Seeking untainted science

Peter Smith

Tainted science and Al Gore don’t justify the benefit of the doubt

“A majority of voters are prepared to give the planet the benefit of the doubt and they want something done about global warming”; so ran part of a recent editorial in the Australian newspaper. Nothing unique about this, you can find the same kind of sentiment most places you care to look. It has two substantive parts: the opinion of voters and giving the planet the benefit of the doubt.

The opinion of voters on global warming; what does that amount to? Knowledge, according to Samuel Johnson, is of two kinds: “We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can get information upon it.” What do voters know about the science of global warming? Of course, on the whole, they know nothing at all. Most voters could not get to first base in explaining why CO2 emissions might cause warming. Would they know where to find the knowledge? They certainly have access to opinions but on the whole not to the scientific research which underlies those opinions. More to the point, if they located the scientific research they would be unable to understand it. In the normal course, their opinion on arcane scientific theory would not be sought. For example, we would not ask voters about the feasibility of generating power through cold fusion because we know that their opinion would be worthless. This is all a long way of saying that the opinion of voters on global warming adds nothing to the debate. Voters can have worthwhile opinions on issues which are within their experience or competence or ability to understand; e.g., the republic versus the monarchy, interest rates, government expenditure; the need for a bill of rights and so on; but on issues like global warming their opinion becomes the plaything of opinion leaders. The plaything of Al Gore? Well, there is no accounting for taste.

Objective and transparent science together with balanced and inquiring political leadership are needed on issues like global warming, to cut through the special interests and hyperbole. Unfortunately that objectivity, transparency and leadership appears to be in short supply.

The benefit of the doubt is the second part of the sentiment. Since man-made global warming has become not so settled, the benefit of the doubt rationale has been brought into play. We have seen odds being thrown around: there is such and such a percent chance of this or that happening. Al Gore in Copenhagen misquoted a scientist as saying there was a 75 per cent chance of the entire polar ice cap melting in the summer of 2014. There is of course no basis for any of these percentages. Probability makes sense in a world of risk. Actuaries can calculate the probability of it being rainy during the British Open at Wimbledon or the chances of you, a non-smoker of good health, dying before your 75th birthday. Percentage probabilities are meaningful in these contexts because there is experience and history to go on; in the global warming context they are meaningless because there is no experience or history to go on. We are in a world of uncertainty. We simply don’t know.

Giving the planet the benefit of the doubt is a beguiling concept but, when we don’t know, and are relying on data and statistical modelling from institutions whose scientists, courtesy of Climategate, have shown that they are less than objective, should we be powering full steam ahead? Has there been any other instance or instances in human history (apart from rearmament in times of impending war) when so much debilitating change was planned to counter a perceived threat based on contentious and contested evidence? I doubt it. In colloquial terms; it is crazy. I am a voter. I don’t want to give the benefit of the doubt to the planet at great cost; not until we have more objective and convincing evidence. Al Gore doesn’t cut the mustard; neither do scientists who lose data and conspire to suppress competing views.

Perhaps we need a new untainted scientific research body, say, a US and UK joint venture, with special legislative powers to requisition data and research methodology from the UEA’s Hadley Centre and NASA’s Goddard Institute, with a spread of scientific opinion and expertise, and with a charter to objectively and transparently investigates the science and report its findings regularly and publicly. If we are to set off on a massively disruptive and costly path then voters deserve to be given better information on which to form their ‘opinion’ than that from tainted institutions and from Al Gore and others with an agenda. Also, if economic measures are to be implemented to counter global warming, it would be a good idea to seek advice from economists who have the common sense not to step outside their expertise and become self-appointed climatologists. Their opinion on the science is superfluous to their role and simply gets in the way of informed debate.


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