Amidst An Epidemic of Bad Research, Man-made Climate Change Is ‘Settled Science’

 

Bill_Nye_the_Science_GuyThis was a banner week for the unquestioning apostles of Science!, specifically in the area of climate science—the one scientific discipline for which all questions have already been exhaustively answered.

First, there is flooding in Texas which everyone knows beyond all doubt is a result of man caused climate change. There is no other possible explanation. Just ask Bill Nye the Mediocre-Television-Comedian-With-A-Bachelors-In-Engineering Guy:

Second, a “study” was released which purports to tell us how the Montreal Protocol saved the planet from certain doom at the hands of the ozone hole (the notion that the dire predictions about the ozone hole may not have come to fruition is not to be considered.) Like most of the unrealized predictions about man-caused global warming, the ozone hole study is based on man-made simulations.

As it’s not possible to do a controlled laboratory experiment on an entire planet, computer simulations are the best we can muster. Unfortunately, that means we are required to take it on faith that those who created the simulations did so with infallible knowledge of how a planetary atmosphere and climate will react to different inputs. That is “settled science” after all.

As I was pondering the god-like omniscience of climatologists and children’s television show hosts, I happened across a post on Slashdot asking whether “bad scientific practice” can be fixed. Bad scientific practice? Is such a thing even possible? Has anyone told Neil deGrasse Tyson?

The post refers to an editorial in The Lancet by editor-in-chief Richard Horton. The Lancet is one of the world’s leading peer-reviewed medical journals. In a recent issue, Horton wrote this heresy:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”.

What? How can this be? He went on:

The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours.

Horton even suggests that a purely objective search for truth may not be the only thing driving scientists.

Can bad scientific practices be fixed? Part of the problem is that no-one is incentivised to be right. Instead, scientists are incentivised to be productive and innovative.

Granted, Horton is focusing on a different area of science, but is it unreasonable to believe the same problems exist in other fields of research? I submit that it is unreasonable to assume that they do not.

In 2011, Stanford professor John P.A. Ioannidis wrote an article titled An Epidemic of False Claims in Scientific American.

Much research is conducted for reasons other than the pursuit of truth. Conflicts of interest abound, and they influence outcomes. In health care, research is often performed at the behest of companies that have a large financial stake in the results. Even for academics, success often hinges on publishing positive findings. The oligopoly of high-impact journals also has a distorting effect on funding, academic careers and market shares. Industry tailors research agendas to suit its needs, which also shapes academic priorities, journal revenue and even public funding.

Wouldn’t it be foolish to presume that these factors don’t come into play with regard to the most politically contentious scientific claims of our time?

The crisis should not shake confidence in the scientific method. The ability to prove something false continues to be a hallmark of science. But scientists need to improve the way they do their research and how they disseminate evidence.

And therein lies the reason to be skeptical of dramatic climate predictions. There is no possible experiment that can prove them false. Claims that cannot be tested and falsified are not really scientific, but Science! zealots still claim man made climate change is responsible for everything from drought to floods, wildfires, even terrorism. Yet while some scientists are decrying an epidemic of shoddy research, skeptics of man-made climate change are derided as simpletons by journalists and politicians who know nothing about science themselves.

 

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  1. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Science denier!!!!!

    • #1
  2. user_404027 Member
    user_404027
    @BlakeAnderton

    Agreed, for all the good it does (and it does do a lot of good) science today has some problems. Being a human endeavor there’s bound to be corruption, and it’s been in science for a while. Like those “Scientific” studies proving cigarettes were good for your health.

    It’s certainly coming to a head, though. Quite a few people I know treat Science as a pseudo-diety, though they wouldn’t admit it. I’ve heard some pretty good arguments that we’re completing our way out of the Age of Reason/Enlightenment, and reverting to a more Mystical time. The mystical person focuses on emotion and experience, doesn’t like being told not to do things that feel good, and needs Oracles to tell them what weird rituals to perform so the crops don’t fail next year. Big-S-Science certainly fulfills the last part for many people from where I’m standing.

