Posts Tagged ‘Richard Feynman’

Piltdown Man

December 19, 2016

The intellectual process of developing theories and hypotheses based on observations and experiments and checking those hypotheses with further experiments and observations that we refer to as science has proven itself to be the best tool human beings have ever developed for understanding and making use of the world around us. This process is not an easy one, however.  Not only is it a lot of work to conduct the necessary experiments and interpret the results, but the process demands a  rigorous honesty that does not come easily to anyone. Most people are less interested in discovering the truth than in being proven right, and there is always a tendency to consider only the evidence that confirms existing ideas and ignore the evidence against them. As Dr. Richard Feynmann put it in his lecture about cargo cult science:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The problem is that this level of integrity is almost contrary to human nature. There is a great temptation to cheat, particularly when the rewards of fame and fortune are present.

One of the most famous instances of scientific cheating is Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a hypothetical “missing link” between human and ape discovered by an amatuer paleontologist Charles Dawson at the Piltdown gravel quarry in 1912. Dawson stated that workmen at the quarry had discovered skull fragments which they had given to him. Dawson had been able to reconstruct the skull with these fragments and other pieces that he had found at Piltdown. The resulting skull had a roughly human cranium, although only two thirds the size of a modern human brain, but an ape-like jaw with large canines. Clearly this was the remains of a creature caught midway in the transition between human and ape, the missing link of the chain of evolution.

Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson

At first, there was some skepticism about Dawson’s find. The canines seemed too large for the jaw and the whole thing seemed to be just a little too neat a combination of human and ape. Then, Dawson found another skull about two miles away. It might be possible for a human skull and ape jaw to have somehow been put together once and fossilized . Surely that couldn’t happen twice. Piltdown Man was accepted as a legitimate ancestor to homo sapiens.

 

Piltdown Man

Piltdown Man

 

At the time of Piltdown Man’s discovery, relatively little was known about the details of how humans evolved from their apelike ancestors. Over the years, more early human fossils were discovered and much more was learned about how humans became human. As the missing pieces were fitted together, it became increasingly obvious that Piltdown Man didn’t fit in. Paleontologists began to suspect that Piltdown Man was either an aberration, perhaps a mutation of some sort, of a hoax. In 1953, the question was definitely settled. Piltdown was shown to be a hoax. Piltdown Man was actually a rather crude forgery. The skull was that of a medieval man with a small head. The jaw was from an orangutan and the canines were the teeth of a chimpanzee.

The only remaining question was whether Charles Dawson was the forger or whether he was merely an innocent dupe. Dawson was the obvious suspect, but there were others associated with the discovery of Piltdown Man, who might have been able to perpetrate such a hoax, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Recent research, however, has indicated that Charles Dawson was indeed the forger. He actually had something of a history of perpetrating such hoaxes and was well known for his skill at making unexpected archaeological finds, invariably later discovered to be forgeries.

Why did it take so long to expose Piltdown Man? The forgery was not very sophisticated and the discoverer had a reputation for not being particularly honest. To be fair, a space of forty years between the discovery and the exposure is not an unreasonable amount of time considering how much was discovered about human development in that time. Still, one might have expected more skepticism to be shown, especially considering how important the find seemed to be at the time. It seems as if everyone involved in the research involving Piltdown Man showed a disregard for the sort of scientific integrity that Dr. Feynman was talking about. For years no one seemed to want to consider the increasing evidence that Piltdown Man wasn’t real.

I think that was the problem. Piltdown Man was exactly what most paleontologists were expecting. At the time of his discovery, the general consensus was that human beings developed large brains first, while retaining a more apelike physiology such as a large jaw and lack of bipedalism. Only later, they believed did humans began to walk erect and to develop a flatter, more human face. It was also generally believed that human beings developed somewhere in Eurasia, Perhaps even in Germany, where Neanderthal Man had been discovered not long before, or in England. There was a certain amount of nationalistic pride in being the area where humanity began. It is not that surprising, then, that British paleontologists were the least likely to be skeptical about Piltdown Man.

In any event, these assumptions that Piltdown Man seemed to confirm have proven to be wrong. Primitive humans, such as the Australopithecus (Lucy)  began to walk erect on two feet long before developing larger brains, and the human race arose in Africa, almost the opposite of what was generally believed. I wonder how much these widely held but wrong assumptions held back the science of paleontology.

I also wonder how many other Piltdown Mans there are out there that are holding back the progress of science. I don’t mean hoaxes or forgeries necessarily, though that is a greater problem is science than many realized, but ideas and theories that are held to be settled science but aren’t. I wonder how much that everyone “knows” to be true and so not worth questioning, are not true, and how long it will take before anyone thinks to question it.

