Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Science is Disputed

May 28, 2007 6:30 am

The Science is Disputed

Those who argue that drastic action must be taken immediately to save the planet from human induced global warming depend upon the idea that scientific inquiry is complete and beyond dispute. Douglas J. Keenan, who has published in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology provides an example showing this just is not so. Commenting on work by Chuine et al., using the harvest dates of grapes in Burgundy, France purporting to prove that 2003 was the warmest summer since 1370, Keenan asserts that, ” What is important here is not the truth or falsity of the assertion of Chuine et al. about Burgundy temperatures. Rather, what is important is that a paper on what is arguably the world's most important scientific topic (global warming) was published in the world's most prestigious scientific journal with essentially no checking of the work prior to publication.”

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Olivier Karlst - 6/5/2007

That assertions of Keenan are totally false !
- First the Chuine et al. paper gives correlation between there reconstructed temperature and several temperature measurements that everybody can check. This mean the results have been checked in opposite to Keenan assertion.
- Second the method proposed by Chuine et al. is a proxy of temperature (like for instance tree rings) not a direct measurement of temperature so the main argument of Keenan is that method is not able to exactly reproduce the observed temperature. In other word what seems to be a "scientific fraud" for Keenan is that the correlation of 0.75 between reconstructed and observed temperature is not perfect (even if it very good for such kind of proxy!)
- Finally the "so called" demonstration of Keenan in Theoritical and applied meteorology about the Chuine method flaw is itself totally wrong! The main argument of Keenan is that estimated temperature for 2003 is overestimated and the following warmest years (1945,1947,1952) are "nearly average".
In fact of "nearly average" they are all in the 10% of the warmest year!
Moreover, even if 2003 reconstructed is overestimated it is the higher never recorded summer temperature in Burgundy as point out by the paper !

In fact Keenan is right on one point: what is important is that a paper on what is arguably the world's most important scientific topic (global warming) was published in a scientific journal ( Theoretical and Applied Climatology) with essentially no checking of the assertions prior to publication.”

Tim Sydney - 6/1/2007

Agreed. This is an issue that will ultimately need to be resolved by climate scientists. Still the nature of the issue and the risks means some kind of policy response is required. If the skeptics are ultimately proven correct the policy can be reversed.

For the time being the wisest course of action for lay observers, and free marketeers as such, are lay observers is to follow the majority of scientific opinion, and base policy recommendations on that.

Otherwise we fall for the trap of picking favourites in a scientific debate based on on our non-scientific views. This is essentially the same trap the Church fell for in the much ballyhooed persecution of Galileo.

Free marketeers, as free marketeers, have useful perspectives to bring to the policy debate on how to deal with AGW. But that's about it.

Many of us oppose government owned and operated public hospitals. It's a fact that large proportion of public hospital expenditure is designed and operated on assumptions derived from the germ theory of disease. This theory is largely undisputed these days but it was not always so.

If we opposed public ownership of hospitals saying the germ theory of disease is undecided, or betting on this or that scientific minority opinion, is not a particularly useful form of opposition or debate. In fact it could be betting on a losing horse.

Keith Halderman - 5/31/2007

Very well said.

Sudha Shenoy - 5/31/2007

The question at issue is a question of _fact_: whether climate is determined by the components that are capable of being entered into complex climate models, _or_ by other things -- those investigated by climate scientists who do _not_ regard climate models quite so highly. Climate modellers are in the majority; others are a minority. The predictions of a highly probable climate tragedy (because of rising anthropogenic CO2 _&c._) are from the majority. The minority disagree. The facts are therefore that scientific opinion is divided. _That_ is the context in which lay observers have to proceed.

Tim Sydney - 5/30/2007

(This is a little off topic, but let me clarify my last sentence, before I am subject to brickbats. (Curses to comment pages without a delete function!!)

I certainly don't think all free marketeers are shills for big business. Still I think the wholly unnecessary lopsidedness within pro-free market ranks in favor of AGW skepticism cannot help dispell that popular perception.

Similarly if AGW skeptics like to imagine big government manipulation behind the AGW supporters, you can hardly blame the AGW supporters from returning the compliment asking about big business behind AGW skeptics, for example Koch and Cato.

The truth is that big government and big business is on both sides of the debate, in many ways big government is even more addicted to revenues from fossil fuel burning industries than is most of the private sector. And there are quite independent scientists on both sides, for example, one of the most alarmist AGW supporters, the Gaia theorist, James Lovelock. He doesn't take any government or business money and finances his own research from the proceeds of his patents.)

Tim Sydney - 5/30/2007

"Those who argue that drastic action must be taken immediately to save the planet from human induced global warming depend upon the idea that scientific inquiry is complete and beyond dispute."

So presumably "greenhouse skeptics" believe no action should be taken before the scientific inquiry is complete and beyond dispute! :)

I think the statement "straw mans" the position of those who believe man made global warming is both happening and likely to have on net a negative impact. It has little to do with "saving the earth". One could counter this rhetorical jibe by pointing out the skeptics apparent belief that any coordinated action to minimise a global pollution problem will presumably bring industrial civilisation to it's knees.

If "complete and beyond dispute" were the criteria, anyone proposing to use science, medicine, or even economics to guide any public policy, or even personal decision, may as well close up shop. It would render science useless.

Realistic policy response requires decision making under uncertainty when not all the technical theoretical issues are decided. That's just life.

Although "consensus" is an over-used word in Global Warming debates it is in the realm of realistic public policy decision making that it becomes relevant.

Expert consensus is never of itself, the deciding factor scientific theoretical debates. But it is a useful guide for policymakers in domains where decisions are mandatory (even inaction can be a policy) but where the scientific and/or expert inquiry is complex, incomplete and disputed. It's why we ask for a second opinion from doctors.

The skeptics often seem to demand scientific unanimity, "the ultimate in scientific consensus" before action is attempted. They often seem to demand a higher level of scientific consensus than they would apply elsewhere.

If I owned property next door to a factory who's heat output, say from an exhaust port, made my home uninhabitable, my guess is that most free market economists would see me as having legitimate grounds for seeking redress or restraint against the factory. They would see no threat to either the free market order or industrial civilisation by such a case. But when we scale the issue to global dimensions most of the free marketeers mysteriously defect to the factory owners' defense team. Considering the technical issues are outside of most free market economists' specialisation and considering that all we have here is an old fashioned "tragedy of the commons" issue, this defection is somewhat curious. Maybe the critics of the free marketeers are right, they were merely mouthpieces for big business all along.

Sudha Shenoy - 5/28/2007

There is much additional material on climateaudit -- google 'Douglas Keenan' when you get there. Keenan also contributes to the discussion. See esp Steve McIntyre's waspish comments on climate papers in 'Nature'.