November 22, 2009

Science: A pursuit of truth or of politics?

There was very rightfully a backlash a few years ago about the politicization of science. From the GWB administration actively muzzling stem cell research to corporatism influencing the process of approving drugs at the FDA to the social and political debate on intelligent design there was all kinds of discussion about the manipulation of science for political reasons.

In that vein, recently a series of hacked emails was recently released from a prominent research university that included quite a few climate research scientists discussing things such as:

* Manipulating a series of data to create the infamous 'hockey stick effect' for showing a trend of recently rising global temperatures
* Admitting that certain datasets show no warming since 1998, but refusing to admit that this warrants any further discussion. Rather - "the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate."
* Discussing ways to avoid releasing their climate model and emails if forced to through freedom of information laws.

Now, I am no climate scientist nor am I qualified to understand a tenth of the jargon that is referenced in these emails so this critique is in no way an indictment of the pure concept of global warming. However, as someone who has created a lot of analytical models in his life - using data to end a forecast with an upward trendline as opposed to a lower trendline is typically done for one purpose, to give the reader an inherent bias upon first glance. There is also only one reason that you want to fight hard keep your data and/or model private. I'll let you guess what that reason is but it has nothing to do with being confident about what your model's accuracy, assumptions or how you've used your data says about your findings. Finally, the only reason that you don't want to care about competing data is that it shows that you might be wrong. Better to ignore it than have all that work go to waste, hmm?

In any case, I don't think that many people, impartial or otherwise, believe that humans have no effect on this Earth's air, water or atmosphere. Take a look at the skyline of any city or look at any large powerplant or factory and you can tell that we as humans impact this world. However, I fail to see how trying to "enhance" this position with false or misleading data is any better than the injustices to science that have happened in the past.

The ends never justify the means, and science should be motivated first, second and last by the pursuit of the truth. Lets have a global climate change discussion based on a REAL understanding of what is happening, and not some idealized version promoted by a small group of technocrats. After all, we're talking about enacting reforms that could have extreme impacts on the way that we live, work, play and exist as human beings.

We all deserve that, without compromise.

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