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How to Achieve Scientific "Consensus"

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08/14/2006N. Joseph Potts

Date: August 14, 2006

To: Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, MIT

From: Dr. John Q. Colleague [not anyone's real name]

Subj: Scientific Solidarity

I'm sorry I had to decline your lunch invitation today. You seemed to know the excuse I gave you was just a cover. Of course, the reality was simply that the tenure committee is considering my application this week, and it just wouldn't do at this particular moment for me to be seen hobnobbing with you.

I judge others have come up with their own excuses; the sight of you dining alone at the Faculty Club has become a rather forlorn feature of my everyday. As many years as I've known you, and as closely as we've worked together, I've decided to do you the favor evidently none of our colleagues has seen his way to doing and make a clean breast of things.

The issue, of course, is your ongoing insistence, exemplified most by your op ed in the Wall Street Journal for July 2, of bucking the consensus that all the rest of us in the department, and indeed, all over the world, have arrived at regarding the issue of global warming. I know you know this has estranged you from the great majority of the rest of your colleagues, including people like me who really agree with you, and I suspect you accept this, but I'd like to make it clear to you just how and why it does so, and what the further damage is or may be that your breaking ranks with our profession really does.

You have tenure and so, that blessed academic freedom that theoretically leaves us all free to announce whatever we find to be true to a world that may or may not be ready to receive our truths. For that matter, you're over 65, and at the age when you can pass the baton to the younger generation and take a well-earned rest. And that younger generation is the one whose interests I submit to your consideration.

When you were starting out in this field 45 years ago, things were very different. For one thing, you didn't have to be a grant magnet to hold an academic post at a place like MIT — you could get by just teaching and publishing the occasional article. For another, you were just weathermen back then, or meteorologists, as you were called by the few who cared to demonstrate respect for what you were doing.

Today, there's a lot more money and a lot more candidates for what seems like fewer and fewer posts that offer any kind of real future. And that money — that grant money that comes from a few influential foundations but most of all, from Uncle — it flows like a thing you and I understand: a current. Like a current, it flows away from one thing, and toward another thing, and what it's flowing toward now is what Al Gore terms the planetary emergency of global warming.

Now take a young professor trying to keep his head above water in this sweeping torrent — me, if you insist, but there are thousands of us in the world scientific community trying to run before this tide. Most of us have spouses, and young children. We've probably taken on a mortgage on a house in the suburbs pretty recently, and most of us haven't even finished paying off our own educational debts. We're in no position to indulge minor doubts about a trend in science that is starting to pay off in a big way for all of us and gain our work the recognition it has so long deserved, but never before received.

If there are flaws in some of the work, they'll become evident with the passage of time, and we can always adjust policy of the future to better information as it comes along. The point is to get things moving, and your testimony before Congress and op eds in the Wall Street Journal and other such media for laymen are messing that up in a big way for all the rest of us who don't have tenure, whose children aren't grown up yet, and who are still a long way from retirement age.

Those popular media certainly must be a relief from the agonizing process of peer review the rest of us go through to publish in legitimate scientific journals, and I have no doubt they pay better. I'd like to see anything resembling that kind of spouting off get past the editors of our scientific journals, not to mention our peer reviewers, who stand shoulder to shoulder where it comes to keeping the published science consistent and on message.

The right kind of spirit is even demonstrated by non-climatologists like Naomi Oreskes of the University of San Diego. She conducted the study that made such a splash in Al Gore's movie where she looked at the abstracts of 928 peer-reviewed articles in the ISI database that had "global climate change" in them and found that not one of them was in doubt as to the cause of global warming. Three of your papers came up in my replication of her study (pretty easy to do, after all), but your articles didn't conclude that any particular thing was causing global warming, so your abstracts presumably went into the "expressed no doubt" column and in this case, even you were swept along with the flow despite everyone's knowledge that that is the last thing you'd be willing to be caught doing. If you're curious which three, I've attached the file containing the bibliographical data and the abstracts to this message.

Through the work of stalwarts like Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, who produced the "hockey stick" graph of millennial global temperature that was published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're no longer the butt of jokes about weathermen who look out the window to decide whether to carry an umbrella after having made a weather forecast. Now, we're climatologists, for crying out loud, and when we've got a man in the White House who owes his job to us, all those jokers are going to learn to laugh out the other side of their mouths.

But not if you keep messing things up the way you've been doing, Dick. It's obvious, of course, that your scientific career is over, and not just because of your age. You'll never get another grant, at least not from any reputable source like a big non-profit or the federal government.

The other day, I saw one of the graduate assistants in the mail room, going through the contents of your mailbox. Rather than make a fuss about it, I asked the professor whose GA she was about it. She just gestured dismissively and said she was indulging everyone's curiosity about whether you were getting any of your checks from the oil companies here at the department! That's what your reputation around here has sunk to, Dick, at least among those of us who don't know you as well as I do.

