Normal Scientific Practice

Scientists debate each other’s work all the time. In fact, they’re encouraged to do so. The peer-review process was set up so that every misconception, assumption, or source of error in a scientific article could be nailed down and corrected. Scientists look for mistakes. It’s practically in their job description.

Normal scientific practice states that, should a scientist find a mistake in someone else’s work, they approach them about it, either directly or through the journal which published the article. If the criticism is deemed to be valid, the author will make any necessary changes and/or the journal will publish a retraction.

That’s what happened when the “hockey stick graph” attracted some criticism. The graph was sent to the National Academy of Sciences, who had some concerns about the way the graph was used, but generally found it to be legitimate. The IPCC revised its data, and came out with a new graph – a whole hockey team. The criticism lead to revision which led to further advancement of knowledge and data.

Directing concerns to the authors is probably the best way to fix any scientific errors as it leads to superior data. It is accepted and encouraged.

So, then, why do so many climate change skeptics turn to the media or the Internet instead?

It’s hard to watch Fox News, visit the website of a conservative think tank, or browse the blogosphere without finding someone who claims that climate change is false and they can prove it.

If you really can prove it, I’d like to say to these people, tell the scientists about it. Find specific mistakes in their methods and ask them to change them. If they don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re biased against any data that contradicts their theory. You might just not fully understand climatology and why the scientists use the methods they do – especially if you’re not trained in climate science.

Ranting about the inaccuracies of climatology online or to a journalist isn’t going to fix those inaccuracies. All it’s going to do is confuse the public. If confusing the public is your goal, please stop, because our children’s lives are at stake here. If you really do believe that you can prove that climate change is false, direct it to the people who study this issue. For the betterment of human knowledge, please approach the scientists, not the media.

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7 thoughts on “Normal Scientific Practice

  1. This is because, often a time, opposition is not based on any facts at all. Incrreasing environmental standards costs a lot of money. Because it’s not kosher to say “I don’t want to change my factory’s smokestacks to decrease toxic pollutants because I don’t want to pay for it” they instead attack the idea that climate change is a farce. Going to an actual scientist will blow their idea right out the water, so they go to equally crazy people in the media to change public opinion. Playing politics with our and environement (and in the long term, our health) is not a good idea…

    • That’s a great point. There’s actually some exciting stuff out there about how sustainability could actually help our economy (I think the Stern Report deals with this). If you increase environmental standards by banning cars overnight, then yes, our economy will suffer. But if we looked at it in a more creative way….In the long run it might even be a “pay some money now, or pay a lot of money later” if the worst of climate change comes to pass.

  2. Canadians tend to be more forward thinking on these kind of issues. Unfortunately in the States, the large majority of our polticians are woefully shortsided. The pay a lot model is most likely what’s gonna happen, as it always does (Great Depression II anyone??)

  3. I do like the revised graph showing the various temperature estimates which resulted from the different methods used. This graphic is found in the IPCC report which was most recently issued? Have you read it? I ask because I would like to read about the various methodologies used, and also because of the talk to be found at the Heritage Foundation. The so called hockey stick graph and data are there said to have been “destroyed”. Additionally it is claimed that the IPCC report which came after these “events” did not include the original graph, and that no explaination for the lack of the graph was provided. In other words these people wish to make the case that the IPCC were caught out in something unseemly and were seeking to sweep the matter under the rug. It is always fun to catch the rascals lying.

    • Conservative think-tanks can get pretty creative with stuff like this, yes. When you take a step back from how scary these sorts of tactics are, their arguments are quite hilarious….

      The graph is accredited to the AR4 report, however I got the image from a US science government page, as the AR4 report is very long and I eventually gave up looking for the graph :) In terms of methodologies…the best person to talk to would probably be a publishing climatologist. If you live in a university town try to get in touch with a prof (they’re generally very good about answering questions from polite, genuinely interested people) or you can email the folks at RealClimate.

      Let me know if you find what chapter of AR4 the graph was in, I wouldn’t mind reading about it a bit as well.

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