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Krebs Defends Sceptical Science

We might err, but science is self-correcting | John Krebs - Times Online

...the stories underline two important features of scientists and science. First, scientists, just like every other trade — bus drivers, lawyers and bricklayers — are a mix. Most are pretty average, a few are geniuses, some are a bit thick, and some dishonest.
Second, science itself is often misunderstood. Scientists tend to be portrayed as voices of authority who are able to reveal truths about arcane problems, be it the nature of quarks or the molecular basis of ageing. In fact, science is almost the opposite of this...Richard Feyman’s phrase says it best: “Science is the organised scepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.”

An Oxford colleague, one of the world’s top climate scientists, made the same point last week when he said to me: “It’s odd that people talk about ‘climate sceptics’ as though they are a special category. All of us in the climate science community are climate sceptics. It’s our job to question and challenge everything.” Any scientist will tell you that when you turn up at a conference the audience will do its best to tear your findings to pieces: no one takes anything for granted.

There is, of course, no excuse for scientists who over-egg or massage their results, or who underplay the uncertainties in their conclusions. The prevailing view in many areas of science will include significant uncertainties (as with climate change), so challenge is central to the progress of understanding....if scientists have a right to be heard, they have a responsibility to be scrupulously honest and not to claim more than is justified by the evidence.

And that should be inscribed in stone.


"If claims about climate change need to be debunked, you can rely on scientists to do it."

Well, yes - and no. Alas, the bunco artists have held sway for over three decades despite evidence from elsewhere. When it was politically/socially popular to "know" Earth as the center of the Universe, the knowledgeable responded to contrarian evidence with ever-increasing constructs of support such as "epicycles" of greater and greater complexity: it took a long time for those who disagreed to force a collapse.

"All of us in the climate science community are climate sceptics. It’s our job to question and challenge everything.”

But do those questions/challenges see the light of day? Do they get attention paid? In 1990 the BBC (! Yes, BBC4 - http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-5949034802461518010) aired a documentary challenging the anthropogenic-CO2-will-kill-us scenario. Then the first Mann hockey-stick from the IPCC came out, and scepticism was suddenly nowhere to be found (well, by politicians and the press).

"Nevertheless, over time, science is self-correcting..."

Yes. But how much time can we afford?

Personally, I think CO2 may be a problem at a certain concentration - but I do not think hamanity is even capable of more than doubling present percentage. Nor do I think CO2 is the major driver of climate change. That is the (in hindsight inevitable) conclusion of the IPCC - which was formed to investigate human influence, and is not even supposed to look at other effectors.

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