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Bernard Finel
Senior Fellow, American Security Project

Bernard Finel

Dr. Bernard I. Finel is a Senior Fellow at the American Security Project where he directs research on counter-terrorism, defense policy and climate change. ALL POSTS

E-mails not a surprise to scientists

Q: Given the furor surrounding the pirated e-mails coming out of the University of East Anglia, what's the real takeaway lesson? Does it say more about the way renowned climate scientists work, or how climate skeptics have operated in shaping the public debate over global warming?

This is a fascinating development, not because it sheds light on climate change, but because it pulls back the curtain on scientific research in a highly politicized environment. I don't think anybody who has worked professionally in any research field is particularly surprised by the contents of the email.

Scientists are just as prone as anyone else to pettiness and vindictiveness. They hold grudges. They stick close to their friends, and try to stick it to their perceived enemies. Surprisingly minor disputes over theoretical arguments or empirical data lead to deep cleavages and lifelong grudges.

There are, however, particular challenges for climate science. First, the data is exceptionally complex and "noisy." Separating out the impact of human action from decades- and centuries-long climate cycles is inherently difficult. Global temperature data is constructed from hundreds of snapshots, which injects a persistent level of uncertainty into the findings. Furthermore, even climate models acknowledge the possibility of decade-long declines in temperatures, even in the context of longer-term warming.

Second, and worse, because the issue is so politicized there is a large chorus of critics ready to jump on any ambiguity to "debunk" climate science. As a consequence, debates over data and methods that often provoke vicious academic brawls are combined with a pervasive fear over findings being abused and misused.

Ultimately, however, most of the people working in the field are involved in a good-faith effort to advance science and to support sound public policy.

By Bernard Finel  |  November 24, 2009; 11:08 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The data is noisy, so noisy there is no way to detect a 0.6°C rise over the last hundred years. There is only so much accuracy in the measurements, nothing coming close to the claimed accuracy.

And the application of even noisier tree ring and other proxy data just provides a way to inject biased 'corrections'. If you look at the raw CRU data before it has been massaged with proxies, the world does not show much warming:

There is plenty of evidence the current alarmists have not proved their hypothesis re CO2 AGW. But you have to be be true to the scientific method to see it and address it. All we see from the emails are people trying to subvert the scientific method.

Posted by: ajstrata | December 1, 2009 2:43 PM
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I would suggest that you read the emails. The contents of those documents make your final paragraph a laughingstock.

I will certainly agree, though, about the data. Unfortunately, I'm not sure you've thought out the consequences of that statement. You might be interested in this analysis of the uncertainties in the CRU data and processing:

His conclusions are obvious and to those who deal with real-life software and engineering problems. And that's all that climate "science" is.

Posted by: Ginny11 | November 25, 2009 5:16 PM
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Two very important points in Dr. Finel's response:

1. "First, the data is exceptionally complex and "noisy.""

Yes, which is why is particularly annoying to hear this repeated canard that "it has cooled over the last decade". Such statements depend on a very carefully cherrypicked comparison of last year (which was a noise spike downward) with 1998 (careful - don't pick a year earlier or later or the whole denial sham falls apart!), which was a noisy spike upward. Here's the data:

2. "Second, and worse, because the issue is so politicized there is a large chorus of critics ready to jump on any ambiguity to "debunk" climate science."

Yes, which is why it is like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard when the "smoking gun orgy" folks keep repeating this "it's a travesty that we cannot explain X or Y" from one of those emails. EVERY scientist believes it is a travesty when they can't explain everything. That's why they do what they do. If you really believe something like that discredits the field, then stop going to doctors. There is lots they don't know or can't explain. And believe me, they fret over it.

And regarding "security", CCWatson - no serious expert from anywhere on the political spectrum in Washington is worried about us "ceding our sovereignty" to a Great World Government. That's something only people in the paranoid, provincial, Europhobic rank and file are sqauwking about.

Just because every nation in the world cooperates to tackle a worldwide problem does not mean they are all ceding their independent identity. If everyone on your street agrees to stop dumping carbon tetrachloride into the sewage system, does that mean you are ceding your individuality? Only if you have a VERY weak, fragile sense of self.

Meanwhile, speaking to the security issue, the Pentagon has already come out with many statements alluding to the security threat that global climate change presents to the country. Yeah, those lefty pinko American hating old generals at the Pentagon. They're in on the conspiracy too.

Posted by: B2O2 | November 25, 2009 3:41 PM
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Dr. Finel, you have done the best climategate apologetics I have seen so far. But, if as your title suggests, you are concerned with "American Security", you must also have some comprehension of the disastrous consequences that legislation based on this fraud will have for our economy and sovereignty. You are aware of that, right?

Posted by: ccwatson-CraigSmith | November 25, 2009 2:15 PM
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