This post is a sequel to my last, and seeks to answer the same question — what drives those who keep pushing the IPCC’s warming agenda? This time I look at those, mostly scientists and science managers, who do the research work, and take the lead in talking about it. Half a century ago I began to work in the field of survey research, and was taught by one of the masters of that technique, the late Donald E Stokes. An important early discovery was that the data, the questionnaires and the codebook for our work were going to be publicly available, so that other researchers could see what we had done, and improve on it.
That didn’t seem a problem to me. It was already possible to redo some of the research work that had been done in the past, and in any case, we would only be scratching the surface of the realm of data analysis that was possible with a national survey of 2,000 or so people. In time I did my own national surveys of political attitudes and behaviour in Australia, and those data are still there, available for future researchers. They have been used many times. Every now and then someone pops up to show that I was wrong about this or that, or the data could be read another way. That seems to me the way it goes, and should go, in the world of research. Research is both competitive (read The Double Helix) and collaborative (The Double Helix will show you that, too).
I have never thought that it was bad occasionally to be wrong in the conclusions that I drew from my work. If you’re wrong all the time, of course, you lose your audience very quickly. But an occasional wrong inference or conclusion is part of life. We can’t always be right about everything. Teaching undergraduates showed me quickly, also, that my knowledge of what I was teaching them was sometimes woefully thin, and from time to time I had to answer a question with ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and tell you on Thursday’. Not knowing, and being able to say so, and then find out, did my reputation with students no harm at all.
It seems that the world of climate science is not like this. At the moment the University of Western Australia is refusing point blank to reveal the data and methods used by a certain Professor Lewandowsky when he was in the University’s employ. In my view the University is wrong to do so, and I have written to the Vice-Chancellor, urging him to think again. His reply shows that he is unpersuaded. In this case, the point at issue is that Lewandowsky’s published article is both intellectually feeble, to say the least, and seems part of a campaign to discredit third parties, which is not scholarly. Finding out how the research was conducted is therefore important.
The classic climate science case, I think, is an email, now famous, that Phil Jones of CRU sent to Warwick Hughes ten years ago. It went, in part, like this: We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it? Jones was defending his patch, on behalf of ‘the team’ (another Climategate email discovery). To use a beloved phrase of the orthodox, Jones’s behaviour here is ‘consistent with’ the refusal of the orthodox to debate climate science publicly with sceptics.
Why is it so important to defend the patch? Well, lots of animals and birds do it, as do we human beings, some of whom surround their houses with fences, locked gates and security lights. But why behave like that in science? Well, my guess is that there is a lot at stake here: power, status and research funds — plus that virtuous sense of having The Truth that I mentioned in the last post. That applies to the academies as well as to the individual scientists who step up to insist that they are right.
James Lovelock is annoyed about the current IPCC Report because it uses ideas of his that he has abandoned, as though Lovelock still holds to them. In letting his hair down on the BBC he touched on another aspect of the defence of the patch in science, and indeed in intellectual combats of all kinds: Take this climate matter everybody is thinking about. They all talk, they pass laws, they do things, as if they knew what was happening. I don’t think anybody really knows what’s happening. They just guess. And a whole group of them meet together and encourage each other’s guesses.
Once you have become a member of a group that holds a position it is difficult indeed to depart from it without losing friends, status and of course access to research funds. ‘Groupthink’, about which I’ve written before, is the real curse of the orthodox. Doesn’t it also apply to the sceptics? I don’t think so, first because they don’t meet together as a working group, and second because the reasons for their scepticism are really diverse. And on the whole, they have no financial axe to grind.
To read the sceptical assaults on the IPCC’s work in the comments sections of websites like WUWT, Jo Nova, Judith Curry and Bishop Hill is to see a large series of individual jousts, not a co-ordinated assault. But the orthodox shelter behind the IPCC and the academies, unwilling to engage, and insistent, nonetheless, that they are right.