One view is that science doesn’t work like this. Here is Steven Mosher, joint author of the excellent Climategate: The Crutape Letters: …debates are rare because science is not a debate, or more specifically, science does not proceed or advance by verbal debates in front of audiences. You can win a debate and be wrong about the science.
When I read that I could immediately think of a scientific debate or two that I had attended, and not about climate science at all. And Dr Robert G. Brown, of Duke University, a physicist well-known in the climate blogosphere as rgbatduke, wrote nearly 6,000 words disagreeing with Mosher. You can read it all here.
Brown is, in my opinion, always worth reading, and his long essay is a delight. I’m just going to cut and paste, but there are many more best bits than you’ll find here. He says to Mosher, You’re right that you can “win the debate and be wrong about the science”, however, for two reasons. One is that in science, we profoundly believe that there is an independent objective standard of truth, and that is nature itself, the world around us.
And then, We attempt to build a mathematical-conceptual map to describe the real terrain, but (as any general semantician would tell you) the map is not the terrain, it is at best a representation of the terrain, almost certainly an imperfect one.
On universities: The tenure system that was intended to prevent this sort of thing has been transformed into a money pump for Universities that can no longer survive without the constant influx of soft and indirect cost money farmed every year by their current tenured faculty, especially those in the sciences. Because in most cases that support comes from the federal government, that is to say our taxes, there is constant pressure to keep the research “relevant” to public interests.
On research and ‘climate change’: Just go to any of the major search engines and enter “climate” along with anything you like as part of the search string. You would be literally amazed at how many disparate branches of utterly disconnected research manage to sneak some sort of climate connection into their proposals, and then (by necessity) into their abstracts and/or paper text.
Followed by: I do not intend to imply by the above that all science is corrupt, or that scientists are in any sense ill-intentioned or evil. Not at all. Most scientists are quite honest, and most of them are reasonably fair in their assessment of facts and doubt. But scientists have to eat, and for better or worse we have created a world where they are in thrall to their funding.
This is the right reply to those who insist that sceptics must believe in some sort of conspiracy.
On peer review: When I review a paper, I’m not passing a judgment as a participant on whether or not its conclusion is correct politically or otherwise…. I am supposed to be determining whether or not the paper is clear, whether its arguments contain any logical or mathematical inconsistencies, whether it is well enough done to pass muster as “reasonable”, if it is worthy of publication, now not whether or not it is right or even convincing beyond not being obviously wrong or in direct contradiction of known facts.
And: …the ClimateGate letters openly revealed that it [peer review] has long since become covertly corrupted, with most of the refereeing being done by a small, closed, cabal of researchers who accept one another’s papers and reject as referees (well, technically only “recommend” rejection as referees) any paper that seriously challenges their conclusions. Furthermore, they revealed that this group of researchers was perfectly willing to ruin academic careers and pressure journals to fire any editor that dared to cross them. They corrupted the peer review process itself — articles are no longer judged on the basis of whether or not the science is well presented and moderately sound, they have twisted it so that the very science being challenged by those papers is used as the basis for asserting that they are unsound.
On models and chaos: The climate is a highly nonlinear chaotic system. Worse, chaos was discovered by Lorenz [Edward Norton Lorenz] in the very first computational climate models. Chaos, right down to apparent period doubling, is clearly visible (IMO) in the 5 million year climate record. Chaotic systems, in a chaotic regime, are nearly uncomputable even for very, simple, toy problems — that is the essence of Lorenz’s discovery as his first weather model was crude in the extreme, little more than a toy.
And finally: I personally would argue that historical climate data manifestly a) fail to falsify the null hypothesis; b) strongly support the assertion that the climate is highly naturally variable as a chaotic nonlinear highly multivariate system is expected to be; and c) that at this point, we have extremely excellent reason to believe that the climate problem is non-computable, quite probably non-computable with any reasonable allocation of computational resources the human species is likely to be able to engineer or afford, even with Moore’s Law, anytime in the next few decades, if Moore’s Law itself doesn’t fail in the meantime.
A great, and highly controlled, paper.
I don’t think I’ve ever read such a spirited, tough-minded and (so far as I can see) accurate essay on climate science. It’s a joy.
Oh, of course it’s also a powerful response to Mosher’s saying that science doesn’t work through debate — and in spades.[Update, a few days later: here is a civilised not-quite-a-debate between five scientists on the sun’s influence on climate. Marcel Crok is doing a great thing with this website.