Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Odds and Ends


Regarding the hacked e-mails, I consider it most likely they are genuine. I've read through a few of them as they have been posted at several sites. As you are probably aware, The Heartland Institute is now claiming, on the basis of these mails, that all of the IPCC assessments have been proven to be invalid. I haven't taken the time to survey any other such sites, but I doubt if it will be long before we start seeing the same conclusion offered at similar locations.

The sheer volume of the hacked documents makes it nearly impossible for persons like ourselves to sift through them and reach any kind of worthwhile interpretation independently. We will probably have to wait on our various proxies to look through them for us. No doubt this will ignite a whole new round of debate. What bothers me most about this episode however is how little it has to do with the actual practice of science.

My sense is that there are broadly two types of legitimate scientists involved in this issue. One type is the researcher who simply discovers and compiles raw data. The other type is the one who puts this data into comprehensive models which can then be used to predict future trends. After all, climate science in all its present sophistication owes its initial inception to the simple human desire to know if its going to rain tomorrow.

The position of climate skeptics has evolved from sheer doubts about the science itself (that is, questions about the first type of scientists I just mentioned), to an argument premised on a theoretical, politically driven conspiracy. So, the second type of scientists I mentioned are constantly being accused of creating climate models to advance some sort of hidden, political agenda. Frankly, I think these sorts of accusations are based entirely on the public's vague distrust of scientists generally. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the scientists involved in the hacked mails spent time discussing this situation.

The key question however is whether or not the mails contain actual scientific evidence which disproves the models on which the IPCC assessments are based. I think what we will eventually discover is that, in context, the mails will give us a picture of a few scientists privately debating crucial issues in ways that could easily be misinterpreted by non-scientists. This same kind of debate went on behind the scenes years ago during the time a larger, public debate on CFC's was occurring. You may remember that during that previous debate, every time scientists disagreed on one or another important datum, this disagreement was trumpeted as indisputable evidence that CFC's had virtually no effect on atmospheric ozone. I think AGW skeptics will most likely use these mails to pursue the same pattern of action.

Meanwhile, back at The Heartland Institute, we find this declaration just below the masthead:

"Emails exchanged by Phil Jones and other leading scientists who edit and control the content of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveal a conspiracy to falsify the actual temperature record and silence so-called "skeptics." Anyone who continues to cite the IPCC as representing the "consensus" on global warming is wrong. The IPCC has been totally discredited."

Excuse me?

"People from over 130 countries contributed to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report over the previous 6 years. These people included more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors."

So I seriously doubt if any hacked mails and other documents from a few of the 450 lead authors will have much effect on the credibility of the IPCC assessment - except of course among those who didn't believe it in the first place.

One last thing. Many of the IPCC lead authors are now asserting that the 2007 assessment didn't go far enough. The Copenhagen Diagnosis constitutes a survey of hundreds of peer-reviewed papers which have been published since the IPCC's last assessment - with the conclusion that the results of AGW are likely to be much worse than the IPCC predicted almost 3 years ago. Have a gander.


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