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Reclaiming Climate Science: A Skeptics' Wiki?

Background
As a community of climate skeptics, I believe we owe it to ourselves to establish a good wiki. The ICCC conference is bubbling over with experts and potential authors (see program); the bloggers at Watts Up and Climate Audit alone have enough resources and skills to potentially establish, maintain, and administer a wiki platform with integrity.

The NIPCC (Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change) aims to set a standard for good science; but I believe we need a wiki too, as the default source of information that can counter disinformation as well as provide good science.

As Watts Up With That grows more popular, the posts get longer and take more time to follow; yet there are key references, insights and breakthrough research scattered through the WUWT posts like diamonds in the mud. The WUWT post explaining Climate Audit's work of deconstructing the 2009 Steig "Antarctica Warming" paper, by Jeff Id and Jeff C was a superb example of restoration of good science by "amateurs". And when climate scientists of distinction like Richard Lindzen post here, this is helping set new patterns for a "citizens' science".

For non-statisticians the Climate Audit threads can be hard to understand, though many follow CA, simply enjoying the excitement of challenging and mending the science. But people need statistical knowledge before they can contribute with expertise. The CA101 wiki can help you learn statistics, and the CA forum enables general discussion. But auditing Climate Science is only part of what's needed: the whole science needs reclaiming.

Why a wiki?
Two reasons: Firstly, I think we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to establish a Citizens' Science that cannot get so easily hijacked by so few. I believe this is a gift we can offer our children and grandchildren, no matter what happens with the current warming alarmism. Secondly, although the signs are that the tide is now turning, I believe that a wiki will help: that anything less than a skeptics' Climate Science wiki can still puts out a message, to the AGW scientists, that we are a few eccentric individuals, probably in the pay of exxxxxxxxxx, rather than a significant community ranging from top experts to dedicated amateurs who are united by a common concern for the integrity of Climate Science. The NIPCC has the excellence, but does not involve the whole community, and is therefore not the default point of reference. A wiki seems like a natural progression from NIPCC, Climate Audit, Watts Up With That, and a great many other blogs and websites and other climate skeptics' work of quality such as Jennifer Marohasy, Prometheus, the Idsos, John Daly, etc, to consolidate the excellence generated there in ways the AGW believers would be unable to honestly dismiss.

A skeptics' wiki needs to be aware of, and able to respond to, criticism from right across the board, much as Craig Loehle did in getting Climate Audit to "audit" and effectively peer-review his study. We should aim to refine the science to a "gold standard", written in language that people can understand without specialist knowledge, but still be open to the best science standards of falsifiability, transparent evidence and data, etc. Precisely because much of the science is still little-understood, we need to explain exactly this issue, and have room to evaluate serious theories both inside and outside the official position. That way, we help ordinary folk reclaim a true understanding of an important science, with its real problems, limits, and questions. We re-empower people to make informed decisions regarding local and global issues.

Many who believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming refer to RealClimate as their benchmark of authority and good science, and believe that RealClimate has proved that there is no science of substance outside the "consensus". RealClimate won't even mention Steve McIntyre by name, let alone hyperlink to him to let people compare the two versions of Climate Science and make up their own minds. We need to rise to RC's level of excellence and more. Just see how extensive it has become, with its own wiki for "debunking of various popular media occurrences of climate-related nonsense". Hundreds of pages are grouped in the pre-wiki index under "Themes" one of which is Responses to common contrarian arguments. However, using the RC themes as a starting-point, I developed a lot more ideas for us (as a first try):

Some Suggestions for Skeptics Themes
Alarmism & Activism
Adaptation to Climate Change
Aerosols
An Inconvenient Truth
Arctic and Antarctic issues
Atmospheric Science
Carbon Dioxide
Climate Modelling
Climate Sensitivity
Data Issues
Deconstructing "Answers to Skeptics"
Defending Good Scientists
"Emperor's New Clothes"
Ethical Funding

