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    A Solution To The AGW Controversy
    By John Droz | November 17th 2010 06:32 AM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Physicist (Energy Expert) and 30+ years of environmental activism...

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    I was at a film festival when it just hit me... 

    When I was a younger version, making movies was one of my fantasies. It seemed like it would be a fascinating lifestyle to tell interesting stories in creative ways. I still love movies (thus the festival) but a new reality has long since set in: earning a living in the film business is not about good stories told in creative ways, but about producing a commercially viable product.

    Early on in a film maker’s career, they are faced with a difficult dilemma: do they opt for artistic expression, or financial security?

    Let’s say they have an interesting storyline and some clever ideas how to present it, and they would like to share this creation with the public. What to do next?

    Option 1 is to approach a film studio and give them a pitch. These people have the cash, the connections and the distribution channel to make this work. However, they usually won’t be as enthused about your ideas as you are. Typically they’ll say something like “sounds good, but it won’t sell”. If you want to work with them you’ll have to make numerous changes and concessions. In essence, you will be asked to give up a good deal of your artistic freedom — which was your reason for doing films in the first place! The tradeoff is that you’ll get a film produced and before the public.

    Option 2 is to be an independent producer and retain all artistic control. This sounds good except that it requires a huge amount of fundraising on your part — and you will unlikely have the time, skill or interest in doing it. Even if that is accomplished, you have no movie distribution channel, so the likelihood of the film being ever seen by any significant number of the public, is remote. The bottom line is that you will be making quality films only seen by a few people, and you will be forever destined to live on the edge of financial ruin.

    The aspiring film maker is impaled on Morton’s Fork.

    Fortunately I didn’t have to resolve this problem, as I chose science (physics) as my career. But is it all that different?

    Most young people who sign up for sciences do so as they would like to contribute creative ideas about making our world a better place to live in.

    But what really happens? They also are faced with two conflicting choices.

    Option 1 is to work for someone (e.g. a university). Typically, the university expects you to carry your weight — especially by getting awarded grants. These monies usually come from the government. Since the funding for such grants comes through politicians, the wording of the grants is designed to satisfy a political objective. So the bottom line is that to stay employed you need to give up a good deal of your scientific freedom and interests, as you need to stick with the program dictated by the people with the money. Much to your chagrin, your good efforts end up supporting political ideologies rather than scientific ones. What can you do, though? You and your family need to eat!

    Option 2 is to be self-employed. You can then choose what to work on, plus you won’t be fettered by PC norms when reporting your results.  But who pays the bills? In other words, how do you make a living out of this independent work? Unless you were born into wealth, you’ll have to spend an enormous amount of time getting donations — and just like the film-maker, you don't have the time, skill or interest in doing that. And even if you do raise the money, who is really going to see (or be impacted by) the results of your studies? The reality is, almost no one.

    So, by-and-large, scientists are also put between the devil and the deep blue sea. Due to economic realities, essentially all scientists chose Option 1.

    Understanding that fact, is it any surprise that there is “consensus” among Climatologists (for example) regarding global warming? Considering that the majority of these people are employed by organizations or businesses that have the same political agenda, the real surprise would be if the scientists publicly spoke out against the wishes of their employer. If they did so they would soon be out of a job, so such independence will remain a rarity.

    Understanding this reality is also a major clue as to why “peer review” has little meaning anymore. It is a trivial matter to have other similarly indentured servants sign off on politically correct propaganda. The phrase “One lies and the other swears to it” comes to mind.

    So is there a solution to this quandary? Since the government is the largest source of scientific funding, I would say yes. The solution lies in fixing how government funding is awarded.  Here are two suggestions that could have significant impact, and result in better science.

    Proposal #1: remove from government grants imbedded assumptions that are scientifically unproven. In other words, instead of having a grant to “Show how to mitigate raising sea levels due to climate change” have it for “Does mitigating possible sea level rises make scientific and economic sense?”.

    The former assumes that climate change is scientifically proven, plus it assumes that sea levels will result from said climate change.  No scientist who wants to challenge AGW would have a chance of getting awarded the first grant. The later is more open-ended, and invites both pro and con positions.

