Thursday, June 24, 2010

The "Blacklist" Paper

Two years ago I heard Stephen Schneider give a talk at a journalism seminar in Portland. He was clearly frustrated at the state of the climate debate, and was essentially dismissive of any notion that AGW wasn't true.

I think I can understand some of where he's coming from. If you read his 1990 book Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century? (and I recommend it, if you can find it in paperback), you'll be astonished to see how much was already known about man's influence on the climate in the 1980s -- clearly enough to even then take the subject very seriously, viz., enough knowledge to take action.

And in 20 years no action at all has been taken. Not only that, but now the entire debate has devolved into a nasty pit unlike anything ever seen in science, and all kinds of clowns and professional prevaricators have come out to openly mock honest, hard-working scientists and even threaten them (as Morano implicitedly does by publishing their email addresses). I hate to say it but you can almost look down this trend and see something truly tragic happening at some point.

I'm sure lots of scientists are frustrated. But this PNAS paper seems unnecessary. Science and scientists have done very well over the centuries by taking the high road, and while I know scientists are human and naturally express their frustration in private, it doesn't belong in a scientific journal, especially one like PNAS. You can't simply chalk up expertise based on number of publications, and who is to say what the science will ultimately be, and analyses like this one never capture all the subtleties of people's positions on a diverse, complex subject, and you just end up making things worse. Now there is one more ancillary topic to argue about instead of the science, which is the very nutrient the pro prevs exist upon.


Michael Tobis said...

That's a much more cogent argument than the "black list".

However, the point of the paper is similar to Oreskes'; it is to establish for people outside the scientific community that there is a consensus within it. This "no consensus" thing is an issue raised by the naysayers, and the paper is an objective refutation.

Steve Bloom said...

The paper seems to me to be a potentially useful tool in dealing dealing with largely science-ignorant editors who currently think the people like Christy or Lindzen represent a significant "other side" of climate science. Even some experienced science reporters might benefit, recalling that not long ago Andy Revkin was attempting to construct a comfortable (for him and RP Jr.) "middle" in the "debate." Andy may have dropped the idea, but Keith Kloor certainly thinks it still has legs.

So yes, there's a use for such research.

Steve Bloom said...

Come to think of it, it does seem like they have to be dealt with repeatedly. :)

EliRabett said...

One of the illnesses that we have caught from the Pielke's is that the problem is with the scientists, not the political scientists and the politicians. Wrong