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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Climategate at Tierneylab

Be sure to look at the hundreds of comments!

Tierneylab: ... 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?

People keep asking me about climate change, and I tell them I just don't have enough time to do the homework necessary to justify my having a strong opinion on the issue. Note, by simply making that statement I am being politically incorrect -- I think I am supposed to accept that the "experts" know what they are doing. (Just as the bond rating agencies and financiers knew what they were doing a few years ago :-)

Very few of the people with strong opinions on climate change have done the homework I refer to -- read the literature (including arguments on both sides), look at the data, etc. In the case of the housing and credit bubble I did do the homework and as a result I thought we were in a bubble back in 2004, that credit derivatives were dangerous, and that it might end badly.

I can say something with very high confidence: scientists are not immune to groupthink!

[A reader asks: what if you don't have the technical background to actually "do your homework" -- i.e., read the scientific literature? (Perhaps because your liberal arts education left you unable to use important tools necessary for understanding how the world works ;-) In that case, you are limited to an examination of the process by which the science is done -- are the incentives right? Could researchers be victims of groupthink? Can critics be heard, and do they have access to resources (such as the original data)? This is a sociological question -- is science working properly in this particular subfield? A final factor that should influence your confidence level is that the track record of experts studying complex systems is quite poor. ]

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