The Calcification of Climate Science

(Anjo Kan/Dreamstime)

According to Lord Christopher Monckton, Thomas R. Karl’s much-feted paper refuting “the Pause,” the inexplicable 19-year standstill in the earth’s average global surface temperature, has a small problem: To disappear the warming hiatus as Karl and his co-authors purport to do, you have to repeal the laws of thermodynamics. (Not even the current president can do that.)

Karl and his colleagues, whose work appeared in the June issue of Science, “updated” previous data sets used to assess changes in surface temperatures, which supporters maintain is merely Science being self-critical and Scientific. Others — a lot of others — say different. E. Calvin Beisner rounds up criticisms at the website Watts Up With That, and quotes with approval the verdict of Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry:

This short paper in Science is not adequate to explain and explore the very large changes that have been made to the NOAA data set. . . . So while I’m sure this latest analysis from NOAA will be regarded as politically useful for the Obama administration, I don’t regard it as a particularly useful contribution to our scientific understanding of what is going on.

This would be an in-the-weeds scientific scuffle were it not that Karl is director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information and the study was the work of his outfit. Since even the apocalypse-minded Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has acknowledged the hiatus, NOAA’s startling findings caught the eye of Lamar Smith, chairman of the House’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the job of which is to oversee the work of NOAA and other federal scientific bodies. In mid July, the committee requested that NOAA pass along a host of data related to the study, noting in its letter to NOAA administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, “The conclusions brought forth in this new study have lasting impacts and provide the basis for further action through regulations. With such broad implications, it is imperative that the underlying data and the analysis are made publicly available to ensure that the conclusions found and methods used are of the highest quality.”

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NOAA cooperated — until it didn’t. After partially fulfilling the committee’s request (for “documents and information related to NOAA’s new updated global datasets, as well as the communications referring or relating to corrections to sea temperature data from ships and buoys”) in August, NOAA let pass two extended deadlines for the missing information, prompting a subpoena. This week, though, NOAA announced that it has no plans to comply with the subpoena. The agency cited “confidentiality concerns and the integrity of the scientific process,” according to The Hill.

#share#Protestations about “the integrity of the scientific process” would be more credible were NOAA not a prominent funder of Jagadish Shukla, a George Mason University climatologist who, besides being the lead signatory of a letter recommending that the federal government use RICO laws to prosecute skeptics of anthropogenic climate change, has pocketed $5.6 million in taxpayer dollars since 2001 as head of the Institute of Global Environment Society — an almost entirely government-funded venture, the staff of which constitutes Shukla, his wife, his daughter, and one other scientist. Earlier this month, Smith’s committee opened a separate investigation into Shukla and IGES.

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Democrats are decrying Republican “intimidation tactics.” The ranking member of the committee, Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, has said that the inquiry “seems more designed to harass climate scientists than to further any legitimate legislative purpose.” But that presumes that climate scientists are devoted, first and foremost, to science.

In his classic book Against Method, Paul Feyerabend railed against the ossification of scientific conscience, chastising scientists who, among other malpractices, mindlessly accepted “the consistency condition which demands that new hypotheses agree with accepted theories.” “Science,” he wrote, “is an essentially anarchic enterprise.”

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Occasionally, science even becomes so institutionally crabbed as to require the intervention of outside forces. “This is,” he wrote, “an important point. It often happens that parts of science become hardened and intolerant so that proliferation must be enforced from the outside, and by political means. Of course, success cannot be guaranteed — see the Lysenko affair. But this does not remove the need for non-scientific controls on science.”

#related#Climate science has grown diamond-hard. When scientists are not tweaking data to reach more-desirable results, they are shaming and expelling dissenters. Climate scientists like Shukla have turned their research into lucrative Gambino-style operations, while scientists in remote fields have realized that by putting “climate change” in their grant proposals (“What impact will climate change have on the sperm count of three-legged African hedgehogs?”), they can pull in more-generous government sums. Pursuing hypotheses that question the prevailing consensus has become nearly impossible.

Feyerabend called for “theoretical anarchism” among scientists. It should betray the calcified state of climate science that it may require the U.S. Congress to make that possible again.

Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.


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