This month, after a three-year investigation, Harvard University suspended a prominent professor of psychology for scandalously overinterpreting videos of monkey behaviour. The incident has sent shock waves through science because it suggests that a body of data is unreliable. The professor, Marc Hauser, is now a pariah in his own field and his papers have been withdrawn. But the implications for society are not great — no policy had been based on his research.Next from a post on his blog The Rational Optimist:
Yesterday, after a four-month review, a committee of scientists concluded that the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has “assigned high confidence to statements for which there is very little evidence”, has failed to enforce its own guidelines, has been guilty of too little transparency, has ignored critical review comments and has had no policies on conflict of interest”.
Enormous and expensive policy changes have been based on the flawed work of these scientists. Yet there is apparently to be no investigation, blame, suspension or withdrawal of papers, just a gentle bureaucratic fattening of the organisation with new full-time posts.
IPCC reports are supposed to be the gold standard account of what is — and is not — known about global warming. The panel boasts that it uses only peer-reviewed scientific literature. But its claims about mountain ice turned out to be anecdotes from a climbing magazine, its claims on the Amazon’s vulnerability to drought from a Brazilian pressure group’s website and 42 per cent of the references in one chapter proved to be to reports by Greenpeace, WWF and other “grey” literature. Yesterday’s review finds that guidelines on the use of this grey literature “are vague and have not always been followed”.
For instance, the notorious claim that glaciers in the Himalayas would disappear by 2035 seems to have been based on a misprint (for 2350) in a document issued by a pressure group. When several reviewers challenged the assertion in draft, they were ignored. When Indian scientists challenged it after publication, they were not just dismissed but vilified and accused of “voodoo science” by the IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.
Consider this statement for example: `Earth’s climate can only be stabilized by bringing carbon dioxide emissions under control in the twenty-first century.’ That is the opening sentence of a paper in Nature Geoscience last month. It is shocking that it got past the editors and reviewers. After 4 billion years of climatic volatility, much of it not caused by CO2 but by orbital variations, solar cycles and so on, how on earth are we to `stabilise’ earth’s climate by adjusting just one forcing factor? I refuse to accept that the climate could ever be stabilised, let alone by adjusting one factor. That sentence has no place in a scientific journal.The "emails" referred to above are the ones hacked and released from the CRU (Climate Research Unit) at the University of East Anglia.
Next you criticise my argument that current warming is not `unprecedented’ by reference to the Arctic sea ice graph. But this only goes back to 1979! Blackpool’s Football League table position is unprecedented since 1979. In a brief period of warming, of course the warming is unprecedented. You will know the ample anecdotal evidence that Arctic sea ice retreated just as much in the 1920s and 1930s: remember `Warming island’ for example. There is also good evidence from wave-made beaches and driftwood in Northern Greenland of probably ice-free summer months in the Arctic 7,000 years ago. A study published in the journal Quaternary Research of sea sediment cores in the Chukchi Sea shelf in the Arctic Ocean concluded that `during the middle Holocene the August sea surface temperature fluctuated by 5°C and was 3-7°C warmer than it is today’. (Incidentally, I am keen to see a proper test of the hypothesis that black carbon is the main cause of the Arctic sea ice summer retreat of recent years and that cleaning up Chinese coal power stations will reverse the trend. The argument seems quite plausible – and it might explain why Antarctic sea ice has been expanding during the same period — but it needs a test.)
Now, if for the past 20 years we had been told that there is a probability of some change in the climate due to CO2, and a very small possibility that it is likely to lead to a drastic lurch, then I could join with you and the consensus. Instead of which I have been repeatedly told that trillions must be spent urgently because there are only a few months to save the world and it is the most urgent problem, more urgent than hunger, malaria and indoor air pollution, likely to lead to the collapse of the entire economy and moreover that the science is settled and to question it is to be equivalent to a criminal. So, apologies if I sound a little exercised on this, but as a huge champion of science I feel very, very let down by the science establishment, especially the laughably poor enquiries on the emails published this year. Ask yourself if these emails had been within a drug company about a drug trial, whether the establishment would have been so determined to excuse them.
There is a wonderful amount of thoughtful material in both articles. I've pulled out the bits that caught my eye. It would repay amply to go and read the full originals.