Scientific American’s sad decline

It is such a shame.  When I was a wee lad, I loved to read Scientific American, especially C. L. Stong and Jearl Walker’s Amateur Scientist and Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games features.  But as I grew older, and went off to university, I found a vague dissatisfaction with SA growing.  It seemed that politics entered the arena of Science in more and more SA articles — usually not in the realm of physics, which I understood well past the interested-layman’s level of most SA pieces, and which is remote enough from common concerns that it is ill-suited to polemics.  But the sour taste of politics was definitely increasing, and so in my 20s, SA and I parted ways, because I couldn’t stand to see my beloved objective Science treated as a handmaiden to Politics.  How naive I was to believe that either side would respect the hallowed ground of pure science and reason.

SA published a defense of Copenhagen that reconfirms my earlier judgment of SA.  No longer content to be skeptical and accepting of reasoned dissent, SA is sold out to “consensus”, as it was in the case of Bjorn Lombord and his book The Skeptical Environmentalist.  The 11 page critique of The Skeptical Environmentalist was summarized by the Economist as “strong on contempt and sneering, but weak on substance.”  When Dr. Lomborg provided a 32-page rebuttal, SA refused to print it.  When he published his rebuttal on his personal website, SA demanded he remove it, claiming copyright violation for quoting from SA’s article.  Eventually, Dr. Lombord was allowed a single page to address the criticisms.  So much for free and open debate.

The SA article, if I may be so bold as to use Fair Use to cite sections, is right along the same lines as the Lomborg hatchet job.

Even under this city’s low, leaden skies, at least one thing remained clear as leaders from 193 countries gathered to negotiate climate agreements: one ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the U.S. has the same effect as one ton emitted in India or anywhere else. That simple truism is part of a huge body of data pointing to humanity’s effect on climate, and for most negotiators, the weight of that evidence seems to have crushed any doubt they may have felt in the wake of the 1,000-plus e-mails and computer code stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

Well, that’s because the negotiators were in large part not scientists, but political beings intent on creating Yet Another Huge Government Program.  And as we’ve seen from earlier posts on ClimateGate, GlacierGate, and AmazonGate, the “weight of evidence” may be less weighty than SA’s David Biello is letting on.

In fact, nothing in the stolen material undermines the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are to blame.

So switching from proxies to measured temps (“to hide the decline”), breaking Freedom of Information Request laws to keep raw data unseen, deleting emails, pressuring journals to refuse papers with opposing viewpoints, working behind the scenes to have journal editors dismissed when they don’t toe the “consensus” line, and putting crap references in the IPCC document do nothing to undermine the “consensus?”  What in the world would undermine the “consensus” if the suppression of free and open debate doesn’t?  And to be sure, we aren’t talking about crackpot nutters with no credentials, but serious scientists such as Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, MIT’s Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meterology and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Meteorological Society.

Some of the kerfuffle rests on a misreading of the e-mails’ wording. For example, “trick” in one message actually describes a decision to use observed temperatures rather than stand-in data inferred from tree rings. Instead of implying deception, the word itself in science often refers to a strategy to solve a problem.

Un huh.  And the fact that the switch from graph of inferred temps from proxies was suddenly switched to plot measured temps because the proxies showed a decline in temperatures instead of an increase?  Is that a strategy often used in science?  A rational skeptic would conclude that something was wrong with the proxy itself if the link between the measured values and proxy inferred values go in opposite directions!

Even if the CRU data “were dismissed as tainted, it would not matter,” argues IPCC contributor Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University. “CRU is but one source of analysis whose conclusions have been validated by other researchers around the world.”

Setting aside the fact that CRU produced the longest, most comprehensive temperature record (and ClimateGate has put enough doubt into those claims to result in a British government inquiry), what would it take to make researchers take a second look?

The stolen e-mails may ultimately provide a sociological window into the climate science community. “This is a record of how science is actually done,” notes Goddard’s Gavin A. Schmidt. Historians will see “that scientists are human and how science progresses despite human failings. They’ll see why science as an enterprise works despite the fact that scientists aren’t perfect.”

No one would disagree that scientists aren’t perfect; that’s why we have peer-review and open debate along with access to raw data as a part of the Scientific Method.  But Dr. Schmidt is incorrect.  Bullying journal editors, breaking FOI laws, misleading graphs, and the like are not “how Science is actually done.”  It is instead a cautionary tale of how Science is subverted.

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