Saturday, February 3, 2007

IPCC's Artful Bias

Every trial lawyer will tell you that the key to presenting a strong case lies in carefully omitting the evidence against you. This is not lying, it is artful bias. Advocacy is the heart of our adversarial judicial system. Each side presents its case in the strongest possible terms, as though the other side's case did not exist. The jury hears both sides, puts the whole story together, then decides.

Anyone who doubts that the new IPCC Summary for Policy Makers is an advocacy document is ineligible for duty on the jury of reason. So what ain't they saying? Unfortunately the other side does not seem to be represented. We have looked in vain for the minority report. You would think that for $18 million they could afford one, but that just measures the advocationality of the thing. One side fits all.

Here is just a graphic peek at the missing side to give you the flavor of the game. Figure 2 shows a bunch of bars. Each represents one of the factors that is thought to have influenced global temperature. We see at once that all but one of these bars is human. Most are pretty big, especially the really big red one labeled CO2. There is one tiny natural bar labeled Solar.

There it is. Case closed. The jury can go home, no need to hear from the other side, it will only confuse them. We did it. The prosecution rests, let the persecution begin.

Well not really, as always in these proceedings. A big pile of contrary science is missing here. Good science, interesting science, being carried on by a whole lot of real scientists.

For simplicity let's divide this mountain of contrary science into three high heaps.

The first heap has to do with this little bitty solar bar. This bar is based on the relatively small amount of variable, direct radiant energy coming from the sun. What is omitted is a huge amount of research going on into indirect and amplified solar mechanisms. The reason for this research is the close correlation between solar variation and global temperature, seen over a lot of time scales. Something is going on but we don't know what and there are a lot of theories. Google Scholar lists over 500,000 scientific papers on solar variability. The IPCC omits this research because it does not help their case.

The second heap includes little things like the ocean, earth wobbles, etc., that are also thought to heavily influence climate. They get no bar at all, because we can't measure their influence either, even though we know it is there.

The third heap is ugly but very real. It is research into natural climate variability per se, something that has received a lot of attention. We now know that climate varies all the time, for reasons we do not understand. It has varied quite naturally a lot more than the little bit we are fussing with today. So today's warming may well be simply the emergence of mother earth from the famous Little Ice Age. But you can't put a bar on the LIA because we don't know what causes it. Looking at the IPCC bar chart you would never know there was a LIA, just a lot of human stuff and a bitty bit of sun. That is the truly artful part of their bias, simply ignore what we don't understand, like it did not exist.

In short, it is easy to argue that humans control climate, if you omit nature. That is just what the IPCC does, and it is very good advocacy. It's just not good science.

The Washington Pest

6 Comments:

Anonymous Rob said...

Nice piece on the legal approach to argument.

For some time I've been particularly concerned that scientific method is being drowned by the legal approach to research. Scientific method involves developing a theory and testing it using falsification - that is you design an experiment or collect more data and see it it disproves your theory. The whole scientific basis to our society is based not on proof of theories, but on their disproof and subsequent development of theories which better fit the evidence. It takes a very very long time before we are prepared to call something a Law and even then it is subject to modification (Einstein's theory or relativity is the modification to Newton's laws of motion to account for observations that disprove it).

However, when we use a legal method as you describe it, the effort ceases to be disproving your own theory and becomes discrediting the falsifying evidence.

This is the case with all 'advocates' and which is why advocacy has no role in science. While I agree that it is human nature to try to support your own theories, a scientific nature should welcome contrary evidence as a chance to improve upon your theory.

The debate over human contribution to climate change is the most obvious example of this trend and it is a highly illuminating and interesting case study of how scientists of almost all stripes have become advocates and ceased to be scientists. As a natural skeptic, I question all consensus, putting me on the opposite side to the IPCC. However I would also say that there are plenty of advocates on the 'other' side as well and there are few who really do seem to try to falsify their own theories any more.

Perhaps I am just a naive idealist to think that scientists can remain free of advocacy when there are so many research dollars at stake - but they could at least try to stick to a scientific method that has served mankind so well over the past coulpe of centuries.

February 08, 2007  
Blogger The Washington Pest said...

We will never falsify a compliment, but some modification may be called for here. Advocacy by scientists is fine by us. The IPCC is not doing scientific research, it is supposed to be doing assessment of research and that is not supposed to be advocational. The IPCC should have a minority report; it is as simple as that. Since the US pays the lion's share of the IPCC budget it should insist on a minority report.

As an aside we do not agree that science is based on falsification (contra Popper). Science is about making progress in understanding. Nobody gets a Nobel for falsifying a theory. Falsification is a necessary evil, the error in trial and error. Congress is not paying scientists to falsify each other's theories. It is paying for understanding how the world works. Read the proposals. Two falsifications of your theory and you are out, maybe one.

February 08, 2007  
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