Saturday, December 5, 2009

Climategate Discussion

I posted the following comment on my Facebook status:

Jon Stewart on Climategate:
The scientific method depends on the veracity of data and the openness of the questioning process; once those pillars are compromised, the entire edifice is weakened, thereby empowering those with a vested interest in its destruction. That is why every scientist who discussed altering data or persecuting climate change critics must be fired.

Here is the conversation that followed:

Morgan Kanter
Not all data should be open, though -- at least not until publication. There's a very real fear of getting scooped in the world of science, so it's kind of important to play your hand close to your chest.

Susan Zells Ingber
Yes, with increased media pressures for scientists to give a yes-no answer and its impact on funding amidst an extremely competitive grant process, scientists are more vulnerable than ever. These guys were pressured to fudge data to keep their funding. The public needs to know that longitudinal studies like these do not yield immediate definitive results. The scientists, however, should not be fudging data. I just wish there were more education (esp. bioethics) for the public and regulations/protections for the research community.

Susan Zells Ingber
Unfortunately, the scientists don't take bioethics seriously enough when there's so much money at stake.

Matthew Rozsa
My problem with the Climategate revelations is that it shows scientists actively silencing, even persecuting, any colleagues who disagree with their conclusions about global warming. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the majority view on the subject, the only way for scientific inquiry to maintain its integrity is if all points of view are given fair voice.

Now there are some who might say that this philosophy would empower Christian fundamentalists who want to debunk evolution by injecting theological convictions into scientific canon, or bring us back to the good ol' days in which epileptic seizures were attributed to demonic possession. What these individuals ignore, though, is that global warming skeptics - whether they are right, wrong, or indifferent - aren't basing their assertions on poorly-disguised religious dogma. These are men and women who, using the same empirical methodology employed by those who believe in global warming, have come to the conclusion that it is either non-existent or not anthropogenic in origin. Creationists and other right-wing ideologues are guilty of trying to foist non-scientific belief systems into the realm of science so as to promote a personal agenda; global warming skeptics like Steve McIntyre and Richard Lindzen, on the other hand, use the scientific method - be it as statisticians or atmospheric physicists - when coming to conclusions that disagree with those of the academic "in crowd". Because they are playing by the same rules of legitimate scientific discourse as their more institutionally accepted colleagues, they have the right to be given a fair voice in the forum of debate on these subjects. Any and all efforts to marginalize or punish them are not just morally reprehensible; they are downright unscientific.

Matthew Rozsa
PS: The fact that the mainstream media has been paying scant attention to the Climategate revelations does not do us any real service. Because global warming denial is so closely associated with the most radical elements of the political right-wing, these news outlets are no doubt afraid that giving air time to a story that validates one of the far right's most strident assertions would somehow legitimize them as a movement. To this point-of-view, I have a simple reply:

"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

That quote was uttered by John Adams when he defended the British soldiers accused of wrongdoing during the Boston Massacre of 1770. Note that Adams was a strong believer in the cause of American colonial independence from the British Empire at this time, and the soldiers on trial had been accused of monstrously murdering innocent colonists. Siding against those soldiers and inflaming public opinion against them (as Adams' cousin Samuel had prudently done) would no doubt have been far more beneficial to the revolutionary cause than acknowledging the simple facts of the case - namely, that the soldiers had been provoked and frightened by an angry mob of colonists, and had only lashed out in understandable self-defense. Even so, Adams realized that the instant he compromised the value of truth and integrity in the name of his larger cause, he would dishonor not only himself, but the cause for which he fought. As such, he defended the British soldiers and got them acquitted of their crimes... and we still had our revolution, didn't we?

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