Going after the ostriches

A November 10th Daily Collegian featured a story titled, "Student project aims to prove global warming is occurring." The story describes an advanced undergraduate engineering class in which the students were challenged by their professor, Rick Schuhmann, to disprove climate change. If they could do it, they would win dinner at a local Thai restaurant. You think they could do it? The article reports

“The class found more than enough evidence to prove global climate change is occurring and humans are causing it,” Beatty said, referencing her project.

Rick Schuhmann, director of engineering leadership development, gave the students several sources for researching, including United States Senator Jim Inhofe, who said in a speech that global warming is a “hoax” and was proven to be a hoax by the nation’s top scientists.

Inhofe is one of the most politically powerful ostriches in the country, if not the world and he has become infamous for his hard-ball tactics with climate scientists and environmentalists. He has called for Al Gore to testify before congress for his "science fiction movie," An Inconvenient Truth. He has also advocated a criminal investigation into so-called "Climategate."

His ostrich and hoax work is not surprising. He is the biggest recipient of oil and gas industry money and lobbying. According to Common Cause, Inhofe received $630,000 in contributions from oil and gas groups in the first half of 2009 alone.

So this class poses a real challenge to students. It confronts them with effectively sorting through data, through rhetoric, and through a lot of information and making an informed judgment. And the students found that there was no scientifically credible argument against climate change. The story quotes one student, David Leaf, as saying “Global warming is happening. There is just confusion from unreliable sources and politics."

Leaf's group set up a Facebook page you can join called GLOBAL WARMING: Know your facts. Check it out.

The ostriches came out swinging. Samuel Settle of Penn State's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom sent a letter to the editor (the link is currently down) of the Collegian, arguing that people should be skeptical of human-induced climate change. In it he urged readers to view the scientific peer-review process as something of a flawed cabal of the same people continually rubbing one another's shoulders, essentially just telling each other what they want to hear.

This is an interesting thing for a political science major to make. The legitimacy of his field of study rests, in no small part, on the effectiveness of the peer-reviewed literature that it generates and the effectiveness of its predictions, explanations, and descriptions. In fact, the same statistical methods that inform climate science are used in Settle's favorite areas of study - political science and economics - but with less precision and certainty. There is nothing that we know of (and correct us if we are wrong) in Political Science so settled as the scientific certainty of climate change.

In November 11th's Collegian, a Gilman Ouellette, a senior in climatology and physical geography, responded to Settle's argument. Ouellette writes,
[Settle] goes on to misconstrue the peer review process, suggesting that the same conspiring climatologists review every climate change-related article and reject alternative views. In reality, the scientists who contribute to climate research come from a multitude of scientific disciplines, and many peer-reviewed articles on climate change are not published in specific climatology journals. Perhaps it isn’t obvious, but “colluding for political purposes” is an impossible feat when dozens of distinct scientific disciplines are purportedly involved. The letter further displays a lack of factual basis when it is suggested that “Climategate” stands as evidence of corruption among climate scientists. In reality, three separate investigations have found the scientists involved in “Climategate” to be innocent of scientific misconduct.
We've been pretty fortunate to have some pretty excellent people on this show regarding climate change. In February we had Ed Perry, the National Wildlife Federation Global Warming Outreach Coordinator, on the show. He detailed the ways that the climate denialists have manufactured a political controversy that looks like a scientific controversy. As Naomi Oreskes showed in a 2004 article grounds for “skepticism” have been soundly refuted; of 928 papers on climate science published between 1993 and 2003, there was no significant dissent from “the consensus view…[that] climate change is caused by human activity” leading to the conclusion that the evidence for human-induced climate change is “clear and unambiguous." In the six years since that paper was published, that consensus strengthened. An interesting discussion of Oreskes' work can be seen at Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical of global warming skepticism.

Richard Alley explained to us that climate change is basic physics. To paraphrase: People put more CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Adding a greenhouse gas traps more heat in the atmosphere. More heat in the atmosphere changes the climate. This climate change results in problems for the entire biosphere. The consensus around human-induced climate change is overwhelming.

And Michael Mann, the center of the Penn State manfuactroversy - he was cleared of all charges - explained this very clearly in an October op-ed piece in the Washington Post. Regarding the utterly baseless witch hunts that Settle and others associated with "climategate" have startedm Mann wrote the following:
Nonetheless, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is investigating my previous employer, the University of Virginia, based on the stolen e-mails. A judge rejected his initial subpoena, finding that Cuccinelli had failed to provide objective evidence of wrongdoing. Undeterred, Cuccinelli appealed the decision to the Virginia Supreme Court and this week issued a new civil subpoena.
So let's see Settle and his friends deal with this issue. It is settled (but not Settle'd) science and sadly the ostriches are doing us a great disservice. Mann's advice?
My fellow scientists and I must be ready to stand up to blatant abuse from politicians who seek to mislead and distract the public. They are hurting American science. And their failure to accept the reality of climate change will hurt our children and grandchildren, too.
How about you too? Do you have more wisdom than the ostriches?

No comments:

Post a Comment