Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 14, 2016

Yes, indeed, too many scientists are biased

It is true that scientists can become biased by the nature of the “news” they provide the public through their research. After all, scientists are human beings who have friends and families as well as funding sources that they wish to remain on good terms with.  On the subject of climate change, claims of personal bias have regularly come from the deniers who suggest that scientists are much too alarming in the interpretation of their results. There is another growing concern, however, that while scientific bias does, indeed, exist, it is now pointed in the opposite direction.  That is, that climate scientists are now tending to “self-censure” interpretations of their own research in order to make that news less alarming and more palatable to the public and their elected officials.

This suggestion has been convincingly made by one of Britain’s leading climate modeler, Dr. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in a recent article entitled “Duality in climate science”.  The full article can be seen at http://kevinanderson.info/blog/duality-in-climate-science/ Its abstract follows:

Brief Abstract: The commentary demonstrates the endemic bias prevalent amongst many of those developing emission scenarios to severely underplay the scale of the 2°C mitigation challenge. In several important respects the modeling community is self-censoring its research to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm. Moreover, there is a widespread reluctance of many within the climate change community to speak out against unsupported assertions that an evolution of ‘business as usual’ is compatible with the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets. With specific reference to energy, this analysis concludes that even a slim chance of “keeping below” a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.

In the full article, Anderson convincingly argues that many of the modelers of future climate change are recommending corrective changes that are merely “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary”. By these two terms, Anderson means that too many scientists are going along with the relatively palatable thought that we can limit the industrial age temperate increase to 2 degrees C by making modest adjustments to our means of energy production and use – while turning a blind eye to the more likely conclusion of their own research that great and unprecedented changes are required.

For example, Anderson points out that in order to achieve that 2C limit, either worldwide emissions of CO2 must go to zero by the year 2050 or we will have to have developed means of removing CO2 from the atmosphere that compensates for those continued emissions. Since the latter “solution” is essentially a fairy tale, the former is the only one that is scientifically feasible and too few scientists are informing the public of that somber fact. If you happen to believe that CO2 removal by Carbon Capture and Sequestration, for example, will become either economically feasible or even physically possible in the foreseeable future, you should read the recent summary of that technology at http://www.corporateknights.com/channels/climate-and-carbon/the-quest-for-ccs-14520600/  and then think again – that ain’t going to happen!

For about a decade now, most of our most influential pro-environmental politicians have been indulging in what has been called “greenwashing”. This term means talking the talk of climate change, but at a level that is too superficial and anemic as to significantly address the problem.  For a politician, this stance might be understandable in that the solutions they suggest will be better received if those solutions are perceived to be “doable” by the public. Sadly, it now appears that many influential scientists are doing the same in order to be on the same page as those environmentally conscientious politicians.  Any scientist who has been educated in a bona fide scientific community also knows, however, that a scientist’s conclusions should ideally be based on the results of their experiments alone.  In fact, it is the duty of scientists to provide the public with assessments of this sort – that are free of all other social and economic factors that might be affected by those scientific results.  It appears, however, that that is not happening. Too many climate scientists are trying too hard to march forward, hand-in-hand, with the greenwashing politicians of their countries.

A result of all of this is that the public is soothed – they are given the impression that the problem is being appropriately addressed by both our political and scientific leaders. Angst is thereby diminished in the public domain. In reality, however, this approach amounts to little more than kicking the climate change problem down the road thereby squandering more time, that most precious commodity we are too quickly running out of.

If you require a more thorough and detailed explanation of where we are really headed, I will refer you once again to a 50-minute lecture on this topic by Dr. Anderson – see it at  http://vimeo.com/62871951  Sorry if this unfiltered scientific report is distinctly unsettling, but within a decade or two your grandchildren will be asking you if you paid any attention to the real science of our times. Of the candidates we have before us for the Presidency in 2016, Bernie Sanders is the only one who is on the page of the real science related here. The best of the rest are greenwashing Democrats and if you want the short-term bliss that goes along with ignorance, you have a host of Republicans to choose from.  In short, you will soon have the opportunity to do something very significant about the climate change problem and your grandchildren will be reading the historical record.


Responses

  1. Perhaps we are also simply reaping the fruits of keeping science and scientists at arms length in the broader community. Rarely do I see scientists publishing for the general public about their work – they speak to their chorus of professionals.

  2. If one could vote for a global average temperature, I would choose an increase of 6 Kelvin as that would put us back to the conditions during the PETM climate optimum, 50 million years ago. That was when mammals (like you and me) achieved dominance.

    Kevin Anderson is offering us a miserable increase of 2 Kelvin and his forecast is not credible since global temperatures have increased only 0.8 Kelvin in 250 years in spite of a dramatic uptick in atmospheric CO2.

    [Response by EPG: Galloping, Shame on you, don’t you know that increased T is caused by increased CO2 and not merely the passage of time.]


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