Atomic Hard Drive

August 16, 2016

It is easy to become depressed about the state of the world right now. We have what are probably the worst two candidates running for president in this election. The whole world seems to be falling apart and terrorist attacks are starting to become a daily occurrence in Europe and America and our leaders express confusion over their motives; obviously Islam has nothing to do with the Islamic State. The economy seems to be stagnant with the 1% getting ever richer and the rest of us struggling to keep in place.

But this kind of thinking is misleading. We do have problems, yet in so many ways, life in the twenty-first century is better than it has ever been. Our lives are far more comfortable in almost every material sense than those of the people who lived a century ago, thanks to the enormous progress we have made in science and technology. The day-to-day bad news, which tends to depress us, is really a distraction from all the amazing discoveries and inventions that will be changing our lives over the rest of the century.

Here’s a story I read in the Wall Street Journal about one of these discoveries.

By manipulating the interactions between individual atoms, scientists report they have created a device that can pack hundreds of times more information per square inch than the best currently available data-storage technologies.

The working prototype is part of a decades-long attempt to shrink electronics down to the atomic level, a feat scientists believe would allow them to store information much more efficiently, in less space and more cheaply. By comparison, tech companies today build warehouse-sized data centers to store the billions of photos, videos and posts consumers upload to the internet daily. Corporations including International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. also have explored research to reduce such space needs.

The so-called atomic-scale memory, described in a paper published on Monday in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology, can hold one kilobyte, the equivalent of roughly a paragraph of text.

It may not sound “very impressive,” said Franz Himpsel, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who wasn’t involved in the study. But “I would call it a breakthrough.”

Most previous attempts at encoding information with atoms, including his own, managed roughly one byte, Dr. Himpsel said. And data could be stored only once. To store new information, the “disk” had to be re-formatted, like CD-Rs popular in the ’90s.

With the new device, “we can rewrite it as often as we like,” said Sander Otte, an experimental physicist at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and the lead author on the new paper.

They can actually arrange individual atoms. When I was growing up, no one had ever seen an atom. They were too small to be imaged, even by electron microscopes. Scientists did not invent the scanning tunneling microscope, which allows individual atoms to be “seen” and manipulated until the 1980’s.

Scanning tunnelling microscope

Scanning tunnelling microscope

To build their prototype, the scientists peppered a flat copper bed with about 60,000 chlorine atoms scattered at random, purposely leaving roughly 8,000 empty spaces among them. A mapping algorithm guided the tiny, copper-coated tip of a high-tech microscope to gently pull each chlorine atom to a predetermined location, creating a precise arrangement of atoms and neighboring “holes.”

The team also crafted a language for their device. The stored information is encoded in the patterns of holes between atoms. The atom-tugging needle reads them as ones and zeros, turning them into regular binary code.

The researchers marked up the grid with instructions that cued the software where it should direct the needle to write and read data. For instance, a three-hole diagonal line marked the end of a file.

They still have a lot of work to do before our computers come equipped with an atomic hard drive.

Writing the initial data to the device took about a week, though the rewriting process takes just a few hours, Dr. Otte said.

“It’s automated, so it’s 10 times faster than previous examples,” said Christopher Lutz, a staff scientist at IBM Research-Almaden in San Jose, Calif. Still, “this is very exploratory. It’s important not to see this one-kilobyte memory result as something that can be taken directly to a product.”

Reading the stored data is much too slow to have practical applications soon. Plus, the device is stable for only a few hours at extremely low temperatures. To be competitive with today’s hard drives, the memory would have to persist for years and work in warmer temperatures, said Victor Zhirnov, chief scientist at the Semiconductor Research Corp., a research consortium based in Durham, N.C.

When Dr. Otte’s team took the memory out of the extremely low-temperature environment in which it was built and stored, the information it held was lost. Next, his team will explore other metal surfaces as well as elements similar to, but heavier than, chlorine, to see if that improves the device’s stability.

But, maybe it will happen sooner than we think.

We truly live in a brave new world. If only we stop ourselves from messing everything up.

Liar, Liar

February 23, 2012

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.

Feynman and Stephen Schneider

December 11, 2011
Cover of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynm...

