Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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About Climate Change – Part 1

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/01/06

Due to the recent occurrence of Climategate, it seems worth commenting on the climate change war that continues in the US.

Now, I could bring up various charts and graphs created by each “side” to try and convince you of their scientific rightness. But instead of doing that, let’s see what we can show without using any source that is even related to the climate sciences. If you are worried that politics or money is skewing the results away from reality, then the only way to provably ascertain anything is by looking in the places where those politics and money wouldn’t be affecting anything.

So for starters, let’s look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a Federal organization that’s sole purpose is to catalog the sort of labor being done in the US and quantify it numerically. It has no relationship with the sort of political battles being fought over climate change, and can be relied on to present no altered data in regards to this subject.

The term “climate scientist” is slightly open. There are several fields that, together, become the climate sciences. Within the BLS website, I have identified 3 groups within this range, atmospheric scientists, environmental scientists, and geoscientists.

There is an argument stating that climate scientists will prefer to try and prove anthropogenic climate change (ACC) as research grants will come in greater torrents when there is a potential catastrophe in the mix. Research grants can, however, come from any sector. They might come from universities, government, or big business. For our sake, we’ll assume that money which comes from universities or government will be tainted towards proving ACC, while as money which comes from businesses are tainted towards disproving ACC. I believe that this follows the popular perception of these groups. And fortunately, we have statistics telling us how many scientists are employed by each of these groups, thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Atmospheric Scientists
40.1% Government
8.46% Universities
41.3% Business

Environmental Scientists
42.76% Government
5.55% Universities
42.39% Business

18.01% Government
4.84% Universities
69.15% Business (adding in Mining)

As you might note, the numbers are actually fairly even (or leans towards business in the case of the geosciences). There is a roughly 50/50 split between scientists who would lean towards proving or towards disproving ACC.

Now let’s look at the actual prominence of tainted data. The argument is that research funding (AKA, “my livelihood depends on this”) causes people to modify their data. This will be just as true of any other area of research as climate change and hence you would expect that someone has actually studied it. As it happens, two such studies have been done, looking at the pharmaceutical and health industries. So again, this is research that was done independently of the question of climate change. Roughly 15.5% of those polled reported that they had been willing to change their results or methodology.

This means that the data coming from a full 84.5% of all of our scientists is trustworthy. And of course, the groups are evenly split in regards to what side they are being pressured to work towards, so half of our 15.5% will modify data towards supporting ACC, and half of the 15.5% will modify data towards disproving ACC.

But still, this means that 15.5% of all data is suspect. So we ask ourselves, is this a worry? And the answer is that it really isn’t. Creating a study that is sufficiently well documented to get published in a peer reviewed journal simply buys any piece of data a tiny piece of visibility. As a scientist, though, such data is still held to be almost certainly wrong. The business of science is one where you gain bragging points by proving that others are wrong. The more people that you prove wrong, in fact, the higher your career climbs. Coming up with stuff that others can’t disprove no matter how hard they try, of course, makes it climb even higher. But the point is that until a study has been replicated by several other, antagonistic groups, no finding is believed by anyone who is an actual scientist. This is where reports of scientific studies in general newspapers always mess up. They treat a single study as being conclusive evidence of a thing. Scientists need to see the same data replicated by rivals a good dozen times before they care at all.

So, does that 15.5% matter? Not really, no. Certainly, data is manufactured and tampered with. But with the other 84.5% of everyone trying to disprove those studies, that error disappears. That’s why the system was set up to be this way.


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