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David F. Hales
President, College of the Atlantic

David F. Hales

David F. Hales is the president of the College of the Atlantic in Maine, which in 2007 became the first U.S. higher education institution to achieve carbon neutrality. ALL POSTS

Imagine Darwin on the Internet

Q: Recently, a U.N. scientific report was found to have included a false conclusion about the melting of Himalayan glaciers. That followed the release of stolen e-mails last year, which showed climate scientists commiserating over problems with their data. Is there a broader meaning in these two incidents, and should they cause the public to be more skeptical about the underlying science of climate change?

Imagine Darwin's correspondence on the Internet. And imagine the reaction of talk radio hosts. Replace the interests of the more backward international corporations with the reaction of fundamentalist religion. Does it begin to look familiar?

Scientists look for problems with their data, and they wrestle with them -- for the most part -- openly and honestly among themselves. And some of them can be jerks. And some are competitive. And they sometimes make mistakes. There are no revelations here.

Those who have -- or serve -- an interest that is threatened by the discoveries of science do their best to exploit ignorance on behalf of their gods and profits. They select the information that seems to serve their purposes, and ignore the rest. There are no surprises here. Think of Galileo or the Scopes trial.

And that, quite simply, is all we are dealing with here.

Climate change -- exponential and unpredictable climate change -- is a fact of life in the 21st century. There are massive challenges with both the collection and interpretation of data. The scientific community has not solved them all yet. If we were to wait until they do, it would be far too late to save the quality of life on this planet.

It is a simple and incontrovertible fact that human action has set in motion natural forces that have the potential to disrupt natural systems our civilization depends on for sustenance. The vast majority of scientists know this, and they can explain how they know to anyone with a basic understanding of science and an open mind. Himalayan glaciers are melting at a rate that can only be explained by climate changes caused by humans. The consequences are real, not theory.

Can scientists be better teachers? Goodness, I hope so. Can scientific understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change improve? Of course, and there are amazing minds dedicated to that end. Are there reasons for skepticism? Yes, indeed, and scientists bring that skepticism to work with themselves every day.

Should the public be skeptical? You bet; blind trust is rarely an appropriate basis for any relationship. But responsible and conservative skepticism doesn't play favorites. It is how we should approach talk radio, corporations, and the scientific community.

Who will stand up best to full disclosure and honest questioning? In regard to climate change, my bet is on the scientists.

By David F. Hales  |  January 26, 2010; 9:44 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Hales,

Your comparison assumes that you are on the right side of history in all respects - it requires knowledge you currently do not have, and is therefore logically improper.

I cannot assume that climate scientists are like Darwin, because for me to do that, I would have to know that climate scientist are right about not only the existence, but the total effect of and proper response to global warming.

This, because the IPCC suggests not only that global warming exists, but to what extent it has an effect. Because each of these recent "gates" have brought into serious doubt the total effect that global warming will have on the planet, so too do they affect our perception of climate scientists as Darwin-esque.

At the very minimum emails draw doubt into the motivation of climatologists - indicating that the scientists were (1) hiding source data from peer review, (2) including non-peer reviewed data in a supposedly academic report to the UN, (3) adjusting data to hide information not supporting their theories, and (4) attacking and suppressing those who didn't support their views.

Did Darwin do that? Should we trust people who do so?

Posted by: Cleve76 | January 31, 2010 6:11 PM
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Have you heard of Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT. He is one one of many who have recently moved from the skeptic camp to being a full on Denier.

You guys need to come up with some new marketing to keep the research money coming - the polar bears are endangered, the glaciers in the Himalayas will melt by 2035 stories are losing there scare value

Posted by: tkennedy2 | January 31, 2010 11:18 AM
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Your comparison to Darwin gives rise to the question: to what extent does that percentage of the American public which disbelieves global warming science, overlap with those who disbelieve the theory of evolution? My hunch is that it would prove to be substantial.

It would be similarly interesting to know to what extent there is overlap between people with those beliefs with those who ascribe to other non-fact-based beliefs such as the fabrication that Sadaam and Ben Laden were allies, that Sadaam Hussein orchestrated 9/11, and, why not?, that Barack Obama was not born in the US.

Posted by: jlibertelli | January 31, 2010 10:36 AM
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So the cavemen stopped the last iceage with their campfires. Or, were they secrectly driving SUV's that have yet to be discivered?

Posted by: fordcrml | January 31, 2010 7:32 AM
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Mr Hales:

Let's talk money.

I love Bar Harbor, and the Maine coast. I'm sure that the vast preponderance of donations to your school come from people that reflexively feel that global warming is a fact. Shouldn't you admit this basic bias?

As others have said, perhaps there is something to global warming, but it sure hasn't been proven yet.

I've had scientific training as a paleontologist and in medicine. The problems with the emails and phony data that you refer to go well beyond "some scientists behaving badly like regular people." When these sorts of problems surface in other scientific disciplines, as it did in anesthesia research last year in Massachusetts, people lose their jobs over it, and their research is retracted wholesale from scientific journals.

Global warming science has been shown to have problems so severe with its methodology that it casts a very bad light on many other scientific disciplines. As such, it should be condemned, not suported, by mainstream scientists.

Posted by: tacheronb | January 30, 2010 9:13 PM
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And yet Darwin, even in his day, presented his theories as just that: theories. He did not blindly present his findings as THE truth, and he himself wresteled with how this meshed with God's plan. (Personally, I do not think that the Evolution of Species and God's divine intervention cannot be both true. Maybe we evolved from apes. Maybe we evolved from single-cell organisms. However, it is a true miracle that we are all able to read and write these arguments to each other (Try going through infertility treatments, and you'll see how really miraculous it is that ANY female can get pregnant; it's NOT as straightforward as your high school science books make it sound). End of personal note.)

