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Climategate: The Skeptical Scientist’s View

What keeps scientists honest is knowing our colleagues are looking over our shoulders. A theory with hidden data is never to be believed. (Also read Richard Fernandez: More AGW Controversy)

by
Frank J. Tipler

Bio

November 26, 2009 - 12:09 am
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I am automatically skeptical of any claim that by its very nature cannot be replicated by other scientists. What keeps scientists honest is not that scientists are more honest than other people — we aren’t — but that we know our colleagues are looking over our shoulders. Everyone is honest when he knows he is being watched.

We must seriously question whether climate “science” is, or even can be, a true science if skeptics cannot check its experimental claims. The only way climate “science” can approach being a real science is for all of its raw data to be made available. Only then is it possible for outsiders to check, at least partially, the claims of the insiders.

The second reason this conspiracy has been able to survive so long is simply that climatologists are now trained to believe in global warming theory. Remember the overwhelming urge of scientists to believe in their own pet theory, to believe that the data simply must confirm the theory, to believe that the only valid data points are those which confirm the theory? Data that are inconsistent with the theory are not recorded by believers, or not published. To true believers, such data are obviously due to an error in making the measurements, and so need not be recorded.

This human failing is why we need outside non-believers to check the theory against all the data — not just the data selected by the believers.

Scientific conspiracies like the global warming conspiracy are actually quite common. They occur whenever it is difficult for outsiders to check the claims and whenever a pet theory is involved.

The late Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould has pointed out that punctuated equilibrium — the fact that species are typically not replaced by other species gradually, but “instantaneously” — was for centuries seen by professional paleontologists in the fossil record. But before Gould, such observations were considered inconsistent with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Thus the observations were not recorded. All paleontologists were trained to believe in Darwin, and so they adjusted the data to confirm Darwin, or did not record data “refuting” Darwin. Only after Gould showed that such data did not refute Darwin did paleontologists cease to adjust the data and start recording what they had been actually seeing.

My own field of general relativity, which is Einstein’s theory of gravity, was initially “confirmed” by “fudged” — I would say “fraudulent” — data. Einstein had predicted that stars near the Sun would appear displaced in their positions due to the Sun’s gravity, and the English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, a fervent believer in Einstein, set out to confirm Einstein’s theory. And confirm Einstein he did, although Eddington’s equipment was too inaccurate to confirm or reject Einstein. Eddington “showed” that Einstein was right by appropriate weighing of data points, and by throwing out observations inconsistent with Einstein’s prediction. In 1919, Eddington announced his “confirmation” at a media circus that made Einstein a world celebrity. Eddington’s experiment could only be conducted during a total eclipse of the Sun, a rare event, and so Eddington’s claim could not be checked for years.

But no experienced scientist at the time believed in Eddington’s “confirmation.” Rather, what convinced most real scientists — including Einstein — that general relativity was correct was another prediction: The planet Mercury would deviate from its path as predicted by Newton’s theory. This deviation had been observed before Einstein was born, and agreed exactly with Einstein. Since general relativity was a theory with no adjustable constants, the observation had to be a true confirmation. Since the astronomers who observed Mercury’s deviation were dead before Einstein proposed his theory, there was no chance that they had fudged their observations to agree with Einstein.

One can always trust experimenters who get the right answer when they do not know what the right answer is. One can never trust experimenters who know what the right answer is (human-caused global warming), and who have total control of the only data that can confirm or reject the theory, and whose jobs depend on confirming it.

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Frank J. Tipler is Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University. He is the co-author of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford University Press) and the author of The Physics of Immortality and The Physics of Christianity both published by Doubleday.
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