    Proposal #2: a condition of all technical grants would be a new requirement — that the study must to adhere to the Scientific Method. This would mean that the assessment must be comprehensive, objective, independent, transparent and empirical-based.

    That may sound very common sensical, but surprisingly, no such required standard currently exists!  Why add this criteria? Because science is really a process, and at its core is the Scientific Method.

    The government is reportedly against waste, right? That means that they should want to get the highest quality results from whatever dollars are expended.

    The good news is that these two changes are essentially free to implement!

    Better science = less waste and less cost.

    Better science = AGW controversy resolution.


    I agree about some funding changes - the best science America ever did was when industry did the bulk of basic research but there is certainly a mentality among younger scientists that corporations don't 'do' basic research so it becomes a self-affirming issue and the government and its bureaucracy and motivations grow.  Certainly, companies want to make money but that is the very reason the system works better.   An R&D budget is just that but since government is willing to let taxpayers pay for basic research, corporations have happily allowed it.

    I don't agree peer review is any more or less flawed than it has ever been because I think scientists are as ethical and honest (as a group) as they have always been.   Is it perfect?   No, but I have yet to see a better system.   Sure, a reviewer may squash some research he does not like and if he puts in a lot of exclamation points an editor will agree but there are some 25,000 journals out there right now so all data will get published if it is good.    If the contention is only a top few publications will get noticed than the solution is to change publishing, not peer review itself.

    The solution to the climate change issue is to stop framing data and give people credit for being smart.  A study today from Berkeley (Doomsday messages about global warming can backfire, new study shows) shows that if people are given data rather than being told what will happen if this or that solution is not politically implemented, they agree.   Climate change itself is simply physics, then it becomes a matter for how to best reduce the impact and getting people on board.
    Thank you for your support of the funding changes that I am recommending.
    As a scientist I do believe that most scientists are ethical and honest, but the economic anvil hanging over their head undoubtedly has a profound influence. Just like what is happening with the AGW matter, there are ethical and honest scientists on both sides of that matter: yet they are diametrically opposed. 

    There is only one real science, though. When such matters as the "precautionary principle" are involked, you can be sure that science has left the building.
    Funny how times change - the right wing historically had slipperly slope concerns and now the precautionary principle has taken up the charge for the left.   The example I most often use is lowering the speed limit to 5 MPH if risk factors matter most and people generally recognize that as silly whereas they don't necessarily see that banning products that have done no wrong in a "Minority Report" fashion is okay.   

    Obviously there is a common sense issue.  Los Angeles would not be the most polluted air in America (and 6 other states in California among the top 10) if the precautionary principle had in some sense applied to pollution. It isn't like we weren't sure pollution was bad 50 years ago.    The issue, like in the global warming example, is making sure you stop the thing that makes the biggest difference.  Is it farming in California?   People need to eat.  Commuting?  They need to work.  Urban living?  Environmental folks want more people living in cities, not less.

    It's not a line on a scale or even knobs to turn.  We have a triangle and science has to help society shape policy where in that we pick our spot.   It's certain it won't be on one of the points.
    Gerhard Adam
    In other words, instead of having a grant to “Show how to mitigate raising sea levels due to climate change” have it for “Does mitigating possible sea level rises make scientific and economic sense?”
    I have a problem with your second point here, because it presumes that somehow scientists are in a position to know what "economic sense" is.  I'm not convinced that economists know what it means, so it automatically places an agenda into the scientific realm for which there is no reasonable scientific answer.

    While one could certainly argue about the reasonableness of taking action, or whether such action could be successful, or even predictable might be a desirable goal one has to consider the qualifications of the individual making such a proposal.

    In the end, the point is that climate scientists don't need to worry about mitigating rising sea levels, since it isn't their problem to fix.  Science can focus on whether AGW is occurring, provide evidence, and indicate possible consequences.  If sea levels are rising, then science can confirm the evidence or refute it.  However, whatever problem is anticipated, perceived or real, that is a result of current research, it isn't the scientist's place to solve it. since that moves into policy.  More to the point, if politicians and the population choose to ignore scientific evidence and it places them in danger, then it simply isn't the scientist's problem.

