Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Some time ago, I noted with some bemusement the flurry of excitement over an announcement that the remains of the historical Jesus Christ had been found:
Even if we were to sweep aside the difficulties [of] making a definitive identification, my reaction to all this is: Interesting, but so what?It is thus with similar bemusement that I watched this PajamasTV interview (HT: Glenn Reynolds) with several individuals heavily invested in the political agenda associated with the premise that the climate is warming. To a man, the ones who did not decline to speak at all were dismissive of the need to learn what all the fuss was about, much less address the serious questions about the soundness of the science that the exposed emails and computer code of what has become known as "ClimateGate" have raised.
[A]ny arbitrary claim, by its nature, has no evidence for or against it. Whether we have found the skull of Jesus or not makes precisely zero difference in our evaluation of him as divine, on the question of whether he turned water into wine, or whether he rose from the dead. Whenever something earthly is taken as "evidence" for or against such claims, one will find that the person is guilty of perpetuating, or has fallen for, a package deal, an indiscriminate lumping-together of things that differ essentially in some way.
This is the science that supposedly lies at the foundation of their entire political agenda, and which they constantly allege to be "settled" in order to browbeat anyone within earshot into accepting it as the only way forward for all of mankind. Given that they seem to think -- wrongly -- that how to run an economy is a matter of science, and not political philosophy, one would expect them to be intensely interested in making sure that they are on solid, factual ground.
Clearly, they are not. Instead, the activists babble about the science being "settled" (!), project their own denial onto the interviewers, and -- incredibly -- dismiss what could be evidence of an actual conspiracy as mere indulgence in conspiracy theories. (Just because the vast majority of conspiracy theories are bunk does not mean that people do not occasionally conspire. Also, the existence of a conspiracy should sometimes be viewed as the tip of a larger, non-conspiratorial iceberg best discovered by asking why the conspiracy occurred in the first place.)
Whatever you may think of George Monbiot, and setting aside his relentless attacks on "deniers," his reaction at least bears some resemblance to how an actual scientist ought to react, in terms of how he thinks the publication of the emails from the University of East Anglia should have been dealt with:
Pretending that this isn't a real crisis isn't going to make it go away. Nor is an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities. We'll be able to get past this only by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.If you wonder why I am not so optimistic that Copenhagen will come to naught, this is why. Already in the video, this affair is being dismissed as "cherry-picking" and relegated to the personal faults of the scientists involved, in much the same way that leftists and pragmatists deny the role of Islam in motivating and Islamic theocracies in fomenting terrorism -- and instead treat individual attacks as if they are unrelated crimes. (If this incident helps blow the lid off scientific fraud or destroys the warmists' credibility enough, global warming legislation could well lose momentum, but I think that now could be too soon.)
One of the most damaging emails was sent by the head of the climatic research unit, Phil Jones. He wrote "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow - even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"
No one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science. We should be the first to demand that it is unimpeachable, not the last.
I have not looked deeply into this matter yet, and for all I know, it could well be that only part of the evidence for global warming has been negated or even that none of it has. But if the peer-review process has been compromised, lots of the data is now suspect, as are the theories based on that data.
Monbiot seems still convinced of the existence of global warming, and laments that, "However good the detailed explanations may be, most people aren't going to follow or understand them. Jones's statement, on the other hand, is stark and easy to grasp." He fears that the damage has been done for his side, but just listen to the environmentalists in this video. Damage has already been done -- just not the kind Monbiot is worried about.
The environmentalists have an entire web of mental interconnections (whether they conform to reality or not) in favor of the idea that the climate is warming. Our recent cold winter and this scandal look like outliers to them. These emails could well be just like those old bones from a few years ago -- fighting an uphill battle against the deeply-held faith of large numbers of people. To the extent that that these people, for all their lip-service to science, have accepted global warming on faith, these emails will fulfill a similar role. The bones were never going to make Christians doubt the resurrection and these emails were never going to make such disciples of global warming doubt their article of faith, either.
To determine whether the emails mean anything requires an insistence that they be examined in a proper context, a willingness to admit whatever the findings and their ramifications ultimately are, and an assessment of whether and how those findings affect the credibility of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, as well as how the ramifications might affect the theory itself. Except possibly from George Monbiot, I don't see any of this from the global warming camp so far.
Monbiot is right about one thing: Upholding the science is crucial. This goes equally well for those of us who oppose the current raft of proposed global warming legislation. Whatever the science says, making it up impugns those who do. Whatever the science says, admit it. And then argue from correct political principles that take into account man's nature and the proper role of government when engaging in the political debate about global warming legislation.