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Global warming: The most bizarre statement in the history of science

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02/21/2010 07:05 PM
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Global warming: The most bizarre statement in the history of science
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Global warming: The most bizarre statement in the history of science
February 21, 2:12 PMEnvironmental Policy ExaminerThomas Fuller

Major Update: As quickly pointed out by one of my readers (thank you Skip Smith), the statement referred to in this article was in fact uttered by Gavin Schmidt, principal contributor to Real Climate, and not his colleague Michael Mann as I originally stated. My apologies to Mr. Mann for the error. Mr. Schmidt, shame on you.

One of the most bizarre statements in the history of science came out of the mouth of Gavin Schmidt Friday.

In an interview published Friday in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Schmidt remarked of Steve McIntyre, "“He could be a scientific superstar,” Mr. Schmidt says. “He's a smart person. He could be adding to the sum total of human knowledge, but in effect he adds to the reduction of the sum total of human knowledge.” The last part of his statement should go down in history as the most anti-scientific sentence ever recorded.

A little context, please... Gavin Schmidt works for NASA, although we know him best for his blogging efforts on Real Climate, the establishment voice for climate science. Schmidt is referring to mistakes in his colleagues' papers that were, in part, highlighted by Steve McIntyre, who publishes his number checking efforts on the website Climate Audit. Schmidt and other members of the climate 'establishment' use the website Real Climate to defend themselves.

Schmidt and McIntyre were both interviewed (although separately--it'd be fun to see them in the same room, though) about Climategate and the various other 'gates' afflicting the IPCC and other bastions of global warming orthodoxy. McIntyre has found numerous errors in data handling, archiving and analysis in the work of Mann and other scientists. The errors all were in one direction--making global warming look both more severe and more certain. The reaction to McIntyre's critiques has been hostile, obfuscatory and verges on the paranoid.

It was to keep data out of the hands of McIntyre that the crew at CRU deleted emails and violated the UK Freedom of Information Act. In fact the emails were released anonymously the day after one of McIntyre's requests for information was denied, leading to speculation that opinion of McIntyre's work is not unanimous at CRU. It was to counter-act McIntyre's criticisms that the website Real Climate was formed, which delights in attacking McIntyre and trying to minimize the very real effects of McIntyre's work.

So it's natural that Schmdit would have a low opinion of McIntyre. McIntyre ripped Michael Mann's Hockey Stick to shreds and has been finding holes in research papers by Mann and his fellow scientist-bloggers ever since.

But to baldly state that McIntyre's work is leading to a reduction in human knowledge is not just wrong, it goes against the basic organising principles that have made science such a powerful force for good in this world.

Finding error is just as important as finding truth. You don't get the Nobel Prize for it, but it is at least as valuable a contribution to science and society as coming up with an important hypothesis or finding supporting evidence. Many will argue that it is more important, as sadly there is more error than truth floating around this universe, and for the way we do science to work we need eagle-eyed critics willing to not only note discrepancies but dig into the data and illustrate the error and how it was made.

Schmidt is worse than wrong--he is moving outside of science completely with his statement.

Had the climate science establishment made any sort of gesture of inclusion to Steve McIntyre, he would probably be working with them today. It's crucially important to understand that McIntyre is not what Joe Romm would term a 'denialist.' McIntyre does not dispute the fundamental tenets of climate science or climate change. But given that climate science is in its infant stages and major mistakes are a dime a dozen, auditing the data is key to maintaining credibility, especially on an issue where so much is at stake.

McIntyre is doing for free what climate scientists should have been doing themselves--the number checking and replication that makes science trustworthy. McIntyre is not being paid by anybody for this work, while climate scientists are the recipients of large sums of public money, which is certainly not going towards the verification his work needs.

They should be grateful for McIntyre's contribution to reducing the noise level in the science so we can see the real signals that are there. Instead, as he has done since he first began commenting in public, Schmidt tries to insult McIntyre, minimize what he has done and defend his own shoddy work.

Steve Mosher and I have written a book about the leaked emails that have caused so much controversy. The title is Climategate: The CRUtape Letters. It is available on Create Space here, Amazon here, Kindle here and Lulu here. One Amazon reviewer wrote, "Mosher and Fuller do a good job putting the ClimateGate documents in context, and the book is a riveting read. I received my copy yesterday, and find the book to be faithful to the climate war events that I have followed over a period of years. It reports actual email communications of a small group of paleoclimatologists and their roles in perhaps the biggest scientific hoax since Piltdown Man."
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02/21/2010 08:08 PM
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