The Way I See It - The Fall of Science

By On

Enough has been revealed, written and said about “Climate-gate” for me to be alarmed. And the alarm is about more than what our global weather is or is not doing. In this country especially, science and scientists have been elevated to a god-like status. There should be little argument that humanity’s pursuit of understanding how the physical universe works has led to hundreds of years of scientific discovery and consequential inventions. Science and scientists can honestly claim credit for truly immense improvements in health, agricultural productivity and material well-being for all of us. They are our go-to people for mastery and application of the scientific method, the methodology for gaining usable knowledge about our world. At times, science has also challenged our myths and beliefs. It has revealed facts about our history and the development of our societies and cultures. It has helped us know who we are. And the reason we have given such exalted status to science is that it has proven for the most part to be reliable. It has given us predictable and repeatable results, most of the time.

However, science and its methodologies are not infallible. Scientific theories are built from observations. Then those theories are tested against more observations. Scientific peers independently test the theories and observations of other scientists. It is this process that builds confidence the results are usable, if not necessarily 100% certain. Throughout history, there have been major shifts in humankind’s understanding of the universe. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein are a few of many thinkers who have said, “Sorry, but our universe is different than we thought yesterday.” If scientists are honest they shy away from claiming certainty. They know they may not have all the observations needed, or their techniques and methods are not as reliable as required. These shifts and uncertainties are a normal part of doing “good” science. And if the principles of good science are followed, high confidence in the results can be maintained.

Science is corruptible. Conducting science with honesty and integrity is hard enough. But when those entrusted to hold to the rigorous and high principles of science begin to ignore or falsify observations, trust quickly turns to rejection. When bogus articles are quoted as truth without peer review or verification, doubt is born. And when we realize those who we trusted have hidden observations that are contrary to their theories, we also realize the scientists, their work and their conclusions are false. When they attack those who question their statements, the alarms go off.

Scientists have taught us a lot about how dynamic our planet is. Despite great expenditures of time and money, predicting Mother Nature, be it hurricanes or earthquakes, or even local weather, varies wildly from sometimes good, to sometimes iffy, to downright impossible. Our scientists may be getting better at predicting, but there is still a very long way to go. And that is in the situation where the scientists are trying to be honest. Virtually every sector of our society is dependent on having honesty and integrity in the underlying science. Imagine how we would feel if medical research was shown to have been falsified. We probably wouldn’t be so eager to get a flu shot or take our prescribed drugs. Our government has established regulatory and economic policies in medicine, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, education, construction, and other areas based on what has been learned from the underlying science. We might not buy that car if we knew it was safety tested using faulty scientific methods. We wouldn’t be eager to trust a physician’s opinion without confidence in their knowledge.

Seemingly in the blink of an eye, one whole sector of our scientific establishment is now discredited. That doesn’t mean every scientist was part of the scam. Many, if not most, were probably not. But being on the outside, how does the public know what is truth and what is not? There seems to be a vacuum of information and action by agencies and organizations who should be watching out for us. Right now our government doesn’t appear to be interested in correcting the situation. My guess is they drank the Kool-aid of the Climate-gate folks. They need to get back to some good science. If they don’t, the question can easily become, “Where else is honesty and integrity missing?” For me, I think I will dust off my copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac for the time being.

About Ham Hayes

Closed Account • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Ham lived in Bellingham while writing for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011.

Comments by Readers

Matt Petryni

Mar 03, 2010

Ham, I need to make sure I’m understanding this article.

Are you arguing that, as a result of the controversy around “Climate-gate,” the scientific theory on greenhouse forcing has been “discredited”?

Most of your article is, in my view, unobjectionable: science is indeed fallible, corruptible, and often corrected; the science on climate change is by no means perfectly understood. I think “the e-mails” might raise concerns about a particular lab and particular science (and it’s debatable it even does that), but the vast majority of the data remains just as it was the day before “the e-mails.”

So I can’t imagine that a person as reasonable as you generally seem to be would, at this point in the game, be persuaded against the scientific consensus by the “Climate-gate” story. Are you? Really? No way. Really?

I don’t mean to be rude or anything, I guess I’d find this genuinely surprising coming from you is all. I mean, there’s a lot of bloggers on the internet I’d expect it from, I don’t know. Agggh… maybe I’m just kind of disappointed, I’ve generally enjoyed your columns.


