Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Peer Review and Climate Change

In covering the uproar over the meaning of the stolen e-mails on climate science, the New York Times sensibly checked with the scientists:
In recent days, an array of scientists and policy makers have said that nothing so far disclosed — the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data — undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.
Peer review is what makes science so robust. Results are tested to see if they hold up. For instance, the claims of cold fusion that grabbed headlines twenty years ago were never replicated.
The data showing the earth is warming above historical levels have been published in thousands of peer reviewed papers.
This chart from the IPCC incorporates many thousands of measurements spanning centuries using a variety of methods. The skeptics are trying to make the most of the stolen e-mails of a few scientists, but the cumulative force of the data eventually overwhelms the personal views of any particular scientists or skeptics. As Ronald Reagan once said, facts are stubborn things.


Anonymous Edmund Dohnert said...

The whole climate change issue has been highly politicized from the very beginning, but this recent so-called Climate Gate affair has unfortunately made it hopelessly so.

The climate change proponents have long had an agenda and some have been over-zealous in interpreting data supporting their view and in suppressing dissenting views. For some people it is less about impartial science and more about advocacy.

On the other hand, the climate change deniers have a near religious conviction that it's all a socialist hoax to deny Americans their god-given right to unlimited consumption and perpetual economic growth. They simply refuse to believe that man is capable of causing irreversible damage to his environment.

I myself am more or less of an agnostic on the matter. From what I have seen so far, something is definitely going on, but what the implications are 50 years down the road is far less certain than the climate change people would have us believe.

By the way, I find that chart not very meaningful. First off, the Y-axis has a span of only a few degrees F, so small changes are made to appear artificially large. Second, and more important, reliable global temperature data prior to the 20th century is just about non-existent. That is why proxies, such as ice cores and tree rings are used. However, can any reasonable person really believe that ice cores or tree rings can tell what the average temperature was within one or two degrees F, the entire span of your chart? If not, then what we have here is just noise.

It wasn't until well after WW II that we've had any truly accurate and reliable means of determining what the average global temperature really is. The earth is a big place, and for whole wide swatches of its surface, covering many million square miles, we have had, up until relatively recently, only a smattering of scattered temperature readings, many of questionable accuracy. We simply do not know what the actual average global temperature was in say the year 1500. We can only guess and not very accurately at that.

5:27 PM, December 09, 2009  

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