Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NY Times--A Different View on Consensus Science

In the past few months, the Oregonian has published articles and one editorial sniffing at the scientific competence of Oregon state climatologist George Taylor.

An underlying assumption has been that poor Taylor hasn't kept up with his science and has been left behind. Scouring the scientific community, Oregonian reporters were able to come up with only one possible ally for Taylor in the scientific community.

A January 29, 2007 article by Michael Milstein [blog post] has the following:

While Mote is in step with the great majority of scientists, Taylor is far from it. His distance from the scientific mainstream and the public has widened as evidence of global warming has mounted in the form of rising temperatures, shrinking glaciers and accelerating snowmelt.

"The public is just moving past him," said Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Oregon State University. "The science certainly has."

A February 10, 2007 article by Michelle Cole and Michael Milstein [blog post] calls Taylor a "contrarian" and notes exactly one (1 count 'em 1) other scientist who shares Taylor's general position--Delaware state climatologist David Legates.

A February 15, 2007, editorial [blog post] again labels Taylor as a "contrarian" and disses his scientific competence more than once in the editorial:

The scientific mainstream and no doubt a solid majority of Oregonians have already moved beyond Taylor on this subject. His widely publicized doubts about global climate change may play well on right-wing talk radio, but there's no evidence he's influencing serious discussion of the issue in this state.

. . .

Taylor has a master's degree in meteorology but no doctorate. No governor appointed him. No governor-appointed board oversees his work. He's a loose cannon, disconnected from the state executive branch.

But help has finally come. In an article published today by the New York Times, William J. Broad found another side to the issue: scientists who share Taylor's scientific skepticism and want more solid science before coming to a conclusion.

For example, there's Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University. He spoke of his skepticism at the annual meeting of Geological Society of America.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Then there's:

Richard S. Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, who has long expressed skepticism about dire climate predictions, accused Mr. Gore in The Wall Street Journal of “shrill alarmism.”


Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore’s film did “indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.” But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”

Not to mention Robert M. Carter:

“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”

Hmm. Maybe science isn't about scientific consensus or being left behind by public opinion, but about research and being proven right in what you predict.

Interestingly enough, Easterbrook in an interview this evening predicted that the earth is entering a slight cooling period based on the historical data. Maybe that's why this has shaped up as a colder winter than expected in many parts of the US.

If Prof. Easterbrook is right, it will be interesting to see how all the "consensus" scientists react. Will they then join a new "consensus" on global cooling?

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