Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Michael Crichton’s Legacy

The website of the late Michael Crichton has been re-designed. Unfortunately, an entire section – the one that provided the text of his speeches – has vanished. This is distressing news. His observations on topics such as:

  • global warming
  • environmentalism as a religion
  • the role of science in society
  • the difficulty of predicting the future

are thoughtful and compelling. Here, therefore, are some alternative sources:

  1. The Role of Science in Environmental Policy-Making (Aug. 2005, US Senate Committee testimony)
  2. Aliens Cause Global Warming (Jan. 2003)
  3. The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming (Jan. 2005)
  4. Environmentalism as Religion (Sept. 2003)
  5. a 45-page PDF here contains 3 speeches: Aliens Cause Global Warming, Environmentalism as Religion, and The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming

When Crichton testified before a committee of the US Senate in 2005, he contrasted the rigorous rules that apply to drug testing with the casual approach to data adjustment (and the incestuous nature of researcher relationships) that seems to be par for the course in climate science:

It’s 1991, I am flying home from Germany, sitting next to a man who is almost in tears, he is so upset. He’s a physician involved in an FDA study of a new drug. It’s a double-blind study involving four separate teams – one plans the study, another administers the drug to patients, a third assess the effect on patients, and a fourth analyzes results. The teams do not know each other, and are prohibited from personal contact of any sort, on peril of contaminating the results. This man had been sitting in the Frankfurt airport, innocently chatting with another man, when they discovered to their mutual horror they are on two different teams studying the same drug. They were required to report their encounter to the FDA. And my companion was now waiting to see if the FDA would declare their multi-year, multi-million-dollar study invalid because of this contact. [bold added]

For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. A striking feature of climate science is that it’s permissible for raw data to be “touched,” or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. Sometimes these adjustments are necessary, sometimes they are questionable. Sometimes the adjustments are documented, sometimes not. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.

Crichton goes on to argue that studies which claim to reveal important information about the climate should, at minimum, be confirmed by another group of researchers working entirely independently:

…any study where a single team plans the research, carries it out, supervises the analysis, and writes their own final report, carries a very high risk of undetected bias.

What this all means, of course, is that a company that merely wants to introduce a new version of Aspirin gets subjected to a rigorous examination that makes climate science look amateurish by comparison.

What is wrong with this picture? How does it make sense for large parts of the world to adopt fundamental lifestyle changes (see here, here, here, here and here) before we’ve even double-checked the scientific findings?

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This entry was posted on February 10, 2011 by in ethical & philosophical and tagged .
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