Another View on Climate

My Own View of Global Warming

Posts Tagged ‘Standards’

What’s the Motive?

Posted by greg2213 on January 23, 2010

Here’s a nice comment from WUWT. I like his philosophy, though I will keep my thoughts on the standards used in climate science. Basically: If your science has to put a probe next to one of  Saturn’s moons or design a airplane then it has to be right. If all it has to do is persuade a policy maker the standard for getting it right is far lower. Unfortunately, that, and the issues mentioned below, can make for some sloppy science (EG: Hockey sticks.)

Some editing done for emphasis and spelling, nothing else was changed.

I don’t think any motive is needed here nor does it help to attribute it. It just creates an us versus them and gets every one angry. A combination of “Where is the grant money?” and Confirmation Bias can fully explain the results.

“Where’s the money?” is fully human and we are all subject to that. It’s not evil, it’s reality. And I doubt that many would intentionally falsify data for that (rose colored glasses perhaps). But if you incentivise research into AGW you will get lots of people hunting for it. And that will increase the chances of finding it. And of course those that don’t find it won’t get any press or publication.

Then (I believe the real villian here) confirmation bias. If a climate scientist wants to improve his/her results and they make a modification in the program/adjustment etc.. and the calculated warming goes down then they obviously goofed and back to the drawing board. If it goes up then they were probably right in making the correction. It stays. Not because the scientist want’s the warming to go up, but because they don’t want to make a mistake and since they are sure that AGW exists then that is a convenient error check.

Likewise when you are chosing stations or data you will look for the “that’s weird” stuff to correct or eliminate (whether manually or by program). If you are totally convinced in AGW the data that gets looked at twice will be data that doesn’t show warming. Data that does will be accepted as it doesn’t ring any bells. When the data goes through many hands who all have the same basic beliefs (even if many try to fight the tendency) then there will be progressively more and more bias built in.

So we don’t need to postulate evil intent here. Just scientists with strong beliefs who are doing the best they can. And who sometimes forget that a scientist’s duty, according to Richard Feynman, is to try to disprove their own hypothesis.

Now if we assume no malevolent motives and just go by standards, money, and confirmation bias…

A hypothetical case: Software is to be written to look for certain things in a set of data (land based temp stations, for example.) The whole station selection process is to be automated.

An honest enough effort is made to write it up and then the system reads the available data and clips out stations that “don’t fit” the software’s parameters. Perhaps due to any of the above biases (plus pressure on the developer, budgetary concerns, programming skill, etc.) it so happens that the “wrong” set of stations (or too many) are dropped from the station list. But since the aggregate signal of the remaining stations is “correct” it meets the standards.

Not that it couldn’t be done manually, but the idea of the software is to make things easier on the crew and remove user bias.

Back to reality: Given the statements made by various people on the “reality” of climate change, and their intended “solutions,” I’d add a large helping of political pressure bias to any group that otherwise might be attempting to produce an honest result.

A group of scientists that comes up with a result that negates the needs for the draconian measures suggested by some (at the Copenhagen conference, for example) will lose their funding and perceived relevance. They are out of work and the work that they did is is ignored in favor of the next group, which might produce “better” results. And they know that is what will happen.

So maybe, just maybe, there is some slight incentive to fudge results, just a bit, to provide an end product which shows just a bit more warming than it would otherwise.

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