19 October 2014

How Climate Science Gets Tossed Around and Misrepresented

Exactly, xkcd! Thank you.

A couple of things this week helped me finally grasp that the field of climate change science is like any other human endeavour -- rife with human foibles, especially greed and ego.

First up, from Climate Parents, a little tale of greed (profit before integrity) [emphasis in original]:
Two major publishers have drafted new social studies textbooks for K-12 students in Texas that are filled with misinformation about climate change. Since Texas is the ... second largest buyer of textbooks [in the United States], books produced for the state are often sold nationwide.  
Among [the] egregious errors, the draft textbooks from McGraw-Hill and Pearson assert there is an active dispute among scientists about the primary cause of climate change. The climate change-denying Heartland Institute is given equal footing with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which integrates the work of thousands of credentialed, peer-reviewed scientists. 
McGraw-Hill and Pearson need to correct the many factual errors about climate change before its books are presented to the Board for final approval. Otherwise, students across the country could be denied accurate information about the biggest global challenge their generation will face.  
The publishers are responding to pressure from climate deniers on the Board of Education, who are determined to stop students from learning the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. It's crucial that we send a strong message right away that censoring climate science in order to sell books is unethical and an unacceptable disservice to students, and must be corrected.
You can sign their petition here, asking McGraw-Hill and Pearson to, you know, tell students the truth. (I'd hate to see what their science textbooks have to say about climate change!)

Next up, here's a tale of ego before integrity -- and science by haiku (which is a shortcut to misunderstandings). It seems the climate change blogosphere has been lit up with the story of a Twitter lynch mob at a recent fancy dancy scientific meeting. 

As a nonscientist who doesn't even make it onto the cartoon up top, it's been fascinating for me (while recuperating from the flu) to watch the perps and their groupies cry foul. "He hit me back first" sort of stuff. I figure if you're going to dish it out via Twitter, you'd better be able to take it in complete paragraphs. 

Anyway, it sure seems to be a case of the new (climate modellers) trying to oust the old (field scientists) -- a territorial thing? An ego thing? The only humour I've found in the whole sordid affair is that the main tweeter has two degrees, both in ... can you guess? Math. (See cartoon above.)

Here's an example of how the science got tossed around and misrepresented. 

The head honcho tweeter tweeted: So and so "clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations." But here's how someone who was in attendance heard the same Q&A: Such and such "raised his hand to ask 'Is any of this based on Physics?' to which So and so replied 'no' referring to the fact that it is collected observational data." See the dangerous difference between what was communicated at the meeting and what was communicated in 140 characters? 

Perhaps those precious mathematical modellers are simply so high up there on their pedestals of purity that data collected through years of field studies is piffle to them -- even if it's data that, if extrapolated properly (and that's where peer review and scientific debate -- not condescending tweets -- come in), is quite foreboding. 

Man, talk about bursting my balloon. After all these years of thinking that scientists were somehow superior to us lowly humanities types, it turns out they're just human, too. 

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?