Ham Hayes

Mar 04, 2010

Matt, Thanks for your comment.
My point is that corrupted science leads to unreliable results.  One can’t prove or disprove any theory with a bad process. 

What has been discredited is a sector of our scientific community.  Discredited by (formerly) trusted scientists who corrupted the scientific method.  And they did it to themselves. 

In the past, the earth’s climate has changed and we expect it will change again.  What role our species plays now and in the future is a valid question.  But we require methods that give us results we can trust in order to determine valid policies and actions. 

We as a society really do need to clean up the process before we get back to the question.  We hold that science is about dispelling belief and opinion.  This clean up really does have to come from the scientific community and the leaders who set policy based on the recommendations of that community.


John Servais

Mar 04, 2010

Actually, Matt, the University of East Anglia (UEA) emails are devastating.  They have started a trail that leads to many other places, including the US.  And there is much more evidence of climate scientists providing misleading information - whether on purpose or because of sloppiness.  The motivations seem to be a belief in man made global warming and a desire to convince people of that.  The role of science is to present facts and truth, not crusade.  It is fine for individual scientists to crusade for their beliefs but not by promoting erroneous information.  This is what has been happening.

Your comment relies mainly on peer pressure rather than any arguments against what Ham has written.  This is the normal social pressure on those who speak their convictions when they run counter to the current fad.  Your only criticism is that the emails are only a tiny part of climate research.  In fact, UEA is the clearing house for climate data for the world.  The emails are crucial to understanding what has been going on.  The whole hockey stick graph that shows temperatures slowly rising and suddenly rapidly rising came from there. 

The world is warming - and the climate skeptics agree that it is.  The question is why and is it cyclic.  Those who believe that climate warming is primarily caused by man have labeled the skeptics as “deniers”.  This is pejorative. They do not deny climate warming.  They even recognize that excessive CO2 is contributing.  They simply say that the scientists are not being honest with their results and research.  There is mounting evidence that this is true.  There is now a saying that the scientists should “stop persuading the public” and return to accurate climate reports. 

A humorous example of a scientist being sloppy is from NPR last Sunday.  A US Geological Survey scientist stated that over the past 20 years that 20,000 square kilometers of Antarctic ice has been lost - and that is an area larger than Texas.  Tilt.  Texas is almost 700,000 square kilometers in size - over 30 times larger than the ice that broke off.  Yet this scientist repeated this error.  And I can expect some anxious friend of mine to quote that to me over a beer sometime soon.  Isn’t NPR a good source of truthful reporting?  I’m sure it was not purposeful but it is sloppy.  And there are other examples that are purposeful. 

Matt, you should visit the website “Watts Up With That” - conveniently linked in the right column.  Scroll down to the post yesterday about the Antarctic ice.  Yes, you can follow the links and listen to the original broadcast.  Satisfy yourself that it really happened. And check out the accumulating information that encourages a healthy skepticism towards some of Al Gore’s claims.


Craig Mayberry

Mar 07, 2010

This is a great and much needed conversation.  Let me relate my own personal experience.  I am nearing completion of my dissertation and I am looking at the relationship between leadership style, entrepreneurial orientation, and organizational effectiveness.  One of my variables is transactional leadership and depending on what other variables I include it is either a significant factor or not a significant factor.  So is it significant or not?  The methodology part is incredibly important, yet under estimated in the public policy arena.  Those making public policy decisions do not understand the intricacies of the research.

So what if we were now trying to determine a significant public policy based on my research (and similar research with similar conclusions).  With millions of dollars of research money at stake, what would be my motivation?  Would I play it straight, or quietly eliminate a couple of variables that I could easily argue were not that important anyway and come up with a very different result.

As John mentioned, the emails do not help the global warming cause and the scientific community at large.  What it does show is that the scientific community is just like the banking industry and the health insurance industry, if millions of dollars are at stake, then self interest and preservation rules. 

What we do know is that we cannot afford to pollute and waste our natural resources.  Whether the impact is global warming (or climate change) or not is irrelevant.  We know that oil and energy will get more expensive and that we have to move to more economically sustainable energy sources (renewables).  We know that we need to protect our water because the cost of cleaning it up is much more expensive than the cost of protecting it in the first place.  We know that we need to put a lot less pollution in the air because of the impact on our health.  We know all of these things, not because of global warming science, but because it is the most economical thing to do.  The problem was basing our entire environmental public policy initiatives on scientifically based global warming when the science could never prove or disprove the relationships.