Extreme events
Global Warming & Cooling
Greenhouse Gas Effect
Historical Evidence
Hockey Sticks
Ice Records
Introductions for AGW aficionados
IPCC & Unanswered Questions
Manmade Influences
Media responsibility
NIPCC & ICCC
Oceans
Original Research (members' pages)
Paleo-climate

Peer-review Issues
Politicization of Science
Practice of Science
Real Global Responsibility
Solar cycles & effects
Surveys & Consensus
Svensmark cloud effect
Temperature Records
Top Ten for Newcomers
Transparent Standards
Urban Heat Islands
Water vapour & Cloud
Wiki Community

Generating energy and support
Posting this as a "guest article" at WUWT would be nice - but I shall not be ready to cope if it generates the hoped-for sizeable influx of interest, until after May 3rd this year. I'd love to have the kind of support with intelligence and warmth that contributors like E M Smith, Smokey, and jeez give. But also, the project needs contributors and administrators of sufficient calibre. Work is needed to set standards and develop a sense of community and trust, to establish a wiki platform and adjust the project to make it workable, before opening it up to more general participation. I cannot manage this project alone, for though I've been in contact with many key skeptics, and had a number of favourable comments on my Primer, I am still a comparative newcomer, and anyway I believe it needs the whole skeptics' community behind it.

There are resources that wikis can use against takeover and spamming attempts. I understand this in a basic way through a brief spell of editing at Wikipedia, and in running a forum. What I really hold is the vision and passion, belief that we can do it, and support for the human values that are actually the very means by which scientific "objectivity" can be established in a way we are all happy with. Ultimately, such a project should be fun as well as serious, and, one hopes, open to at least all skeptics. It should perhaps even aim to make itself redundant, as it achieves the work of reclaiming Climate Science. Wikipedia started with limited authors before it opened its gates to wider participation. In a comparatively small specialist-interest wiki such as this would be, its fine visions should be workable, with one exception: omit Wikipedia's "No Original Research". I would suggest "Relevant Original Research" ie relevant to reclaiming integrity and openness in Climate Science.

How to divide the wiki into different sections? Above, I have suggested a number of "themes". A suggested primary division is
(a) the science. There is reasonably well-agreed good science. One also needs refutations of bad science. However, Climate Science is a new science, with far less certainty than outsiders expect it to have, and uncertainties are so rich, and so creative in potential, that this presents a strong and unique challenge for a Climate Science wiki. There needs to be welcome space for original research; space to embrace new, creative and "fringe" theses that deserve a fair hearing but may need further development to prove as scientific, or to convince as important - especially when current paradigms of science are challenged. This is the area that AGW believers flag up regularly to prove that skeptics are bad scientists. Unlike Wikipedia, a truly useful Climate Science wiki cannot avoid "original research" in some measure. But it needs care in setting standards that AGW believers cannot fault, that still encourage brainstorming as well as refining;
(b) human, psychological, societal, legal, political issues ie the history, the IPCC, NIPCC, cognitive dissonance, Al Gore, research funding issues, peer review issues, the very inclusion of original research and the setting of a wider, more human, more context-sensitive set of appropriate scientific standards, etc;
(c) deconstructing the common "straw man" arguments that scientists use to discredit and discount skeptics' issues. Possibly, this section could be the way to start to organize the whole project - a kind of FAQ to "answer the answers" such as are given in the Skeptics' Arguments list below;
(d) deconstructing the false/misleading records used to totally discredit the best skeptical authors, scientists and institutions - Tim Ball, Lord Monckton, Heartland Institute, etc.