    Note: I think we’re all mystics to a certain degree – and being an absolute Rationalist has just as many downsides. But if mystical experience becomes more important than reason in our culture, rigor in science or the lack thereof won’t really matter much. All that will matter is so-and-so (insert pop-Scientist name here) said it. He’s an expert on Osiris…er, I mean…rainfall patterns! It must be true!

    • #2
  3. kylez Member
    kylez
    @kylez

    This song doesn’t exist. It was not recorded in 1983, and it was not written in 1958. We all know Texas never had floods until the Republican party secretly changed Texas’ climate last week.

    • #3
  4. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Blake Anderton:Agreed, for all the good it does (and it does do a lot of good) science today has some problems.

    That has to be the understatement of the year.  Basically from what I see they decide what they want, what political or social goal they want to achieve and then go find some “science” or go make some “science” to justify them doing what they wanted to do anyway.  It has gotten to be such a joke that even the LIV are catching on and only go along when they get something out of it.

    • #4
  5. Guy Incognito Member
    Guy Incognito
    @

    So many “Scientists Have New Proof of Climate-Change” articles come down to “scientists created a new model which explains past trends”.  This is wrong!

    A model passing the test data is not proof the model has predictive capabilities, but merely the passing of an initial test to determine if the model has potential.  The model is only just past the hypothesis stage, and is still hoping to be vindicated.

    Come back to me in ten years, and then I’ll entertain your idea for a new government boondoggle.

    • #5
  6. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Wednesday I had a trip to College Station (from my home in League City) scheduled. Because of the heavy rains Tuesday I checked the weather the night before.  It predicted a 20% chance of rain. (50% Thursday, 60% Friday.)

    Checked again before I left in the morning (at 5:50). Still predicting partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain. By the time I hit Beltway 8 (South Beltway about 7 miles from my home) I could see dark clouds to the north and east, and decided to re-route via the Beltway heading west.  By the time I hit US 59 on the Beltway, the highway signs were flashing “Possible Flooding.”  By 290 there was a Texas frog-strangling rain coming down.

    My question:  If they cannot accurately predict the next day’s weather, how can they accurately predict the climate 100 years from now?  (Or even next year?)

    (Yes I made it and home again safely.  By the time I hit Hwy 6 the sky was clearing, and the sky was clear on my trip home.  I would not have started – or waited until mid-morning – had I known how hard it would rain.)

    Seawriter

    • #6
  7. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    It seems everybody is selling something, including scientists.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Great post.

    When science is genuinely clear, we should be forceful about it and push back against he charlatans and the misinformed. What so many of the Science! people simply refuse to understand is that there’s nothing even approaching that level of certainty with climate science, for all the reasons you cite.

    Jim Jamitis:First, there is flooding in Texas which everyone knows beyond all doubt is a result of man caused climate change. There is no other possible explanation. Just ask Bill Nye the Mediocre-Television-Comedian-With-A-Bachelors-In-Engineering Guy:

    I’m a little torn on this. On the one hand, I don’t want to see us fall into the credentialist trap, even if that’s what the left does. Bill Nye’s old TV show was a solid piece of children’s programming and he generally knows his stuff. The Planetary Society — of which he’s president — is also kinda cool (which doesn’t mean I think its beyond reproach).

    That said, he’s really turned into one of the most annoying Science! scolds, particularly on this issue. Tyson has also proved himself insufferable. There’s way too much hagiography of Carl Sagan around these days, but at least he didn’t come off as a jerk so often.

    • #8
  9. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    To believe that “Science” is the only part of our society which is incorruptible is truly naive.  Scientists are subject to corruption just as much as politicians, businessmen, teachers or clergy.  Just because people are scientists does not mean they have more integrity than any other segment of society and yet foolish people think they do for some reason.

    • #9
  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    It’s as if scientists are not immune from human nature.

    I don’t want to beat up on science categorically. We don’t want a world without it. But it’s time to drop the facade of pure objectivity, unlimited explanatory power, methods impervious to error, and unimpeachable ethics.

    Many scientists are wary and vocal about these problems. But many others have been corrupted by fawning media, poor training, moral apathy, elitism, or lucrative opportunities for laboratory fiction.

