Thursday, November 26, 2009

Climate science emails

Peter Watts writes about the recent climate change email disclosure controversy (quoted on boingboing):
Science doesn't work despite scientists being asses. Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process. Haven't any of these guys ever heard of "peer review"? ... That's how science works. It's not a hippie love-in; it's rugby.
My comment :
Peter Watts implies that the bickering and backstabbing in the recent email disclosures are a good thing.

But science usually works better than this. Though it is true that all scientists gossip and complain about peer review, science is usually more cooperative than rugby. Rugby is a zero sum game. Science is usually a positive sum game, where each team's discovery advances that team's interest in part and the collective interest of all competing teams in part.

There a couple reasons why the climate scientist's emails showed more bickering and backstabbing than usual. Climate science is more intertwined with partisan politics than most science is, and the future of civilization is at stake. I think those folks are playing a rougher ballgame than scientists usually play.

In contrast with Peter Watts, with hindsight I think they would all have scored better if they had played a more fastidiously high-minded game.


Jack E said...

Nate at has a nice post on this subject:

Meanwhile, it continues to amaze me how many people are So Convinced that Global Warming is a Big Lie. Congrats to FOX and, especially, ExxonMobil for "underwriting the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry".

Mark said...

There is climate skepticism that falls short of thinking that global warming is a big lie. For instance, the consequences may not be as catastrophic or irreversible as claimed, or the efficiency of trying to solve it now may be so low that it's better putting off the expense. The whole circus comes off as a variation of the "prepare for the inevitable giant meteor" thing to me.

I just look at it as coming economic damage and wealth redistribution. And I think that putting it off a few generations is futile, since the population will just grow back to where the consequences are inevitable. I don't particularly see why it's morally better to make the generation 100 or 200 years from now deal with it, rather than the generation 50 or 100 years from now.