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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

As readers are now aware, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, the main climate research center in Britain, has had 128 megabytes of secret emails and other data placed online by someone calling himself “FOIA.” A number of scientists have been trying for years to get the raw data possessed by CRU placed online, filing requests under the British Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Although required by law to release this information, CRU has not done so, or has claimed that the data were accidentally erased. We now have proof in the emails that the illegal withholding of information was intentional, and that the erasure of data was also intentional.

The now non-secret data prove what many of us had only strongly suspected — that most of the evidence of global warming was simply made up. That is, not only are the global warming computer models unreliable, the experimental data upon which these models are built are also unreliable. As Lord Monckton has emphasized here at PJ Media, this deliberate destruction of data and the making up of data out of whole cloth is the real crime — the real story of Climategate.

It is an act of treason against science. It is also an act of treason against humanity, since it has been used to justify an attempt to destroy the world economy.

The chemist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote an entire novel, A Whiff of Death, which revolved around the seriousness of falsifying data to make it fit one’s own theory. In the novel, the fraudster was murdered by a senior scientist who felt very strongly about scientific treason. My own view is that execution is a bit harsh, and that the standard penalty of being dismissed from one’s job is quite sufficient. But Asimov’s novel gives an excellent description of the enormous temptation scientists face to falsify data when the pesky experiments are refuting one’s pet theory — and it is clear from the released emails that most of the world’s leading climate scientists have yielded to temptation and have tried to force their data into agreement with the theory of global warming. They should be fired.

Alas, I doubt if any of them will lose their current employment or be disciplined in any way. Too many powerful interests are now committed to the truth of global warming theory. These traitors to science are bringing in huge grants to their universities, and the salaries of the bureaucrats who run these universities are dependent on this government grant money.

I’ve doubted the reliability of the global warming data for some time now, so I personally am not surprised by the contents of the emails. What the released data provide is additional proof that the temperature data can’t be trusted and that climate scientists are engaged in a worldwide conspiracy. And like all conspiracies, it was finally exposed. In this case, it was most likely exposed by an honest man inside CRU who believed that the FOIA law should be obeyed.

Two factors have enabled this particular conspiracy to survive for so long.

First, the actual data for surface temperatures have been available only through a small number of organizations. Every experienced scientist has had occasion to doubt a colleague’s reported experimental result. No problem: The skeptical scientist merely has to try to replicate his colleague’s result, and a failure means that the claim is false. But how does one replicate the claim that the average temperature of the Earth — an average computed from taking the data at thousands of temperature stations all across the globe — was one degree Fahrenheit lower in 1900 that it was in 2000? It is impossible to visit all the stations today, to say nothing of the stations of 1900. Replication is impossible.

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.

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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