Sunday, 16 February 2014

On conspiracies

This is a bit of a follow on from the previous post on scientific fraud. It has been inspired by the denier claim that global warming is some sort of conspiracy. I guess it takes two brain cells to see through this one.

But first a disclaimer. Conspiracies do happen. We know about them because someone can't keep a secret, spills some beans and the constabulary gets involved. But the best conspiracies involve just one person.

Problem with conspiracies that involve something rather public, like the moon landings or climate change (other than the fact that such conspiracies don't exist), is that they have to involve not only large numbers of people but also something of a show. That Saturn V rocket wasn't a cardboard cut out. You could, and hundreds of thousands did, got to watch the Apollo launches.

I understand, from years of watching Colombo that criminals need motive, opportunity and means. Excuse me for missing something that the denier seem to think is obvious but, of you are trying to launch a global conspiracy to rid the world of nasty fossil fuel emissions, would you do it this way?

Would you put your data out on the internet so anyone can put it into an Excel spreadsheet and draw pretty graphs? It is a bit hard to hide any nefarious fiddling you might have done with the data if anyone can download it and muck about with it, trying to fit a curve, trying to find an oscillation or two.

Would you put your conspiracy into the peer reviewed science journals, conferences and the like where others, who might not be in on the conspiracy, can ask irritating questions, challenge your conclusions and so on? In thought you wouldn't. If you want to influence governments, lobby them and not worry about published research. And you would make a mistake because you have to keep track of all the lies you have been telling. You would be inconsistent.

Would you design a conspiracy that meant you wouldn't really know how bad it was for decades, probably long after you are dead? One that doesn't really bring much reward for you as a scientist because there are no Nobels for you and just your salary and your pension to look forward to.  And would you stick awkward bits into the data, like a slow down in the rise of surface temperatures which it would be good to explain. And why bother to explain it because that draws attention to it?

It's a rubbish conspiracy, climate change. Or it would be because some young sap would get lots of glory out of proving it all wrong. Humans are like that. There's always one, one who will go against the grain.

Those that try swimming against the climate science tide lack one thing. They miss the whole picture because they are concentrating on the conspiracy, they forget that science, all science, works within the constraints of what is known and what is possible. If the earth does not lose to space as much energy as it gains in radiation from the Sun then it must perforce warm up. There's no conspiracy there. Just physics.

I haven't said anything original here but I can't remember where all these ideas came from. Don't be shy if I should have credited you or some source you know. I will credit you later.

No comments:

Post a Comment