Four against the rest of the world?

Last Tuesday there was a hearing of US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation titled Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate. At first the title scared me off a bit. Suggesting that the current climate science is based on a dogma is not the best way to get a constructive debate. At first I didn’t have the intention to watch it, but after seeing the names of John Christie and Judith Curry, I changed my mind. In the end it were mostly the contributions of those two that I liked most.

What struck me was that on two occasions a long list was given of organizations that support the consensus and, of course, many times the 97% number was used. The undertone being: how could these four dissidents here, “the last redoubt of denial”, be right and all these organizations and scientists be so wrong? That is a very interesting question, one that in the past kept me busy for quite some time. As with so many other things concerning the global warming issue, the answer to this question is not black/white, but is quite nuanced.

First, these four don’t know it “better” than the rest. None of them claimed that their knowledge of the climate system was greater than those of the consensus scientists. They said that there is still considerable uncertainty and disagreement about whether the warming has been mainly caused by human or by natural variability, how much the planet will warm in the next 90 years, whether the warming is dangerous or not, whether the (poor and sparse) historical data allow us to build policy decisions on, whether current observations match the theory or not, whether mathematical models succeed or fail to replicate the observations, about problems with the the scientific process in this specific branch,…

They don’t know it “better”, but they have serious questions whether the conclusions really follow the known data. I could relate to that. If we only have a couple decades of reliable data, how would it be possible to exclude natural variations? For example, if there would be a 400-500 year cycle of warm and cold, then our current warming could be (mostly) natural and we wouldn’t even be able to measure that natural variation until now. Or if the mathematical models can’t even predict/project what has already occurred or what is happening now, then why would we expect that the results of these models will be accurate in the far future? How would they then be good enough to make policy decisions on?

Pointing to inconsistencies, misconceptions, a lack of data, non transparent issues, problems in the scientific process,… is also skepticism.

Second, John Kristie, Judith Curry and William Happer are not the only skeptical scientists in the world. When I was a believer it was also my opinion that there were only a handful of skeptical scientists. Looking deeper in the global warming issue, it surprises me that there are many more than I would expected.

True, only few come into the foreground, but that is not hard to understand. As said by those four witnesses, being skeptical to the consensus science is a bad career move, make it difficult if not impossible to get grants or getting published and has a possible negative effect on social life [social pressure].

So, where does that scarceness of skeptical scientists and publications come from? Is it because they are wrong? Of because they have it difficult in a highly polarized, politicized, emotionally driven environment? Those three are not the only ones, but they are certainly not your average lot. Considering the hostile environment they are in, it surprises me that there are so many that at least keeps on trying.

Last, but not least, there is no guarantee that something is true because a majority believe it is. A consensus can have it wrong and that is not that unusual either. It happened several times in the past and undoubtedly will still happen in the future. There isn’t even a need for conspiracy theories to explain that. But that is for a following post.

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