Tip Johnson

Mar 07, 2010

Climate change is continuous, but irregular. It may be impossible to model such complex, dynamic systems.

Lovelock kinda gave up trying with the introduction of Lorenz’ “Butterfly Effect” - the modeling equivalent of Godel’s theorems to Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica.

Nevertheless, he has argued that 80% of humans will perish by the year 2100 due to global warming that will force mass migrations to habitable regions, and that meteorological variability such as 300 mph winds may be of greater consequence than rising sea levels.

One problem with science, in the context of policy, is that is has become merely a means of measuring our rate of decay. When definite proof is lacking - as it always is in complex systems - debating the data becomes the central effort.  As with regulating pollution or the reducing the effects of development on Lake Whatcom, we are able to avoid taking precautionary measures while the debate continues.

The Precautionary Principle would suggest that carbon sequestered from the far less hospitable atmosphere of Earth’s earlier epochs should not be reintroduced.

However, our economic principle of protecting predators (Thanks, John) demands that anything can be destroyed if it makes a buck.

Why do I have a feeling that climate change will become a non-issue politically once the carbon allotments have been made and Wall Street brokers have collected their commissions on the derivatives?


John Servais

Mar 07, 2010

Your welcome, Tip.  He is referring to my privately help - till now - description of the core value of conservatives and Republicans.  It is:  The role of government is to protect predators. 

From that all else springs.  Core values cannot be argued with.  They are the basic deep values.  For instance, you either believe in a god or you do not.  All your subsequent values and rationalizations and beliefs then go one way or the other.  We all have several core values. 

Most arguments are between people with different core values and that is why they each think the other person or group is blind to the obvious.  Or closed minded.  Or willfully obstinate.  In truth they are usually both logical in their conclusions based on their core values.  And, again, you cannot argue with another’s core values.  Core values are part of us.  We rarely change them and when we do it is always due to traumatic events.  Very traumatic events.

I should note that I think the Tea Party folks are correct in their complaints.  Their core value is not that of the hard core Republicans.  I’m liberal and fully support the concerns, complaints and issues that the Tea Party folks have.  Most Republicans are clueless to what the Tea Party movement is about. I have invited local Tea Party leaders to write here but they have declined.  I think the reason is their philosophy is not yet fully formed and they are not sure how to articulate it.

What would be nice is if more people were aware of their own core values.  Most are not.  Philosophy includes the study of core values, but most people prefer to not indulge is that study.  And the Republicans seem unaware of their own core value.


Craig Mayberry

Mar 07, 2010

“The role of government is to protect predators.”  I am not sure what Republicans or conservatives you are listening to in order to draw that conclusion.  Maybe that is the Ed Schulz or Rachel Maddow view of Republican core values, but I have never heard any Republican articulate that as a core value. 

I do agree that looking at the current system that it has evolved into government taking that role, but both parties are equally culpable.  The systematic role of large bureaucracies is to maintain the status quo and acquire power. The largest bureaucracies are governments (state and federal) and multinational corporations.  Their acquisition of power makes them a predator and they will go to great lengths to protect themselves (both government and business). 

It is the nature of the organizations that cause the predation, not the nature of the “core values” of Republicans.  Everyone seems to forget that with the exception of 2000-2006, Democrats have held at least the White House, US Congress or US Senate for almost a century.  No law gets passed without all three bodies agreeing.  I realize many people believe the country went to hell in 6 years, and all of our problems have occurred since 2000, but that is hardly the case.  Our current issues have been slowly building for decades and are now coming to an obvious head.  Both parties have been in power during that slow build and neither did anything to stop it, because both political parties benefited.

There are differences in core values between those on the right and the left.  The right tends to place more value on individual rights and the left tends to place more value on the whole community/equality (a way over simplification of their values).  Both are getting the short end of the current system and blame the other side for all of their problems.  The reality is we are more united then we want to admit as the predatory nature (your language) of our current system has a detrimental effect on both individual rights and community rights/equality.  The “have’s” will take a lot more at the expense of the have-nots, destroying equality and community; at the same time reducing individual rights to prop up their power structure.  Everyone loses and the only way to solve the problem is to quite blaming the other political side and start fixing the root cause of the problem.