6 ways climate science gets infected with politics

Many seem to think that scientists have no reason to have political motivations, and that anyone who suggests that climate science is politicized is a deranged right-wing conspiracy theorist. That’s why it’s important to understand that there are reasons that are in fact well documented if you care to know about them.

1. Climate science was set up to get rid of uncertainty

As Judith Curry has pointed out repeatedly, the climate problem has been seen as a “tame”. One that is clearly understood.

President Obama said in his state of the Union Address: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” President Obama seems to view climate change as a ‘tame problem’, where we have clearly understand the problem and have identified the appropriate solutions.

I view the climate change problem very differently, as a ‘wicked mess’. A wicked problem is complex with dimensions that are difficult to define and changing with time. A mess is characterized by the complexity of interrelated issues, with suboptimal solutions that create additional problems.

When you know the basics of what the problem is, all you need to do is fill in the details and reduce uncertainty. And this is in fact what climate scientists have been trying to do. The problem is that you can’t change your mind without becoming uncertain in the process. You don’t just suddenly flip from being very certain about something to being very certain about something. There will be a period in the meantime when you’re not sure which one is correct. So once anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory become “settled”, it must be “unsettled” before it can change significantly.

2. Only one line of investigation

In practice, the emphasis has been overwhelmingly on AGW, in particular greenhouse gases, and especially CO2. Also, to the extent that natural climate change has been researched, it has been mostly about what is known as external forcings, while ignoring interenal variability. External forcings are influences that are outside the normal workings of the climate systems. So CO2 is an anthropogenic forcing, while the Sun is a natural forcing. Internal variability, on the other hand, are processes like ocean circulation and cloud formation, which cause the climate to vary even when the outside influences are constant.

The problem with one-sided examination of an issue is well known from criminal investigations. Investigators fixate on one suspect, others are ignored, and they end up finding some evidence that incriminates that one suspect and while missing the evidence that indicates another suspect may be the more likely culprit. It’s hard to compare something you know much about with something you know very little about. In fact, there is probably no way to avoid bias in this case.

3. Everything else rests on the one hypothesis

Of the three IPCC working groups, only the first one deals with the physical science basis and therefore with the question of whether and to what extent humans contribute to climate change. The two other working groups (II: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; III: mitigation) are, if not totally pointless, at least much less relevant if there is no AGW. So at least to some extent, the way the IPCC reports are organized presuppose certain answers for working group I.

4. Climate scientists get more funding if they are appropriately alarming

This is provocative to some people, because it seems like I’m accusing climate scientists of being money-hungry bastards. That’s not it. I’m just saying that scientists will get more research money if their research is seen as useful to society and that avoiding global catastrophes is of course seen as extremely useful. Also, people often believe what’s useful for them to believe, and the temptation to believe in doomsday scenarios yourself will be great if it helps you make a living as a scientist. Or alternatively, there may be a “survival of the fittest” process, in which alarmist scientists get more research funds and end up as the winners, the starts on the climate science firmament, while the ones who just study the climate but aren’t trying to make gloomy predictions for the future end up with less impressive CVs.

5. The IPCC recruits scientists from Big Green

Donna LaFramboise has documented this in some detail on her blog and in her book The Delinquent Teenager who was mistaken for the world’s top climate expert. Here, for example:

So of the 32 members of the IPCC’s core writing team that we might have expected to be world-class scientists, 11 of them (34%) are publicly affiliated with environmental NGOs.

And we’re really supposed to believe that the IPCC is a scientific organization writing purely scientific reports.

Why is this important? Because the big environmental organizations make money from alarmism by using it to get donations. How much money would the WWF lose if polar bears weren’ threatened?

6. Media sensationalism

It’s hardly a secret that the media love sensational headlines. This makes them tend to get their information from sources that dramatize and exaggerate. Extreme weather is a particularly bad case. Even when the IPCC is not alarmist, the media tends to be. Although the IPCC  most of the claims that catastrophic extreme weather is caused by climate change, the media keep using sources that tell them otherwise. Bill McKibben gets huge media attention by claiming that US hurricanes are caused by AGW, even though US hurricanes have not increased in frequency or strength. In fact, the opposite would be closer to the truth. Compared to the IPCC reports, meda coverage of climate change is selective and massively exaggerated.

What does all of this add up to? Massive bias, perhaps?

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