Debates within society at large, and within the scientific community

2009-11-12

in Geek stuff, Politics, Rants, Science, The environment

Elaborating on work discussed here before, Gavin Schmidt provides some information on what distinguishes the most recently developed sorts of climate models for their predecessors, such as General Circulation Models. The newer Earth System Models:

now include interactive atmospheric chemistry, aerosols (natural and anthropogenic) and sometimes full carbon cycles in the ocean and land surface. This extra machinery allows for new kinds of experiments to be done. Traditionally, in a GCM, one would impose atmospheric composition forcings by changing the concentrations of the species in the atmosphere e.g. the CO2 level could be increased, you could add more sulphate, or adjust the ozone in the stratosphere etc. However, with an ESM you can directly input the emissions (of all of the relevant precursors) and then see what ozone levels or aerosol concentrations you end up with. This allows you to ask more policy-relevant questions regarding the net effects of a particular sector’s emissions or the impact of a specific policy on climate forcing and air pollution.

Atmospheric chemistry is clearly a highly complex field. This makes it all the more strange and troubling that such a vast divide exists between debate between experts in the scientific community and debate within society at large.

That said, I suppose these situations aren’t really all that rare. Serious geologists and biologists continue to work out the minutiae of the history of present status of the Earth, at the same time as laypeople and self-styled ‘experts’ maintain debates about whether the world is 6,000 years old and whether all the creatures on it have existed since the beginning of time. By the same token, no matter how sophisticated scientific modeling of the climate becomes – and how much data accumulates demonstrating human-induced warming – there will still be people willing to baldly assert that climate change isn’t happening / is natural / isn’t a problem / is beneficial / is caused by sunspots, etc.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

. November 13, 2009 at 10:54 am

How To Generate Scientific Controversy

1. Pick something that is regarded as true by the vast majority of scientists in the field and claim that it causes something bad.

2. Demand that scientists prove a negative by showing that the good thing doesn’t actually have bad results.

3. When people point out that the facts don’t back up your claim, ignore them. As those people get angry and shouty at you, smugly say, “They’re persecuting me! They’re so closed-minded that they won’t let anyone ask questions!” Bonus points for saying that science is now a religion.

4. If more patient scientists perform studies that undermine your claim, or if you manage to get the government to modify the good thing to fix what you were complaining about, move the goalposts!

R.K. November 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I think you posted earlier on how people often lack the expertise to realize they are incompetent.

R.K. November 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm
. January 25, 2010 at 8:03 am

Scientists ‘losing climate fight’

A leading Australian climate change scientist says experts are losing the fight against sceptics, who are distorting the science of global warming.

Professor Pitman was a lead author on the IPCC’s 2001 and 2007 reports. He is also the co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Professor Pitman says sceptics have used the IPCC’s error to skew the climate change debate.

“Climate scientists are losing the fight with the sceptics,” he said.

“The sceptics are so well funded, so well organised. “They have nothing else to do. They don’t have day jobs so they can put all their efforts into misinforming and miscommunicating climate science to the general public, whereas the climate scientists have day jobs and [managing publicity] actually isn’t one of them.

“All of the efforts you do in an IPCC report is done out of hours, voluntarily, for no funding and no pay, whereas the sceptics are being funded to put out full-scale misinformation campaigns and are doing a damn good job, I think.

“They are doing a superb job at misinforming and miscommunicating the general public, state and federal governments.”

And he says if scientists lose the climate change debate, it would be “potentially catastrophic”.

“If this was academic debate over some trivial issue [it wouldn’t matter],” he said.

“But this isn’t. This is absolutely a fundamental problem for the Earth that we desperately needed full-scale international action on a decade ago.

“We are now 10 years too late to stop some of the major impacts that we will see and have seen as a consequence of global warming. It is not a future problem, it is a problem here today, around us.”

Professor Pitman has accused sceptics of failing to base their arguments on the facts.

“Most of the climate sceptics, particularly those that are wandering around publicly at the moment, don’t base their arguments on science,” he said.

“They have probably never read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report; they aren’t writing papers in peer-reviewed literature.

They don’t update their arguments when their arguments are shown to be false, so they’ll have no problem at all using this ammunition inappropriately and out of context to further their aims in exactly the same way as people did when they were trying to disprove the relationship between smoking and human health.”

. June 18, 2010 at 2:41 pm

“This is a deeper, more fundamental problem than we acknowledge. The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society. When we talk about the uncontrollable explosion in the costs of health care in America, for instance—about the reality that we in medicine are gradually bankrupting the country—we’re not talking about a problem rooted in economics. We’re talking about a problem rooted in scientific complexity.

Half a century ago, medicine was neither costly nor effective. Since then, however, science has combatted our ignorance. It has enumerated and identified, according to the international disease-classification system, more than 13,600 diagnoses—13,600 different ways our bodies can fail. And for each one we’ve discovered beneficial remedies—remedies that can reduce suffering, extend lives, and sometimes stop a disease altogether. But those remedies now include more than six thousand drugs and four thousand medical and surgical procedures. Our job in medicine is to make sure that all of this capability is deployed, town by town, in the right way at the right time, without harm or waste of resources, for every person alive. And we’re struggling. There is no industry in the world with 13,600 different service lines to deliver.”

Milan August 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm

This certainly seems out of line with mainstream scientific opinion:

Source

R.K. August 12, 2010 at 10:45 am

It’s interesting that there were fairly big jumps for liberals and conservatives, and a lesser increase for moderates.

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