Thursday, April 14, 2011


Picture this:

On March 31st of this year, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology scheduled a full committee hearing on climate change. As Paul Krugman later put it, three of the five "expert" witnesses Republicans called for were " economist, a lawyer and a professor of marketing." The only scientists which Republicans scheduled to testify were two outspoken skeptics: Doctors John Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and Robert Muller, University of California, Berkley, and Faculty Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

Robert Muller was there for two reasons. First, he had publicly doubted the validity of the surface temperature records which scientists believed proved the existence of global warming, and second, using U.C. Berkley resources, he had just finished a thorough, independent review (BEST) of those records. That review by the way had been partially funded by, of all things, the Koch Foundation.

Republicans were all a'twitter in anticipation of a take-down of global warming alarmists by Muller and his team. Even the hack Tony Watts had written, on February 11th, a glowing post on the integrity of the methodology behind the Berkley review.

So... what happened?

From the written summary of Dr. Muller's testimony, this bombshell:

"...we see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups."

And later:

"Prior groups at NOAA, NASA, and in the UK (HadCRU) estimate about a 1.2 degree C land temperature rise from the early 1900s to the present. This 1.2 degree rise is what we call global warming. Their work is excellent, and the Berkeley Earth project strives to build on it."

Dr. Muller even presented the committee with this lovely graph:


Republicans had been expecting a complete refutation of the data, yet got instead a complete confirmation!

How did they react? Steve, please, why ask? The majority summary of the hearings is titled:

"Witnesses Highlight Flawed Processes Used to Generate Climate Change Science, Inform Policy"

Take a moment to go have a look at it. In it, there is no mention, at all, of the testimony by Dr. Muller - their own witness! How's that for impartiality? It is as if Dr. Muller didn't even testify! And by the way, this is the committee charged with reviewing the findings of science. Steve, all the posts you've written here on this blog about science tell me you are at the very least a passionate believer in the concept that science should remain above politics. In this crude, clumsy episode, Republicans have just edited out the facts they don't want to hear.

The whole thing was intended by Republicans to be nothing more than a show trial, reminiscent (and I mean this) of the show trials orchestrated by Stalin back in the late 1930's. Why else would they have called an economist, a lawyer, and a professor of marketing to what was supposed to be an investigation of science? They expected, indeed invited, five witnesses to appear, raise their hands and swear before God to tell the truth, but had no graceful stategy for dealing with the one man who actually did. So they just pretended he wasn't there.

Anyway, predictably, after having praised the Muller effort before the results were in, Anthony Watts is now posting links on his website to criticisms of the BEST survey by the usual suspects. Back to Stalin...

If you have time, take another moment to read through the entry on "Lysenkoism", a term which,

" used colloquially to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives."

Reading through this entry myself I got an eerie sense of deja vu. The driving force behind Lysenkoism was the common man's distrust of the academic, as against the more reliable value of intuitive common sense:

"Isaak Izrailevich Prezent, a main Lysenko theorist, presented Lysenko in Soviet mass-media as a genius who had developed a new, revolutionary agricultural technique. In this period, Soviet propaganda often focused on inspirational stories of peasants who, through their own canny ability and intelligence, came up with solutions to practical problems."

I see this same distrust of a presumed intellectual elite - with sinister, ulterior motives - as underpinning the Right's dogmatic rejection of science generally, and of climate science in particular. You yourself have more than once referred to the wisdom of "the unwashed masses", which, by some kind of magic, renders perfectly clear answers to questions posed by a highly complicated science.

Steve, I'm no worshiper of science. Plus, yes, often times in matters of policy we sometimes lose sight of the simple solutions hanging right in front of our noses. But the problem of climate change is one we desparately need qualified, informed scientists to unravel. We're not going to get anywhere if we decide, as congressional Republicans apparently have, to ignore them when they contradict whatever conclusions we want to be true, as opposed to what really are.


1 comment:

  1. To begin, scientific research should be primarily, and by intention, a quest in the pursuit of facts, not 'explanations'. To look for a specific answer (or 'justification') on any issue is to devolve into the realm of propaganda. The Scientific Method is BASED upon the process of trying to FALSIFY a theory (not validate it). To do otherwise is not Good Science.

    Now, with that said (and as I have said before), I do *NOT* question that things are getting warmer. There is substantial evidence - and numerous historical records - which clearly establish BY OBSERVATION that the earth is warmer now than it was in, say, 1776. and we know the current growing season is longer than it was in 1776. Etc., etc., etc...

    FACT: The earth has steadily warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age.

    The Little Ice Age began in about 1320 with a long rainy season. It followed the Medieval Warm period which stretched at least from 800 to 1300, during which Leif the Lucky 'discovered' Greenland and Nova Scotia, and established Viking colonies on both. And consider that they called those new settlements "Vineland" because of the presence of substantial fruits and vegetation. And, today, those are not the observable conditions WE know to exist for that region NOW - Hmmm...

    As to what causes that warming cycle(s) I am less confident that *I* know an answer... OR THAT ANYONE ELSE DOES WITH AN ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF CERTAINTY. That doesn't mean there are not theories to describe what we see, but we must recognize them for what they are: WAGs. And just because they are the Best Wags around, doesn't make them TRUE.

    IMHO, it seems that the current warming cycle appears to have begun WELL BEFORE the industrial revolution (and the subsequent rise in CO2). Now - Is the (recent) rapid increase of CO2 levels a matter of concern? Sure it is. Do I think these increases are a CAUSE of the observed warming trend? NO. Are they a contributing factor to the trend? WE DON'T KNOW. So, YES, we should try to find out what effect CO2 *may* be having on the climate. That means developing clear and falsifyable methods of testing and observation. And we *certainly* should be looking into ALL contributing factors, known and potential.

    And the probability of getting anything OTHER than a politically expedient result out of a political committee rapidly approaches Zero; I don't care who testifies...

    All this goes to say it's *WAY* to early to be talking about 'conclusions', 'consensus', and 'solutions'.

    - Steve