Learning a lesson about myself - Climate change skeptic shakes my belief in man-made global warming
By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/25/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
I had a distressing Monday that I have not yet written about. A report in the Telegraph quoted a blogger who claimed to have evidence that NASA and NOAA falsified climate data to show the planet is warming when in reality it's actually cooling. It gave me an opportunity to think skeptically on the science of global warming.
It would be very upsetting to learn all this is a lie.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Nobody likes cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the cause of the mental stress and anguish you feel when you are presented with evidence that conflicts with one of your core beliefs.
For example, one of my core beliefs is in God, and the Catholic Church. When people attempt to present me with evidence that I am wrong about my belief in God, or the truth of my Church, I don't like it. Fortunately, I am always able to refute their delusions, or their attacks are unsupported with evidence, but it can be a distinctly uncomfortable experience.
Likewise, I also believe in the power of science to describe the laws of nature and the set of circumstances that surround us. My trust -or faith in science is another one of my core beliefs. I believe that the method of doing science, over the long run, reveals the truth, or at least brings us closer to the truth. This doesn't mean scientists are always right, in fact, they're commonly wrong. But over time, they develop a consensus and that consensus should be trusted as long as it is always tested.
Anthropogenic climate change is one of those consensuses, always challenged by one courageous researcher or another, but always withstanding the contrarian.
A key conclusion of science is that the planet is warming due to man-made activity. Now I'm no climatologist and although I've done a lot of reading and several interviews, I have not done my own empirical research, for a myriad of practical reasons. However, I trust the consensus.
But what happens if that consensus, as well-intentioned as I believe it to be, is based on fudged data (lies)?
It's hard to imagine that every scientist on the planet has some evil agenda and is seeking to lie to the world about global warming to secure grant money and funding from world governments, or to engineer a brave new world in accord with their perverse desires. Indeed, this isn't how scientists make their reputation. Scientists don't get points for following the herd, but rather they win Nobels by forging their own path into the unknown and proving that the herd is wrong. But when no scientist can do this, then it suggests to me that the herd is probably right.
Now a question: how many of those scientists rely on NASA and NOAA data for their research? Probably a lot of them. And if someone at the top is fudging the data that so many others use, then they have a lot of power to abuse.
So, last week when a much respected news source like The Telegraph, was aggregated by Drudge, and several links appeared on Drudge, I made a point to read all of them. After reading the Telegraph report that suggested the NASA and NOAA data could be badly flawed, I was pretty upset. Here was evidence which challenged my core belief.
Like any good group-thinker, I immediately searched for additional sources to deny the claim. I found none, at least at first. It seems nobody wanted to confirm my bias so I was left with a pile of evidence in my lap and a spoon to eat it with.
It tasted a lot like crow.
But there was a problem. The conclusion came from only one source, Steven Goddard from "Real Science." In addition to this blog, only The Telegraph ran with the story. Even the sometimes fast-and-loose Daily Mail seemed to shy away from it.
The other sources were all rewrites. Even a brazen report from yesterday's "New American" parroted Goddard's claim that the scientists were lying from the start, deliberately falsifying data by changing historical temperature records.
The flag for me was that only one blogger was making this claim and no major news outlet was picking up the story, Telegraph aside.
A day later, my eyebrows were raised by Anthony Watts who told Reason.com he was critical of Goddard's claim. Watts is known for his skeptical blog, "What's Up With That?" WUWT commonly "debunks" global warming claims.
Here was Goddard's claim via Christopher Brooker in The Telegraph:
"Goddard shows how, in recent years, NOAA's [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's] US Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) has been "adjusting" its record by replacing real temperatures with data "fabricated" by computer models. The effect of this has been to downgrade earlier temperatures and to exaggerate those from recent decades, to give the impression that the Earth has been warming up much more than is justified by the actual data. In several posts headed "Data tampering at USHCN/GISS", Goddard compares the currently published temperature graphs with those based only on temperatures measured at the time. These show that the US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record; whereas the latest graph, nearly half of it based on "fabricated" data, shows it to have been warming at a rate equivalent to more than 3 degrees centigrade per century."
Then Watts replied by saying that Goddard "made major errors in his analysis." Needless to say, I was shocked, although I was also secretly pleased to see Watt's response, which improves his integrity in my opinion. I can respect a person with whom I disagree, especially when I see them display intellectual honesty.
Since last week, mainstream sources have responded to Goddard, revealing that indeed, his methods were flawed and his conclusions wrong. Not everybody has got the word yet, but that's just how information propagates. We naturally listen to the information we like (confirmation bias) and we actively seek to dismiss the information that makes us uncomfortable.
My initial reactions to Goddard's claim were denial, then anger. I was angry at the possibility that the scientific establishment could be hoaxing us all based on falsified data. However, this is highly unlikely.
Despite the importance of NASA and NOAA data in current research, there are independent sources for the same data. Every nation has its own meteorologists, climatologists and researchers. They're doing their own science and not all of them are getting grants from leftist governments with an agenda to return humanity to the Stone Age. Furthermore, science is peer reviewed and any scientists that can get a contrary view published scores on the tenure track, so there's incentive to buck the consensus and debunk bad science.
Also, it's very hard to cover up massive conspiracies. One of the best arguments against the U.S. government staging the 9/11 attacks is the government's own inability to keep such a thing quiet. We know the government wasn't actively involved in any way because we would have learned otherwise, likely even before it happened. Now imagine how hard it would be to keep the secret of a global climate change hoax from the world when the keepers of the secret are spread across every nation, every political stripe and every philosophy and motivation.
In fact, scientists are so assured that they're right on this one thing that at least one of them has offered a $10,000 cash prize to anyone who can prove, scientifically, that global warming isn't happening. Well, there you go commenters, there's $10,000 free for the taking if you can prove your point is true.
It is rare that you can get scientists to agree with such consensus on most things. Science is filled with factions and their feuds. However they sometimes agree on basic facts. One of those facts is that AGW is happening and that it is a significant threat to our society as it is structured today. If we accept the word of a lone blogger over that of the scientific community as a whole, then we reveal our own biases for the world to see and we would do well to reconsider our conclusions, despite the discomfort doing so will bring.
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