Cover via Amazon

One of the men that I admire is the late, great Dr. Richard Feynman. He was a great physicist who won a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics and invented the Feynman diagram, which helps to visualize and calculate the interactions between sub atomic particles. Feynman was also quite a character in his personal life and relished being unconventional both in his scientific work and in his day to day life.  He was eager to promote science and loved teaching at Caltech. One of his most famous speeches was the commencement address he gave at Caltech in 1974. In this speech he discussed the meaning of science and the difference between real science and what he called. “cargo cult” science. You can find the whole speech here, and also in the last chapter of his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. Here are some excerpts I want to bring up.

I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are
examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the
South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw
airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same
thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like
runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a
wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head
like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s
the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re
doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the
way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So
I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the
apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but
they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing.
But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea
Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some
wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling
them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one
feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science.
That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying
science in school–we never explicitly say what this is, but just
hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific
investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now
and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity,
a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of
utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if
you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you
think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about
it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and
things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other
experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can
tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know
anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you
make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then
you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well
as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem.
When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate
theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that
those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea
for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else
come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to
help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the
information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or
another.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are
the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about
that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other
scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after
that.

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.

Now, I want to contrast these sentiments with the ones expressed by Dr. Stephen Schneider. Dr Schneider is most famous for certain remarks he made concerning the problem of global warming.

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Dr. Schneider claims that this is a misquote from Discover Magazine, and it would be only fair to take him at his word. He discusses this quote and the difficulty of balancing science and activism here. Read the whole thing.

I think that Dr. Schneider was not, in fact, misquoted. That is to say that the words may not have been quoted entirely accurately, nevertheless, the words above do reflect his attitude regarding the necessity of scientific accuracy. Consider his complaint to Jonathon Schell.

I expressed my frustration to Jonathan Schell, a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer doing a story on the contentious climate debate for Discover magazine. I guess my first mistake was to be a bit tongue-in-cheek — I painted a stark picture of the opposing viewpoints in the climate change debate: gloom-and-doom stories from deep ecology groups and others versus pontifications on uncertainties from big industry and others, who used that to argue against preemptive action. I complained that even though I always make a point in my interviews to discuss the wide range of possibilities, from catastrophic to beneficial, media stories rarely convey the entire range. All too often, a scientist’s viewpoint is boxed into one extreme or the other. Usually, but not always, I am put in the “it is a big problem” box rather than the “it is too uncertain to do anything” box, even though I acknowledge both perspectives have some plausible arguments. (See the opening paragraph in my review of Lomborg for Scientific American).

I tried to explain to Schell how to be both effective and honest: by using metaphors that simultaneously convey both urgency and uncertainty, and also by producing supporting documents of all types and lengths (see the “scientist popularizer”). Unfortunately, this clarification is absent from the Discover article, and this omission opened the door for fifteen years of subsequent distortions and attacks. Ironically, this is the consummate example of my grievance about problems arising from short reports of long interviews.

Read what Dr. Feynman says above one more time. There isn’t any conflict between being honest and effective. The scientist, speaking as a scientist, must always err on the side of honesty. He must be willing to say “I don’t know” or “the data is uncertain” even if he believes that the fate of the Earth is in question. This is a matter of scientific credibility. If a scientist fudges, makes up data or scenarios, then he damages the credibility of every scientist in the world.

There is more. Karl Popper was a philosopher of science who introduced the idea of falsification in science. That is to say, a scientific hypothesis is only valid to the extent that it can be falsified, that is, proven wrong. If a hypothesis can not be falsified either by experiment or observation, then it is not really scientific. Now, a problem is that climate change hypotheses can be difficult to falsify. You have to do a lot of painstaking observations of past temperature changes using methods that are not always very reliable. There is a lot of guesswork involved. When you consider how complex the interactions in the Earth’s atmosphere are, any calculations concerning long term climate changes can at best be expressed as probabilities. It may seem obvious that increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the greenhouse effect and lead to global warming, the matter is far more complicated. They are many circumstances that may mitigate or even aggrevate the effect. With that in mind consider this.

The dominant paradigm in science is to administer replicable experiments that test, or “falsify”, existing hypotheses. If the test fails, the hypothesis is rejected. Sociologists of science have long pointed out the deep flaws in the exclusive use of falsification as a test of “truth.” Objective science based on collecting frequency information from observations, is indeed a good and necessary part of transforming speculative ideas into better hypotheses, but it is applicable only under very limited conditions. For starters, only past or present systems are observable. Falsification based on observation requires that an infinite set of replicable experiments be performed — an unobtainable abstraction in many important applications, like climate change. Futhermore, obtaining frequency data on future events is impossible before the fact. Some die-hard frequentists deliberately avoid problems built on the subjectivity of climate change projections based on the non-falsifiablility of future events. I was told in 1985 by a senior member of the atmospheric science community at a National Research Council assessment on “nuclear winter” that I was “irresponsible” for working on post-war climate change at all since it couldn’t be “falsified.” Before I could shut my dropped jaw to rebut, a social geographer delivered an eloquent oration, saying that it is a scientist who lets a professional paradigm impede him or her from helping society anticipate problems who is irresponsible, not the scientist trying to peer into the shadowy future with the best available knowledge. He also correctly noted that while such projections use subjective rather than objective science, they are still very important expert judgments.

