February 3, 2010
Manipulating the Climate Numbers
By David Warren
Yesterday was Candlemas, and therefore also Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-prognosticating groundhog of Gobbler's Knob, predicted six more weeks of "global cooling." I use that term with the same abandon as might the IPCC, of course: technically, the animal only predicts six more weeks "of winter." I'm not sure how far away from his location in Pennsylvania the prediction is meant to apply.
In fact, I've never been able to get a clear answer to this, just as my reader will never get a clear answer from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- which, together with Al Gore, an immense groundhog-like creature who crawls frequently out of a hole in Tennessee, constitutes our chief media source of climatological "settled science." (A contradiction of terms.)
We've been given some clear answers that weren't serious, ranging from the famed "hockey stick" diagram, that entirely misrepresented planetary temperature trends; to smaller assertions such as, "all the glaciers in the Himalayas will have melted by the year 2035." This latter we now know was made up from whole cloth, like the polar bear die-off, and a great deal of nonsense about Arctic and Antarctic ice cover.
To my survey, there is not a single aspect of the "anthropogenic global warming" hypothesis that has been left standing by recent revelations, and more shoes drop every day.
It's better than that: Sir David King, the British government's former "chief scientist," has even had to abandon his arguably paranoid claim that "highly sophisticated" foreign intelligence services and/or wealthy rightwing Americans were behind the e-mail leak from the University of East Anglia, that touched off the bottomless "Climategate" scandal in November. For as he admitted to the Guardian on Monday (hardly a rightwing newspaper), he had simply failed to follow the story.
All the e-mails were hacked through a single server. They included e-mails saved from as far back as 1996, and various data sets that fatally undermined the credibility of the whole international "anthropogenic global warming" research effort -- by illustrating conscious selection of statistics, and direct manipulation of reporting in scientific publications, by major players.
From what I can see, I doubt Sir David was dishonest. He had simply averted his eyes from inconvenient truths. This is a very common human foible, and scientists are, I insist, human beings. Had he been following the story he would have grasped that everything came through one server, that the information had not been cherry-picked by some nefarious spy agency over 14 years.
I might almost say the same for the disgraced Dr. Phil Jones, the former boss of the East Anglia operation, now implicated in various cover-ups, attempts to intimidate and silence skeptics, and purposeful breaches of Britain's freedom of information act. I'm sure he "believed" in what he was doing.
Like communist apparatchiks in the good old days, a global warm-alarmist may "honestly" think he is serving a higher purpose, that he is on "the right side of history," that he must cut a few corners for the greater good, that the end will eventually justify the means. Read Dostoevsky on this. The book is Crime and Punishment, and the character is Raskolnikov. By subtle increments a failure of candour degenerates into major-league crime.
Not only all the numbers, but all the assumptions behind "AGW" -- not "most," but all -- have depended on the manipulation of facts by persons who had an interest in manipulating them. Often the specific incident is small, but the falsehood is cumulative. Investment in the illusion grows, the stakes become too large to forfeit. Yet the reality remains: that we still don't know any more about long-term human influence on climate than Punxsutawney Phil can know by observing his own shadow.
This should have been obvious to climatologists from the beginning. At the simplest level, they could observe that global temperature estimates depended on a slur of constantly changing thermometer locations and time sequences. NASA's recent admissions are the more pathetic for that reason: from the top down, these were men who should have known better than to think they could fly beyond the end of such a limb.
I have argued previously for chastity: not limited to the sexual sense, of keeping one's pants on. The virtue of chastity requires us to look at the world without immediately engaging our desires. Those desires are often not sexual at all; some of the most powerful involve justifying one's livelihood. A scientist with an interest in getting a result is under huge temptation, compounded by the huge public funding on which his research depends.
Our mysterious capacity for chastity can put us above the animal level: for if we try, we can actually remove the blinkers of, "What's in it for me?" -- and discover truths larger than ourselves. The highest arts and sciences require alike the highest conditions of chastity. It is what lifts us above the groundhogs.