    • #10
  11. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    JimJ,

    Claire please forgive me but this is the best I can do in this case. Bill Nye The Science Schmu*CoC*. He knows all about Settled Scientific Sounding Sh*CoC*. If my father was still alive, had his NSF & NIH grants, and he was “publishing and not perishing” like it was still the 1950s, I think Bill Nye would make him nauseous.

    I apologize Claire but the Science made me do it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #11
  12. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @JimJamitis

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Great post.

    When science is genuinely clear, we should be forceful about it and push back against he charlatans and the misinformed. What so many of the Science! people simply refuse to understand is that there’s nothing even approaching that level of certainty with climate science, for all the reasons you cite.

    Jim Jamitis:First, there is flooding in Texas which everyone knows beyond all doubt is a result of man caused climate change. There is no other possible explanation. Just ask Bill Nye the Mediocre-Television-Comedian-With-A-Bachelors-In-Engineering Guy:

    I’m a little torn on this. On the one hand, I don’t want to see us fall into the credentialist trap, even if that’s what the left does. Bill Nye’s old TV show was a solid piece of children’s programming and he generally knows his stuff. The Planetary Society — of which he’s president — is also kinda cool (which doesn’t mean I think its beyond reproach).

    Good point. I don’t mean to suggest credentials are a the sole criteria for measuring someone’s opinion. I just find it irksome that a guy who is not a scientist portrays himself as one.

    • #12
  13. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Jim Jamitis:

    Good point. I don’t mean to suggest credentials are a the sole criteria for measuring someone’s opinion. I just find it irksome that a guy who is not a scientist portrays himself as one.

    Allow me to quibble with this slightly: Is the only thing that makes a person a scientist their job description – or do you think there is a threshold of credentials which must be achieved in order to call yourself a proper scientist?

    All engineers are trained in the sciences, both theoretical and practical to a relatively high degree.  We study calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics, thermodynamics and generally have a good idea of what the contours of what the scientific principles undergirding a theory are.  Does that mean we are not “scientists” because our job description is “Engineer III” and we don’t spend our days working in a research laboratory?  I think not.

    Nye has been pulled into the orbit of the very people you talk about whose conflict of interest is nakedly apparent to informed observers.  This is regrettable for somebody who has done good work in the past, as Tom pointed out.

    • #13
  14. Mario the Gator Inactive
    Mario the Gator
    @Pelayo

    Blake Anderton:Agreed, for all the good it does (and it does do a lot of good) science today has some problems. Being a human endeavor there’s bound to be corruption, and it’s been in science for a while. Like those “Scientific” studies proving cigarettes were good for your health.

    It’s certainly coming to a head, though. Quite a few people I know treat Science as a pseudo-diety, though they wouldn’t admit it. I’ve heard some pretty good arguments that we’re completing our way out of the Age of Reason/Enlightenment, and reverting to a more Mystical time. The mystical person focuses on emotion and experience, doesn’t like being told not to do things that feel good, and needs Oracles to tell them what weird rituals to perform so the crops don’t fail next year. Big-S-Science certainly fulfills the last part for many people from where I’m standing.

    You make a great point here by comparing Science to a deity that some people worship.  We have seen how human imperfection has led to corruption among leaders in traditional religious organizations like the Catholic Church.  Why should we believe that Science is exempt from the same temptations and subsequent corruption as any other religion or human endeavor for that matter?

    • #14
  15. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Jim Jamitis:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:
    I’m a little torn on this. On the one hand, I don’t want to see us fall into the credentialist trap, even if that’s what the left does. Bill Nye’s old TV show was a solid piece of children’s programming and he generally knows his stuff. The Planetary Society — of which he’s president — is also kinda cool (which doesn’t mean I think its beyond reproach).

    Good point. I don’t mean to suggest credentials are a the sole criteria for measuring someone’s opinion. I just find it irksome that a guy who is not a scientist portrays himself as one.

    Kevin Williamson – Nobody @#$%&*! Loves Science

    • #15
  16. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Seawriter:My question: If they cannot accurately predict the next day’s weather, how can they accurately predict the climate 100 years from now? (Or even next year?)

