Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Scientific Process of Scientific Progress

To celebrate Earth Day I finally took the opportunity to watch Warren's recommended movie, The Great Global Warming Swindle. It was quite good. So good, I went over to Wikipedia to see why they said about it.

One of the stranger complaints involved the drama concerning Carl Wunsch. Wunsch appeared on the film describing his work on the feedback mechanism of oceans, CO2 and heat. Warmer oceans release CO2, warming the atmosphere, and thus the oceans. Cooling the oceans absorbs CO2, cooling the atmosphere, and thus the oceans. The movie uses his work to describe how the jump in CO2 in recent years isn't something that is obviously man-made. An outside element (such as additional solar activity) could have initiated a feedback loop.

Wunsch, as it turns out, believes that humans are the original source of the problem, not the sun, and accuses the producers of "misrepresenting" him. It's true that from the movie, one would think he's a member of the skeptics camp and in that way I can see why he is upset. But some people have taken this incident to mean there's something wrong with them using his science, or something wrong with the producers in general, or that they didn't portray the science accurately. But they did portray his work accurately--they just used it in a way he didn't like.

If someone used my work (accurately) to support government funding of research, I would say "that's an interesting take--let's talk about it." I would claim I'm being misrepresented if I was painted as being in that person's school of thought. Wunsch's anger is understandable, but alludes to a disturbing problem with climatology: perceptions are becoming far more important than good science. The truth may not be in a direction you agree with which is why you have to allow your work to be used in a way you might not like. We want scientists to be willing to let such ideas be explored freely. Climatology, in its current state, is not in that position. This is what happens when science becomes media-saturated and politically entrenched: perceptions, not science, take the center stage.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

I'm inclined to agree. It's interesting to note that the "average person" loves to use others' own words against them but gets all defensive when someone does it back. Really, it can offer a good opportunity for someone to honestly reevaluate his or her own position.