Now you know as well as I do that no one in the academic world would do anything underhanded, but for my part, I've actually become afraid for you and your family. Out in the larger world, as you know very well, there are nutcase environmentalists who do things like put iron spikes in trees that cause disastrous accidents in sawmills and pulp mills that injure and kill workers there.

Your high-publicity stunts before Congress, at the National Academy of the Sciences, the IPCC, and in the press will put you directly in the crosshairs of just such a maniac, I fear, especially if you don't quit while you're ahead.

You've got a distinguished career in meteorology, or climatology, or atmospheric science, behind you Dick, and you still enjoy the respect of some of us who know what you did before you got caught up in all this global warming grandstanding that has made you almost famous among a few million people who probably can't even spell climatology. But it's gone too far, and it's hurt too many of the people we work and live among.

For the sake of science, Dick, for the sake of collegiality, for your own sake, give it a rest. You know as well as I do that the issue isn't global warming. The issue is what side of the bread our butter is on.


FN ISI Export Format
VR 1.0

AU Lindzen, RS
Giannitsis, C
TI Reconciling observations of global temperature change
AB [1] It is suggested that the much publicized discrepancy between observed surface global mean temperature and global mean atmospheric temperature from 1979 to the present may be due to the fact that the atmosphere underwent a jump in temperature in 1976 (before the satellite temperature series began), and that the surface response was delayed for about a decade due to the ocean heat capacity. The ocean delay depends on both climate sensitivity and vertical heat transport within the ocean. It is shown that the observed delay is best simulated when sensitivity to doubling of CO2 is less than about 1C.
PY 2002
VL 29
IS 12
AR 1583
DI ARTN 1583
UT ISI:000178964100040

AU Lindzen, RS
Chou, MD
Hou, AY
TI Does the earth have an adaptive infrared iris?
AB Observations and analyses of water vapor and clouds in the Tropics over the past decade show that the boundary between regions of high and low free-tropospheric relative humidity is sharp, and that upper-level cirrus and high free-tropospheric relative humidity tend to coincide. Most current studies of atmospheric climate feedbacks have focused on such quantities as clear sky humidity, average humidity, or differences between regions of high and low humidity, but the data suggest that another possible feedback might consist of changes in the relative areas of high and low humidity and cloudiness. Motivated by the observed relation between cloudiness (above the trade wind boundary layer) and high humidity, cloud data for the eastern part of the western Pacific from the Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite-5 (which provides high spatial and temporal resolution) have been analyzed, and it has been found that the area of cirrus cloud coverage normalized by a measure of the area of cumulus coverage decreases about 22% per degree Celsius increase in the surface temperature of the cloudy region. A number of possible interpretations of this result are examined and a plausible one is found to be that cirrus detrainment from cumulus convection diminishes with increasing temperature. The implications of such an effect for climate are examined using a simple two-dimensional radiative-convective model. The calculations show that such a change in the Tropics could lead to a negative feedback in the global climate, with a feedback factor of about -1.1, which if correct, would more than cancel all the positive feedbacks in the more sensitive current climate models. Even if regions of high humidity were not coupled to cloudiness, the feedback factor due to the clouds alone would still amount to about -0.45, which would cancel model water vapor feedback in almost all models. This new mechanism would, in effect, constitute an adaptive infrared iris that opens and closes in order to control the Outgoing Longwave Radiation in response to changes in surface temperature in a manner similar to the way in which an eye's iris opens and closes in response to changing light levels. Not surprisingly, for upper-level clouds, their infrared effect dominates their shortwave effect. Preliminary attempts to replicate observations with GCMs suggest that models lack such a negative cloud/moist areal feedback.
PY 2001
VL 82
IS 3
BP 417
EP 432
UT ISI:000167228500002

AU Lindzen, RS
TI Can increasing carbon dioxide cause climate change?
AB The realistic physical functioning of the greenhouse effect is reviewed, and the role of dynamic transport and water vapor is identified, Model errors and uncertainties are quantitatively compared with the forcing due to doubling CO2, and they are shown to be too large for reliable model evaluations of climate sensitivities, The possibility of directly measuring climate sensitivity is reviewed. A direct approach using satellite data to relate changes in globally averaged radiative flux changes at the top of the atmosphere to naturally occurring changes in global mean temperature is described, Indirect approaches to evaluating climate sensitivity involving the response to volcanic eruptions and Eocene climate change are also described. Finally, it is explained how, in principle, a climate that is insensitive to gross radiative forcing as produced by doubling CO2 might still be able to undergo major changes of the sort associated with ice ages and equable climates.
PY 1997
VL 94
IS 16
BP 8335
EP 8342
UT ISI:A1997XQ12400011



Contact N. Joseph Potts

N. Joseph Potts studies economics at his home in South Florida. Send him mail.

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