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Restoring Integrity in Climate Science

The path to integrity

Three years ago I believed in manmade global warming. It seemed like a serious problem, Science was aware of it, and aware that we needed to face all together. Al Gore had done this extraordinary PR film for Science, and had shown, with the help of Oreskes' trusty survey, that only a "kook or crook" still denied these findings of Science. I found out that even the head of NASA, James Hansen, was hard at work on these issues. I was determined to do my bit to help. Since Truth matters to me, each week I would do some basic fact-checking in addition to my "activist" pursuit of creative solutions.

That way I got to know John Cook's Skeptical Science quite well. But of course, there were never any links to Watts Up With That, or any other of the few sceptical websites that existed then, only links to "good science" and bona-fide-looking dismissals of all that "junk science" and "unethical behaviour" by "non-scientists", which put me off even examining Monckton for a long time. When I finally realized that the whole Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming thesis was a scam at the highest levels of official science, and that Al Gore had sold the world a pack of lies disguised as Science, I felt, here is treasonable corruption, here is something actually more serious than Global Warming to fight for - taking out the hypocrisy that advances lying scare stories while claiming that the others are the ones in denial and endangering our future. Heck, we need integrity, and especially we need it in Science.

I needed to study the science carefully, in order to reverse the many details I had mis-learned. I found no primer to help me, and eventually decided to write one myself, "Sceptical Real Climate Science" - poking fun at our friends at RC of course. Most of my leads to source material were found through WUWTand Climate Audit posts. It was hard work, both teaching myself from scratch, and discerning which pieces I could "trust", especially as I often had difficulty understanding, if there was maths involved. People were ready to tell me what a twat I was to believe such discredited "junk", and would bombard me with their "disproofs", whichever piece of junk science or good science I happened to be working on.

Two years on, I think my work is largely correct and still a pretty unique landmark in stringing together all the climate science issues in one piece, though I've touched it very little recently, it's sometimes incorrect in detail, and it's slightly dated. I developed many "special interest" pages to explore aspects of Climate Science as interest and need arose - both the science and the human/political aspects. But my Primer hasn't been adopted by the whole sceptics community, nor do I think it deserves such high accolade. Others have written better stuff concerning many of my details.

I see similar problems to those of Climate Science right across the board in Science currently, and I believe strongly that they need addressing all together. But this is a big task. However, steps can be discerned. I am certain, beyond a shadow of doubt, that in the journey of reforming Climate Science, we need to set out new statements, and clarify new paradigms, or at the very least, deep reforms and developments of existing paradigms, that will help clear the way for more widespread deep reforms in Science.

There are many clues available for the deep reforms needed, many appear on the blogs here in inspired comments, but much is also hidden in material commonly dismissed as "pseudoscience". And I've found clues just now, reading Newton's very readable biography by Mitch Stokes. Right from the beginning, Newton was almost entirely self-taught. He valued solitude intensely, for the opportunity it afforded him to quietly muse over deep problems. When asked how he arrived at his theory of gravitation, he replied "by thinking about it constantly". Startlingly clear is the high value he attached to the Christian religion as it was then, and how his inner integrity, obtained from fruitful inner communion and extended study of both Christian classics and esoteric material, informed all he did, in laying the solid foundations for modern Science, and in his general humanity - while coping with his need to protect his solitude. He worked extremely hard, with meticulous care to detail; one can sense how his Science proceeded from his integrity, in all details. He was very human too, he suffered a breakdown at one point, and he possessed a fiery temper. Heaven help anyone who accused him of plagiarism, carelessness, or incompetence.

Climate Science is a highly significant place to start the science reform now needed, in my humble opinion. The heavens. Modern Science started with measuring the movements of the heavenly bodies (Tycho Brahe), formulating the geometry (Kepler), the paradigm shifts (Copernicus and Galileo), the maths that nailed home the exactitude (Newton, Leibniz and Descartes), and the basis of modern Scientific Method (Francis Bacon, and Newton, more than any others IMHO). Now the challenge is how to bring down the heavenly values of Truth, Beauty, Clarity, and Courtesy, into that layer of the heavens that exists rather closer to us, that we know as climate and weather.

Nearly all the august founders of modern Science, who frequently did their work at great risk to their life and livelihood, had certain qualities in common that are distinctly the exception today: their high level of belief in God as significant to their life and work, and their interest in esoteric matters. I do not think that real reform in Science can proceed until we can, once again, tap into these extraordinary qualities that provided both the vision, the integrity, and the sheer grit. I want to leave this issue to my next piece. Finally I will suggest what the sceptics' community might do next, in order to restore integrity. I believe we neede something like a wiki to answer, with the authentic voice of the whole sceptics' community, the Royal Society, John Cook's Skeptical Science, and eventually all the rest. But I only have suggestions, not answers, and this has to be a "barn-raising", "crowd-sourcing" event. And if we need to work hard together on this, we probably don't need the familiar trolls' distractions.

I have often wondered about the possibility of starting a sceptics' wiki. Yet I lack time, and am only an amateur in science expertise, maths expertise, statistics expertise, IT technology expertise, and wiki-management expertise; and regarding learning these skills, technics, and maths, age is not on my side. But still the challenge gnaws away at my innards. The current situation is a horrendous affront to civilization, and to things many of our forefathers gave their lives to build up, maintain, and defend. Today, keeping the debate alive and open, holding up the standards needed for open audit, and re-examining the basic data and "fiddle" processes, are essential pieces of work to carry forward true Science that Anthony Watts, Steve McIntyre, and other collaborators in the blogosphere are doing. But I am sure that we need to hammer out a - dreadful word - sceptics' consensus. A consensus that is freely arrived at by the sceptics, that includes all major points of view that to sceptics represent good science, that is not just a statement prepared by just a few sceptics, even the best, but is one that (as John Cook's website is, in theory) can be improved by all - I have to say, all sceptics, since others can post away at Wikipedia.

I started to build a sceptics' climate science wiki a few months back, on a MediaWiki platform established by poster "Shen" from Climate Audit. That unfortunately got derailed when Shen disappeared into the great blue yonder, leaving no pages online and inadequate Google archives. And for once I had not kept records of my work. Unbelievable! I came to wonder if that was another "miracle" that had simply happened to show me a possibility without leaving me stuck with a project too big to handle alone. Then another wiki seemed about to emerge from the ashes of the first... but then I moved house, suffered a ridiculously long spell of Internet unavailability, other circumstances changed, and the momentum faded. But I know we need something, even if my role is to suggest, inspire, and comment, rather than lead, and there may be a place for a modified version of the original wiki idea. At the very least, I now know firsthand all the pitfalls. Yes!

Next article will consider the deeper ethical foundations of modern Science, foundations we need in order to uphold the practical work and keep it sweet and flowing. There are some unusual considerations here, unusual but vital in my humble opinion.

The third article will explore my proposals, and make room for "barn-raising" responses. There will be an outline chart of the 119 "articles of faith" that Skeptical Science declares are the "skeptics' issues", and we can discuss how to hammer out, together, our own answers... not Martin Luther's 95 Theses but 119 Theses... at least.