Field of Science

The price of global warming science is eternal vigilance

John Tierney of the NYT weighs in on the hacked emails and accurately nails it
I’ve long thought that the biggest danger in climate research is the temptation for scientists to lose their skepticism and go along with the “consensus” about global warming. That’s partly because it’s easy for everyone to get caught up in “informational cascades”, and partly because there are so many psychic and financial rewards rewards for working on a problem that seems to be a crisis. We all like to think that our work is vitally useful in solving a major social problem — and the more major the problem seems, the more money society is liable to spend on it.

I’m not trying to suggest that climate change isn’t a real threat, or that scientists are deliberately hyping it. But when they look at evidence of the threat, they may be subject to the confirmation bias — seeing trends that accord with their preconceptions and desires. Given the huge stakes in this debate — the trillions of dollars that might be spent to reduce greenhouse emissions — it’s important to keep taking skeptical looks at the data. How open do you think climate scientists are to skeptical views, and to letting outsiders double-check their data and calculations?
We are all subject to the confirmation bias, and I can say from experience that we have to battle it in our research every single day as fallible human beings. But as Tierney says, when the stakes are so incredibly high, when governments and international budgets and debts and the fate of billions is going to be affected by what you say, you better fight the conformation bias ten times as much as usual.

Listen to Capt. Ramsey, son:
"Mr. Hunter, we have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulders..."

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