    Using a popular example, in forensics, it isn't the scientist's job to obtain a conviction.  It is their job to present the evidence.  How or when justice is served is up to the judges and lawyers regardless of how well or poorly qualified they may be.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm sure that you are correct in that I could have come up with a better example, as my second point had nothing to do with economics. What I was trying to say is that grant wording should exclude assumptions that are unscientifically proven, and be so phrased to be inclusive of pro and con positions.
    Andrew Xnn
    A scientist can be ethical and honest, but completely wrong about Global Warming. Just because somebody has a PhD, teaches at a University or has a published articles in peer reviewed journals doesn't mean they currently understand atmospheric science. There is unfortuantely, a lot of dementia among older acadmics and the peer review process at some journals is little more than a rubber stamp. Dr. Richard Lindzen for example, has published many brillant papers on atmospheric science in the past. However, in 2009 his paper in the AGU journal on Global warming was fundamentally flawed and quickly debunked by people who know better. Of course, this didn't stop him from collecting speaking fees from all sorts of conservative gas/oil and coal groups. Global Warming (AGW) is unfortuantely going to remain a controversial subject despite how ever the Government funds research. The basic problem is that our economy runs on CO2 emissions. So, it will be far easier to agrue against reality over the short term while doing nothing about long term problems. Wishing you lots of luck with your suggestion, but be assured the atmosphere will continue to respond in accordance with the fundamental laws of atmospheric science regarding greenhouse gases. Global Temperatures will continue to rise about 0.015 C/year. Sea Level will rise about 3mm/year. Eventually ocean coastal areas will be 10 meters under water and the arctic will have a climate similar to South Carolina, but not in our lifetimes.
    You are certainly correct that a scientist can be ethical and honest, and wrong about AGW.

    My point is that we are not practicing real science — a.k.a. the Scientific Method. Our environmental policies are being made by lobbyists, not by science.

    This is to the detriment of all citizens — and our society.

    Dear Andrew, on what basis is the calculation made that if global temperatures rise by x degrees, then sea levels rise by y cms?

    Gerhard Adam
    Our environmental policies are being made by lobbyists, not by science.
    I agree with your statement, but not your sentiment.  This is precisely how it should be; good, bad, or indifferent.  It is because scientists thought that they were entitled to advance policy ideas that they ended up politicizing the entire process to begin with.  I'm not happy with how the politics is working out, but I'm equally not convinced that scientists would do a better job of it.

    It's an easier argument if the science is facing a direction we agree with, but there are equally many studies that I would never want to have scientists setting policy on.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You are making a common and understandable mistake: assuming that scientists are synonomous with science.

    There are thousands of scientists who are promting political or personal agendas, that have nothing to do with science — sort of like all priests aren't holy people, or all lawyers law-abiding citizens.

    SCIENCE is not about promoting political beliefs. It is based on the Scientific Method.

    Agenda promoting scientists avoid the Scientific method like the plague. That's the tip-off.
    Gerhard Adam
    I completely understand.  My point is that when scientists cross the line to representing their personal views (regardless of their scientific orientation), they risk having their message confused with the science they practice.  Unfortunately, far too many scientists seem to be unable to distinguish between the results of their studies and their opinions as to how those results should be used.

    While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, just as any other citizen is, but they shouldn't be surprised if there is a political backlash.  They should also realize that once they've adopted a public position, they can't back pedal and be taken seriously as objective scientists.  It doesn't matter whether this is fair or not, it is simply the reality of living in a media intensive world.

    In many ways, it is no different that the point I made earlier regarding forensics or even lawyers.  These professions can certainly have their own opinions, but if one of those professionals is irresponsible or casual about presenting those opinions, they can undercut the very process of law that they are attempting to uphold.
    Mundus vult decipi

    What we need on such matters as AGW are not reports by scientists, but rather scientific reports.

