Liar, Liar

Some time ago, I referenced Richard Feynman‘s famous 1974 Caltech commencement address, in which he discussed what he called “cargo cult science“. I think it might be a good idea to remember a small part of that address.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be
a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll
leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about
a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Feynman was not engaging in abstract moralizing. Science simply cannot function without that kind of integrity. It is essential to the enterprise of learning about the world we live that those who do the research be as honest as humanly possible about their findings. The credibility of science depends on this honesty.

This brings me to some recent developments in the conflict between the global warmists and the nefarious deniers. It seems that one Peter Gleick, the head of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security acquired  electronic documents from the Heartland Institute under false pretenses. He planned to expose these deniers for the scoundrels they are and disclose the members of the secret cabal that is funding all of the climate change deniers. Perhaps this would have the same sort of impact the “climategate” emails had. The problem was that there wasn’t anything really sinister about the documents. Well, that is not a problem. He simply forged what he needed. Well, he hasn’t admitted to the forgery yet, but he has to be a prime suspect.

After getting caught, Gleick admitted his actions in a statement on Huffington Post. There has been a lot of commentary on this subject all over the place, and I don’t really have much to add. I do want to quote the last two paragraphs to make my point in this.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

I think that it is interesting that he claims to want a rational debate on the issue of climate change. In fact, the global warmists seem to want nothing like a rational debate on the issue. Instead they engage in name calling (deniers), alarmism, and squelching dissenting views.

But my main point is this. Between the climategate emails with their statements about “hiding the decline”, Michael Mann’s  hockey stick with dubious statistical methodology, and now this, climate science has some serious credibility issues. To put it bluntly, why should anyone believe anything they say? This is precisely the sort of thing Feynman was warning about. Unless a scientist is rigorously honest about his methods and his results, and guards against self deception mot of all, sooner or later there will be a problem with credibility.

What if the the climate change crowd are correct? I do not believe that they are, but I could be wrong. If so, they have badly damaged their case with these sort of antics, not to mention their inability to come up with credible solutions, and put the whole planet in danger.

Update: I think Walter Russel Mead has the best summary of this business I have yet read.

Like Dean Acheson addressing the communist menace, they were “clearer than truth.” They stretched evidence, invented catastrophes—vanishing glaciers, disappearing polar bears, waves of force five hurricanes sweeping up the coast, the end of snow—to sell their unsalable dream. Not all greens were this irresponsible, but many prominent spokespersons and journalists working with the movement were; ultimately the mix of an unworkable policy agenda and a climate of hype and hysteria holed the green ship below the waterline.

Of contemporary mass movements, the green movement has been consistently the most alarmist, the least constructive, the most emotional, the least rational, the most intolerant and the most self righteous.  What makes it all sad rather than funny is that underneath the hype, the misstatements, the vicious character attacks on anyone who dissented from the orthodoxy of the day, and the dumbest policy ideas since the Kellogg-Briand Pact that aimed to outlaw war, there really are some issues here that require thoughtful study and response.


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