something in those lakes is causing a trend that’s very bad…As far as I’m concerned, it’s *already* a bogeyman!

  50. >I’d suggest looking into studies at the University of Florida (of course) on gator penis size.

    I’ve already written about this topic. Very bad is still within the range of possibilities for endocrine disruptors, but it’s politically impossible to do anything about the most important source. Therefore any remedial action will be either irrelevant or insane.

  51. No, science will not be discredited; what went on at CRU wasn’t science.
    From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence:
    “This was the Church of Reason lecture, which, in contrast to his usual sketchy lecture notes, was very long and very carefully elaborated.

    It began with reference to a newspaper article about a country church building with an electric beer sign hanging right over the front entrance. The building had been sold and was being used as a bar. One can guess that some classroom laughter started at this point. The college was well known for drunken partying and the image vaguely fit. The article said a number of people had complained to the church officials about it. It had been a Catholic church, and the priest who had been delegated to respond to the criticism had sounded quite irritated about the whole thing. To him it had revealed an incredible ignorance of what a church really was. Did they think that bricks and boards and glass constituted a church? Or the shape of the roof? Here, posing as piety was an example of the very materialism the church opposed. The building in question was not holy ground. It had been desanctified. That was the end of it. The beer sign resided over a bar, not a church, and those who couldn’t tell the difference were simply revealing something about themselves.”

  52. Interesting thread that would be good to revisit.

    With AGW, the economic meltdown, and the collapse of the Ivy League Obama administration, it seems to me that we are seeing the discrediting of the intellectual elites who many thought were on top of important things, but turned out to be aristocrats of no special merit building fiefs and collecting rents.

  53. “When science becomes the instrument of political ambitions, science is either already corrupted or will be as soon as makes no difference.”

    That’s a great point made quotable. Thanks!

  54. This story vividly demonstrates that the scientific method of radical skepticism works: any claimed experimental finding should be subject to the highest level of scrutiny, and this must be facilitated by complete transparency on the part of the claimant.

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