Climate science today is suffering from an acute crisis of confidence. You could point to the “ClimateGate” conspiracy-that-wasn’t, or the occasional mis-statements, over-estimates and outright exaggerations in the writings and statements of prominent climate change activists, from Tim Flannery to the IPCC itself. But put aside the ad hominem attacks, ignore the wilfully misconstrued attacks on the impartiality of science, and at the root of the problem is the nature of the science itself. Climate science, like so much else in our modern world, relies upon models in order to predict outcomes on the basis of changed starting conditions.
In this, climate science is not dissimilar to virtually any other discipline of science. There are very few sciences that rest solely upon observation of the natural world. Our understanding of everything from meteorology to the physics of light and electromagnetism, from chemistry to biochemistry, to genetics and growth… virtually every scientific endeavour operates within modelled frameworks that allow us to understand, make sense of and frame the raw data. But in the case of climate science, the politics and entrenched interests with an intent to discredit the science have latched upon the “falsifiability” component of modern scientific practice as a means to challenge the outcomes. Climate science appears to be uniquely privileged in this way: we don’t hear armchair critics arguing that the law of gravity might be wrong because it’s built on models.
A strategic approach to science
Recently I blogged on the hostility of the Australian mainstream to expertise and research, and lamented the loss of pure (i.e. not firmly directed at an expected commercial outcome) research. Professor Ian Chubb AC, Australia’s Chief Scientist (what a cool title is that?!?) has just released a position paper arguing that Australia is falling behind the rest of the world and we need a coordinated strategy to secure our future in the knowledge era.
If we don’t believe in the value of knowledge, we run the risk of really becoming the “white trash of Asia”.
Read the position paper at the link at the top.
As a research professional with a scientific background and a professional expertise in information technology, I keep coming across arguments and beliefs that make me cringe. Whether the topic be immunisation, or climate change policy, or the National Broadband network, the health risks of genetically modified foods, or the effect of genetics on personal capability and life prospects, you can be sure that some commenters will challenge the “orthodoxy”. Now I don’t have a problem with challenging orthodoxies. The very basis of modern scientific practice revolves around the concept of putting up hypotheses and then trying to shoot them down. But when a challenge to the prevailing paradigm is made without a suitable basis in fact and understanding, it contributes to an ongoing sense that we live in a country that is actively hostile to the idea of expertise.