Seed-starting the wiki
I think about various ways. One would be to chop up my own Primer into different parts: anyone like to do this? or maybe I'll get around to doing it myself... Another way would be to collect all the common straw men that need refuting (like Smokey does so well at WUWT). Or - how about starting with responses to the seven key science issues? The seven issues whose unscientific linking started the AGW rot in the first place:

  • that our CO2 emissions are accumulating in the atmosphere, raising CO2 levels;
  • this is proven by the changing 12C - 13C carbon isotope ratio;
  • the GHG power of these CO2 emissions is large...
  • ...and is amplified by water vapour;
  • this is therefore the cause of recent global warming;
  • and if we don't stop emitting CO2, global warming will rise...
  • ...to levels dangerous for the survival of life on earth

The wiki should aim for eventual deconstructions of all the "skeptics' issues" that the AGW believer community have seen fit to debunk. New Scientist (27), the BBC ("top 10"), the Royal Society, and of course RealClimate (~50), all have their own collection of debunking pages - almost all of which appear to be forms of straw men. Gristmill's "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic" lists 70+ topics by Stages of Denial, Scientific Topics, Types of Argument, and Levels of Sophistication.

Here are the 53 from Skeptical Science. Most topics appear elsewhere, and several found elsewhere are missing here; still, it's an interesting and fairly complete list:

Skeptical Science "answers" skeptics' arguments in order of interest
1 It's the sun
2 Climate's changed before
3 There is no consensus
4 It's cooling
5 Models are unreliable
6 Surface temp is unreliable
7 Ice age predicted in the 70s
8 We're heading into an ice age
9 It hasn't warmed since 1998
10 Al Gore got it wrong
11 CO2 lags temperature
12 Global warming is good
13 Antarctica is cooling/gaining ice
14 Hurricanes aren't linked to global warming
15 It's freaking cold!
16 It's cosmic rays
17 1934 - hottest year on record
18 It's cosmic rays
19 Urban Heat Island effect exaggerates warming
20 Greenland was green
21 Other planets are warming
22 Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle
23 Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas
24 Hockey stick was debunked
25 Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions
26 We're coming out of an ice age
27 It warmed before 1940 when CO2 was low
28 Mt. Kilimanjaro's ice loss is due to land use
29 It cooled mid-century
30 Glaciers are growing
31 There's no empirical evidence
32 Oceans are cooling
33 Satellites show no warming in the troposphere
34 Climate sensitivity is low
35 If scientists can't predict weather, how can they predict long term climate?
36 Greenland is cooler/gaining ice
37 Neptune is warming
38 Jupiter is warming
39 It's Pacific Decadal Oscillation
40 It's volcanoes (or lack thereof)
41 It's the ocean
42 Less than half of published scientists endorse global warming
43 CO2 measurements are suspect
44 It's aerosols
45 Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
46 It's methane
47 It's Solar Cycle Length
48 Naomi Oreskes' study on consensus was flawed
49 Water levels correlate with sunspots
50 Solar cycles cause global warming
51 The sun is getting hotter
52 It's the ozone layer
53 It's satellite microwave transmissions

Technical & other details
Wikipedia, running on the MediaWiki platform, uses basically four levels of engagement for each page: the front page, the page for discussion, the page where one can edit (editing either front page or discussion page), and the history page where changes (of whatever page you were on) are recorded. There are other simpler systems, but if the Creationists and RealClimate can cope with a MediaWiki platform, surely we can too! Its advantages are that it looks clean, and that Wikipedia's techniques and best standards are well-known. It is possible, as I understand, to allow everyone to comment on the discussion pages, while only allowing agreed contributors to set up new pages or edit existing ones. It would be a shame, and against the true nature of Science, for the wiki to remain closed. But it might be necessary to only allow skeptics to contribute, until such time as the closed shops that already exist are shamed or inspired into a more transparent, participative openness. Ah, what the Internet can do if we use our imagination well!

I do not see myself as overseeing this wiki project in the long term. But I am willing to help facilitate, as far as lies within my ability, to bring it into being. Please let me know if you would like to help realize this wiki. Our forum is a place for ongoing discussion until an independent platform can be established. To gain a better measure of my competency, please visit the skeptics' Climate Science primer that tells of my own U-turn from AGW, and was written for want of something better - like a skeptics' wiki could become.

 

last edited 1st April 2009

 

 

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