    I’m as skeptical about CO2 being the primary driver of global warming as anybody.  But it is possible that someone can foresee long-term results without being able to predict short-term details.  Think of it like this.  If the Chicago Bears were playing football against a high school team, we all know who would win.  I cannot tell you what the score will be at the end of any of the quarters or predict any specific plays, but I do know that in the end the Bears will crush the high school team like an aluminum can.

    I think most of us agree that if we elect Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as out next president, it will be bad for the economy.  The fact that none of us could tell you what the unemployment rate will be for April 2017 under either of their administrations doesn’t mean we cannot predict the overall trend.

    • #16
  17. Jame Hall Inactive
    Jame Hall
    @UniverseHall

    I wish you had photoshopped that image so that it read, “Bill Nye… the SETTLED Science Guy.”

    • #17
  18. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    UniverseHall:I wish you had photoshopped that image so that it read, “Bill Nye… the SETTLED Science Guy.”

    I’m a little surprised Bill Nye isn’t more popular around here.  I’m mean, given his giraffe neck and all…

    • #18
  19. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Randy Weivoda:

    Seawriter:My question: If they cannot accurately predict the next day’s weather, how can they accurately predict the climate 100 years from now? (Or even next year?)

    I’m as skeptical about CO2 being the primary driver of global warming as anybody. But it is possible that someone can foresee long-term results without being able to predict short-term details. Think of it like this. If the Chicago Bears were playing football against a high school team, we all know who would win. I cannot tell you what the score will be at the end of any of the quarters or predict any specific plays, but I do know that in the end the Bears will crush the high school team like an aluminum can.

    I think most of us agree that if we elect Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as out next president, it will be bad for the economy. The fact that none of us could tell you what the unemployment rate will be for April 2017 under either of their administrations doesn’t mean we cannot predict the overall trend.

    Yes, but in the cases you mentioned we would not be doing “science”.  We would be guessing.  Nor would I claim that I have done “settled science” by claiming such predictions and anybody that did would be wrong.  I definitely would not suggest that we change our whole economic systems and run millions out of jobs because of our guesses.

    • #19
  20. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Fake John Galt:Yes, but in the cases you mentioned we would not be doing “science”. We would be guessing. Nor would I claim that I have done “settled science” by claiming such predictions and anybody that did would be wrong. I definitely would not suggest that we change our whole economic systems and run millions out of jobs because of our guesses.

    I agree with you that we should not wreck our economic system, and I am as skeptical of the climate catastrophe predictions as you are.  I’m simply saying that there are examples when a person can accurately forecast a long-term trend without being able to forecast the fine details of the day-to-day.

    • #20
  21. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Randy Weivoda:I’m as skeptical about CO2 being the primary driver of global warming as anybody. But it is possible that someone can foresee long-term results without being able to predict short-term details. Think of it like this. If the Chicago Bears were playing football against a high school team, we all know who would win. I cannot tell you what the score will be at the end of any of the quarters or predict any specific plays, but I do know that in the end the Bears will crush the high school team like an aluminum can.

    Except these extrapolations about global warming are based on knowing temperatures to a tenth of a degree or less while using data accurate only to plus or minus two degrees. I was a research engineer back in my early career, and I guarantee basing life-or-death decisions on that little certainty is foolish. It is beyond foolish.

    And yes, the costs imposed on the global economy by the pseudoscientific global warmists would be life and death for the world’s poor. Raise energy prices significantly or cut use of fossil fuels significantly and the world’s poor will starve in their millions. I want better data before condemning millions to death.

    Seawriter

    • #21
  22. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Randy Weivoda: #16 “I think most of us agree that if we elect Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders as out next president, it will be bad for the economy.”

    Why stop at Warren or Sanders?

    • #22
  23. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    I agree with your overall point but this example may not neatly fit in:

    Second, a “study” was released which purports to tell us how the Montreal Protocol saved the planet from certain doom at the hands of the ozone hole (the notion that the dire predictions about the ozone hole may not have come to fruition is not to be considered.) Like most of the unrealized predictions about man-caused global warming, the ozone hole study is based on man-made simulations.

    As I read the linked study it is not about the “certain doom” but rather whether ozone thinning has been reversed.  It looks like it is based on measurements, not future modeling.   Further, the original prompt for action in this case was based upon measurements beginning in the 1970s.  Since the science and the issue are distinct from global warming I don’t think it is material to your argument.