    The public undoubtedly does not appreciate this distinction, but there is a BIG difference!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Agenda promoting scientists avoid the Scientific method like the plague. That's the tip-off.
    Thanks for this article John, I think you've explained the situation very well and made some good proposals? I still can't make up my mind about AGW (which by the way also stands for All Going Well, Acoustic Gravity Wave, Autonomous Guided Warhead as well as the Anthropogenic Global Warming in this article).

    Anyway, I would like to see a lot more empirical evidence and a lot less adversarial put downs of anyone who dares to question the AGW evidence. A situation that is even ongoing in my own household. There is obviously some kind of global warming happening but is it wholly or even partly man-made and are there other factors contributing to the problem? I'm still confused.

    I have a book called 'Heaven+Earth Global warming: The Missing Science' written by Professor Ian Plimer, Emeritus professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Whose credentials and awards are too numerous to include here. He is opposed to the catastrophic views of AGW and believes that the Earth is dynamic, always changing and evolving and that an integrated scientific view requires a holistic view of the Earth resulting from looking at climate over geological, archeological, historical and modern time.

    He says that in general 'the history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times and that life blossoms and economies boom in warm times'. Yes China, India and Australia are booming at the moment but many countries like America and Britain and other aren't of course but that isn't because of AGW.

    I don't know if he is right or wrong, but I would like to see empirical evidence from both sides of the debate clearly presented without insults being constantly thrown at eachother. In this book Ian Plimer also asks and very credibly (no obvious signs of the dementia mentioned above that is apparently often present in older academics) attempts to give answers to the following questions :-
    Are the speed and amount of modern climate change unprecedented? Answer: No.
    Is dangerous warming occurring? Answer: No.
    Is the temperature range observed in the 20th Century outside the range of normal variability? Answer: No.
    Does the Sun influence the Earth's climate? Answer: Yes.
    Do volcanoes change climate? Answer: Yes
    Do wobbles in the Earth's orbit change climate? Answer: Yes.
    Have past climate changes driven extinctions? Answer: Yes and no.
    Is global warming melting the polar ice caps&alpine valley glaciers? Answer: Yes but no.
    Do human emissions of carbon dioxide create a rise in the sea level? Answer: No.
    Will the seas become acid? Answer: No.
    Does sea level rise kill coral atolls? Answer: No.
    Are humans forcing changes in ocean currents? Answer: No.
    Do thermometer measurements show the planet is warming?  Answer: No.
    Do other temperature measurements show the planet is warming? Answer: No.
    Is atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing? Answer: Possibly.
    Is atmospheric carbon dioxide approaching a dangerous level? Answer: No.
    Do higher sea temperatures cause more hurricanes? Answer: No.
    Do clouds influence climate? Answer: Yes.
    In his final chapter he says that 'We are facing the greatest global threat in my three score and two years. It is not global warming. It is the threat from policy responses to perceived global warming and the demonising of dissent. These policies also threaten freedoms and the nature of science and religion'.....'There are calls for trials and imprisonment of those scientists who, on scientific evidence, do not agree that human emissions have changed climate. Such scientists are called deniers and are compared to Holocaust deniers yet their scientific doubts are not addressed.'

    Plimer believes and has geological, archeological, historical and modern evidence to support his view that 'the world has been warming, slightly intermittently, since the Little Ice Age. It has also been cooling. This is not surprising and is consistent with what we measure from the past. Sea level, the ice sheets and life on Earth have also changed, albeit slightly. This is also consistent with what we measure from the past.'

    Now where is the evidence to say he is wrong, without insulting him and putting him down? Even if he is an agenda promoting scientist, he has provided evidence to support his claims.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    You've asked some good questions. Here are some quickie comments —

    1 - "I would like to see a lot more empirical evidence and a lot less adversarial put downs of anyone who dares to question the AGW evidence" yes, that would be good.

    2 - "There is obviously some kind of global warming happening...". When we look at the big picture, the earth has a history of climate cycles.

    3 - In my view, Plimer is a sensible person, asking reasonable questions.

    4 - I have put on free community energy/environmental presentations in about ten states. Here is the online version: EnergyPresentation.Info. It also discusses AGW.

    It's good that you have an open-mind on these issues.