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You Are Here: Home » Science » Thinking Critically About Climate Change to Prevent Another ‘Climategate’

Thinking Critically About Climate Change to Prevent Another ‘Climategate’

- 17 February 2014, 03:02

A recent article appearing in The Washington Times titled “Climate scientists to fight back at skeptics” covers the ways in which significant climate scientists are feeling pressure to fight back and respond to their critics, in light of the issue that has been referenced as “Climategate.” “Climategate,” which has painted scientists in an unflattering light, concerns the leaking of emails between two eminent climate research scientists. The emails appeared to imply that the two climate scientists were “massaging data” in support of a specific conclusion while passing over other crucial statistics to do so.

Stephen H. Schneider, a Stanford professor, says in the article that the “social contract” between scientists and politicians has been ruined and must be restored. He comments in the piece,

“What I am trying to do is head off something that will be truly ugly… I don’t want to see a repeat of McCarthyesque behavior and I’m already personally very dismayed by the horrible state of this topic, in which the political debate has almost no resemblance to the scientific debate.”

Numerous climate scientists associated with the National Academy of Sciences, together with Schneider, participated in an email exchange in which they talked about the formation of a nonprofit group with a purpose of raising finances for a New York Times ad which would respond forcefully to the climate scientists’ critics.

This newest twist in the account of “Climategate” leads us to ask why the “social contract” between climatologists and policymakers has been broken. Are the climate researchers’ scientific findings which were presented to us completely unsound? Or could it be a consequence of politicians who have depended on the “science experts” to tell them what to think instead of using their own critical thinking skills to consider the conclusions proposed by the experts?

Science, at its most basic level, is all about disagreement, opposing viewpoints, and varied interpretations. What constitutes a “proven fact” might be disputable, but any scientific premise, to be a good theory, requires that the outcomes it draws should be able to be falsified and tested. Because of this, scientists fight; that is simply what scientists do. From unique ways of looking at collected records to how to perform experimentation; scientists disagree about everything. Often, the heated clashes between scientists come to a head, even being witnessed by graduate students at conferences where scientists sometimes even attack one another’s reputations! Therefore, the fact that climate scientists argue about the data and what they indicate should come as no shock. Nonetheless, science ceases being “scientific” when one point of view stops being questioned, in a “this is the entire truth” perspective.

In this instance, the data was handled sloppily, resulting in “Climategate,” but the situation is also probably the consequence of prejudice. When the conjecture that human CO2 emissions triggered global warming became the sole reason behind why polar ice caps were melting, scientific objectivity was shelved. This one, incredibly small explanation of records was presented as the total rationale behind climate change, while other facts, such as particulate matter by aerosols or the influences of solar activity were downplayed. Anyone with adequate tools in analytical thinking along with a simple awareness of science can understand that to present one group of data as the only cause of a phenomenon while downplaying other records spells trouble. It doesn’t take a specially educated climate scientist to grasp that–or even a scientist.

Policymakers, journalists, and the general public ought to learn to take accountability for their own opinions concerning science and the scientific process. Awareness about the basics of science and how science works are the keys to forming good viewpoints regarding climate science data. Anyone can accomplish the ability to evaluate scientific claims. If elementary students are able to be taught physics and chemistry, then journalists and politicians, as well as the average adult, can learn the basics and from there think analytically about scientific conclusions.

Basically, “Climategate” is a problem with education and politics, not science. The conflict between scientists is exactly the way science operates and is not out of the ordinary. As should be the case, there is a battle over climate data. However, since policymakers considered climate change from a small lens without analytically evaluating counterarguments, errors in reasoning were probably made. We don’t necessarily need more experts; we need additional science education for all. If our politicians had been taught to evaluate scientific statements for themselves and not just rely on others to dictate scientific beliefs to them, matters such as “Climategate” might have been prevented. However, if funding for education continues to be cut, as is currently occurring in California to make up for the financial deficit the state has experienced, this issue will only become worse. In order to re-establish the “social contract” between scientists and politicians it might be a good idea to demand that both scientists and politicians take accountability for their own understanding of those scientific concerns that influence politics.

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