Politics

Climate: Mistakes or Prevarication?

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Climate science is a technical field. Modern measurements, reaching back only a few decades, provide us with a degree of precision not found in historical records (yet even modern measurements have problems). To calculate the tiny changes that may be the beginning of global warming we need modern precision for past ages as well. So scientists develop historical temperature records based on things like tree ring growth, ice core samples, and sediment at the bottom of lakes. These physical artifacts act like a proxy for a precision thermometer. At least in theory.

The scientific method requires that after the hypothesis is proposed, a period of testing ensues to prove the hypothesis. We tend to have a romantic view of science as dispassionate and reasoned, with white-coats and pocket protectors and mutual respect all around. We forget that Einstein called Monsignor Georges Lemaître a moron before finally accepting Lemaître’s hypothesis of the primeval atom (or, “Big Bang”). Scientists often protect their data and become entrenched in their positions long past the time the evidence indicates they should move on.

You can ignore the hysterical non-scientific accounts and the deconstructing of them as inconvenient hysteria. It doesn’t matter if former VP Al Gore got much wrong; he’s not the one doing the research. But when the ones publishing the data find they have major errors they … sometimes grudgingly … admit it and go back to the data for a re-write. Or not.

Work by statistician Steve McIntyre at ClimateAudit.com has resulted in an admission that much of the work going into one series of past temperature records (tree ring data) was inadequate and should not be used. Predictably, like Einstein, the supporters of the data at RealClimate.org are calling McIntyre a moron. But the original scientist compiling the data, Keith Briffa, has a much more reasoned (and scientific) response. Basically, “oops, don’t use this data yet”.

Now we find yet another past-temperature “proxy” has problems: sediment at the bottom of lake Korttajärvi cataloged by Finnish scientists. It seems that McIntyre and others first caught the error, and it has been confirmed by the original scientists: the data is sometimes presented “upside down” showing a warming trend when it shows nothing of the sort. Dr. Atte Korhola, at the University of Helsinki, is an expert in lake sediment studies:

Some curves and data have been used upside down, and this is not a compliment to climate science. And in this context it is relevant to note that the same people who are behind this are running what may be the world’s most influential climate website, RealClimate.

H/T to the Air Vent blog.

Science is often messy, with emotion and angst, recriminations and entrenched positions defended vigorously. That’s the way it works. Some prefer to accuse others of prevarication, but it hardly matters. The only thing that matters is whether or not the hypothesis is true, and proving that often takes years.

Before we begin to formulate public policy, adding burdens like Cap and Trade to our economy, we should be sure the consensus view is actually true.

Because in science, the consensus view is always wrong, until it is finally right.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com