    • #23
  24. user_416480 Member
    user_416480
    @AliGhan

    Randy Weivoda

    I agree with you that we should not wreck our economic system, and I am as skeptical of the climate catastrophe predictions as you are.  I’m simply saying that there are examples when a person can accurately forecast a long-term trend without being able to forecast the fine details of the day-to-day.

    I agree, because the day-to-day weather is, mathematically speaking, a chaotic system, subject to too many variables (or too sensitive to initial conditions) to allow accurate near-term prediction. (The same is true of the stock market, which is why betting on the exact value of the Dow Jones closing average on any given day is a great way to lose money.) Longer term estimates can be made even in some chaotic systems, because constraints can usually be placed on the range of certain values; long-term (muliple-year or -decade) investment in the stock market is generally a reliably profitable venture, for example, in the way that day trading is not.

    • #24
  25. J Flei Inactive
    J Flei
    @Solon

    Just as we need more Islamic leaders to speak out about violent extremism, we need more climate scientists to speak out about the global warming issue and how it is addressed in western society.  It is very dangerous it is to do either of these things, so there is a chance for true heroism in these areas.

    • #25
  26. Tennessee Patriot Member
    Tennessee Patriot
    @TennesseePatriot

    This is crazy talk that is making me feel unsafe. You should stop talking now while I go to my safe place.

    Otherwise, great article!

    • #26
  27. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    Tennessee Patriot:This is crazy talk that is making me feel unsafe. You should stop talking now while I go to my safe place.

    “Son! Your Hot Pockets are ready!!!” :: heard from upstairs::

    • #27
  28. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @RockingTheCradle

    The inconvenient truth that really gets me heated up is the topic of CO2’s. While no two NASA scientists can agree on global warming (and that, in itself, speaks volumes about the “science” of it), NASA never tells us what would happen if we actually succeeded in lowering CO2 levels. Their scientific studies, with real verifiable data, have, after all, shown CO2’s to be one of the most efficient coolants in the thermosphere that reflect 95% of the heat from solar flares back into space. http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/22mar_saber/

    • #28
  29. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @JimJamitis

    Majestyk:

    Jim Jamitis:

    Good point. I don’t mean to suggest credentials are a the sole criteria for measuring someone’s opinion. I just find it irksome that a guy who is not a scientist portrays himself as one.

    Allow me to quibble with this slightly: Is the only thing that makes a person a scientist their job description – or do you think there is a threshold of credentials which must be achieved in order to call yourself a proper scientist?

    All engineers are trained in the sciences, both theoretical and practical to a relatively high degree. We study calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics, thermodynamics and generally have a good idea of what the contours of what the scientific principles undergirding a theory are. Does that mean we are not “scientists” because our job description is “Engineer III” and we don’t spend our days working in a research laboratory? I think not.

    Nye has been pulled into the orbit of the very people you talk about whose conflict of interest is nakedly apparent to informed observers. This is regrettable for somebody who has done good work in the past, as Tom pointed out.

    Science and engineering obviously have some overlap but when I think “scientist” I think of someone with advanced degree(s) in physics, chemistry, biology…etc. I agree Nye has done some good stuff but a BS and a tv show don’t make him a scientist.

    • #29
  30. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    Randy Weivoda:

    Seawriter:My question: If they cannot accurately predict the next day’s weather, how can they accurately predict the climate 100 years from now? (Or even next year?)

    But it is possible that someone can foresee long-term results without being able to predict short-term details. Think of it like this. If the Chicago Bears were playing football against a high school team, we all know who would win…

    New Trier West……..+7500
    @CHI Bears…………-42000

    New Trier West  +39½ @ CHI Bears….-110     Over/Under 55½

    Bookies are great at predicting. If they suck they go broke, or get broken legs. But they predict gambler’s behavior, not game outcomes.

    This looks like the bookie thinks the Bears will win by 40 points (maybe he does) but this line is only designed to get the same amount of money bet that the Bears win by at least 39 or don’t win by at least 39.

    Now that is Science!

    • #30

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