The same can be said about "global warming," or "climate change," or whatever label you want to put on it to get the political backing that you want. There COULD be truth to it. It IS possible that man has adapted his environment so much that it is affecting the global balance of the climate. It's also possible that it could be due strictly to cycles in the natural scheme of things. So, let's have an open dialog about what ALL the climatologists have to say -- even the disenting voices.

Until we take the politics out of the science, we will truly never know the truth.

Posted by: c0lnag0 | January 30, 2010 7:34 PM
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What's remarkable to me is the faith those reachers had in their answers -- they were defensive, hostile to questioning, reactionary, felt obliged to spin their data to protect the uninformed from their opponents untruths, and they used their power and connections to deny their opponents a voice. I guess scientists are people, too, prone to making the same bad decisions as the rest of us. More transparency is a good thing, particularly when government's are making economic decisions that will affect billions upon billions of people going forward.

Posted by: ericnestor | January 30, 2010 6:24 PM
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Please visit Glacier National Park and see how few Glaciers currently exist there.
End of argument.

Posted by: EDM2 | January 30, 2010 4:32 PM
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Are you saying that Darwin conspired to mute his critics, hid data that didn't support evolution and used an off the cuff magazine interview as facts?

I don't think so. Darwin was a methodical researcher who not only proposed his theory of evolution but showed all the data he had collected including data that did not help his case. This is how proper research is done.

Never did Darwin shout down his detractors. He simply showed them his work and told them to see for themselves.

If your work cannot stand on it's own without tricks and collusion it's not science and you need to get back to work.

Even today, his amazing work is still called the 'THEORY of Evolution'. Have you seen the vitriol spewed forth when someone has the audacity to call Global Warming a theory?

Posted by: TastyCrabs | January 30, 2010 4:22 PM
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Anthropogenically speaking,

Global Warmists are desparately seeking

Our tax money to use

Anyway that they choose.

Though temperatures aren't really peaking.

Posted by: RobertAJonesJr | January 30, 2010 1:06 PM
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If you could attach the science to some of their favorite delusions - an afterlife, a judgmental god who answers prayers, you'd be in with the goobers.

Look at all the Ted Haggards, Jimmy Swaggarts, Pat Robertsons - these fools don't abandon their silly religion just because some of the practitioners have shown themselves to be ... less than human.

Since they achieve their understanding about the world around them through faith rather than reason, and some particular scientists have lost faith with them ... well, you can see how it works.

In the battle between faith and reason, in our country, the religious types who influence the voters are winning. Glad I don't have any kids too.

Posted by: barferio | January 30, 2010 1:49 AM
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The analogy may not fit entirely. While churches feel threatened when their control over people's minds is questioned, such as happened when Darwin showed that immaculate creation probably never happened, they didn't have billions of dollars in profits each month that rode on keeping people ignorant and confused. Today's oil industry is faced with just that prospect. That's why they've poured millions into confusing and obfuscating the issue for the public - attacking from several fronts (think tanks, mainstream media pressure, disinformation websites, and other avenues).

Still, the analogy is somewhat apt. An old order of power based on falsehood and greed, faced with an onslaught of damning truth. It's sad though that it's taking America so long to see through the desperate scrambling of industry to slow the wheels of action on this one.

I'm not sure this is a first class country intellectually anymore. There was a time when the world looked to us for leadership. That period has unfortunately passed, with the advent of the FoxNews Denial Culture and other unfortunate social diseases.

I'm glad I don't have kids. These people are abusing their offspring just as much as if they were beating them daily. They are condemning them to a chaotic future of droughts, water shortages, tropical insect-borne disease in temperate regions, and all kinds of various biospheric changes that will alter their lifestyles drastically. There will be more war and terrorism as well because of the denial. The Pentagon is already examining these.

It's very sad that their precious SUVs (and their pride in their ideologically-based beliefs) are more important to them than their kids.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 30, 2010 1:14 AM
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If Darwin had posted his ideas on the hypothetical Internet of his day, there would have been just as much controversy as there was about his ideas without the Internet. However, his ideas would have reached a much larger audience much faster and the truth would have come out sooner. All those who disagreed would have been able to air their thoughts immediately, and in the end, the discussions would move much faster than they did in the real Darwin age.
Jump forward to now: You have many (in reality, there are not that many climate scientists in existence) involved in the field of climate science who have hid, fudged, or exaggerated their data and conclusions. Based on the revelations of the last 6 months, this is no longer in doubt. The only question is why.
I attribute it to a bunker mentality, where they really 'knew' the truth but didn't have the data to support it. So they were happy to agree with a colleague's conclusions that they knew pointed in the right way - repelling the assault of Big Oil or whomever else is just trying to impede progress. Now, 10 years later, those annoying denyiers are asking for the data and processes used to reach those conclusions. In normal science, this is almost universally revealed at the time of publishing. But, in climate science, it puts these researchers into a bind, one that they continued to entangle themselves into by delaying and avoiding.
It was only a matter of time before the light was shown on their methods. I just hope the science is able to recover and act scientific again.

Posted by: natecar | January 29, 2010 10:07 AM
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What happened in Antartica when a big chunk of ice floated towards Australia is a clear indication that there is no global warming. The phenomenon means that what we have is a dip of temperature in Antartica. If it becomes a trend, we would experience a colder climate.

Climate scientist are all idiots because they all believe in Darwinian Evolution. They are jumping from one idiocy to another.

" The fool had said in his heart that there is no God".

What a bunch of fools.

Posted by: spidermean2 | January 29, 2010 8:44 AM
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