In the case of climate change, where replicable experimentation is difficult, if not impossible, computer simulation models of past and future climate changes are essential. Empirical data plays a major role, not as a simple basis for predicting the future, but rather in building the tools we use to make projections. Observations of the historical climate record are essential for deriving and testing simulation models in order to select those that best encapsulates our understanding of how the climate works. These models are then used to forecast future climate changes based on various scenarios of possible human activities. The validity of a model depends on how it deals with structural change — evolving functional relationships or parameters. Predictions based on past observations are valid only as long as future conditions replicate past conditions. This is unlikely to be the case for large climate changes, which are expected to arise from unprecedented rapid changes in the composition of atmospheric greenhouse gases, land surface changes, etc.  When contrarian skeptics assert that an “objective” analysis of the “facts” indicate the climate will change negligibly (e.g., see a Lomborg quote), they often ignore the effects of structural changes that limit the ability to extrapolate statistics from past observations.

When uncertainty is great, as in the case of climate change, the use of subjective probability assessments is particularly necessary — and controversial. Richard Moss and I prepared a guidance paper on uncertainties to be used in association with the IPCC TAR (see “Uncertainties Guidance”) in which we advocate that the authors of the TAR assign confidence levels to each of their statements, and that authors distinguish explicitly the extent to which that confidence comes from direct observations or from expert judgments. Thereafter, Richard and I were nicknamed “the uncertainty cops” (see a Nature story), but in spite of the goofy nickname, we were indeed able to reduce authors’ fears of using subjective probability assessments. (See Pittock and Jones: “Probabilities will help us plan for climate change”; see also Grubler and Nakicenovic). Unfortunately, many politicians and political bodies favor the objective approach (though it is impossible in principle in the case of future climate change), and they, too, prefer to avoid the speculative use of ‘subjective’ estimations derived from imperfect models. I can only reiterate that making predictions about an uncertain and complex future necessarily implies the use of models and subjective assessment.

He seems to admit the difficulties. And yet, he seems to be saying that the usual procedure is not good enough. Note, he laments the fact that politicians and political bodies favor the objective approach, that is to say, want actual proof that there is a threat before committing resources to fighting it.

It is also important, as noted, to acknowledge all sides of an issue, and especially to refute any contrarian opinions that are fictional or based on shaky assumptions or evidence. This is especially difficult in countries like the United States, where the current Bush Administration has decided against signing the Kyoto Protocol, supporting voluntary rather than mandatory emissions reduction measures that Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has called “ludicrous” (see an Associated Press article by Scott Sonner), weakened environmental laws, censored environmental research, denied scientifically-based climate change claims, and even gone so far as to “soften” its climate change vocabulary to make the issue appear less salient, as mentioned in a New York Times article and also at Luntzspeak.com. Also see Contrarian Science in the Climate Science section. Because of this situation, some scientists are attempting to show that the Bush Administration has misused climate science in its formulation of environmental policy, as evidenced by web sites like scienceinpolicy.org, which was created by a group of graduate students, post-docs, faculty members, and other scientists to separate what they see as fact from fiction in the U.S. climate policy debate.

I am not sure I am following Dr Schneider here. First he admits the certainty of climate science, laments that people in charge of resources want some degree of certainty, then, states that contrarian opinions are based on fictional assumptions. He complains that scientifitcally-based climate change claims have been weakened, but what scientifically based claims? He said before how difficult it is to make any claims. He accuses the Bush administration of misusing climate science, but what of his peers, who feel it is necessary to make matters more certain that they actually are.

I may be more than a little unfair picking on Stephan Schneider. Reading through this piece, shows he does have a good grasp of the uncertainties of the subject and he does sincerely want to educate the public without condescension, and yet, I can’t help but think that he lacks the rigorous integrity that Feynman spoke of in his Caltech address. He seems too willing to set aside doubts to promote action, or to be an activist rather than an observer. I can’t help but wonder if that is the case with the researchers involved in climategate. And, by not being careful, they are doing their cause, and science, a great disservice.


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