Thursday, November 15, 2007

Climate science: Sceptical about bias

An amusing report (part of a pertinent series about climate change issues) on one reporter’s attempt to document bias against climate change skeptics, from the BBC: Of all the accusations made by the vociferous community of climate sceptics, surely the most damaging is that science itself is biased against them. That was a view I put forward nearly a year ago now in another article for the BBC News website, and nothing has changed my mind since.

The year seems to have brought no diminution of the accusations flying around the blogosphere. "The research itself is biased," as one recent blog entry put it. "Scientists are quick to find what they're looking for when it means getting more funding out of the government."

That particular posting gave no evidence to support its claim of bias. I have seen none that did; which made me wonder whether there was any evidence. In that earlier article, I invited sceptics to put their cards on the table, and send me documentation or other firm evidence of bias. For my part, I agreed to look into any concrete claims. Given the fury evidenced by sceptical commentators, I was expecting a deluge.

…The sum total of evidence obtained through this open invitation, then, is one first-hand claim of bias in scientific journals, not backed up by documentary evidence; and three second-hand claims, two well-known and one that the scientist in question does not consider evidence of anti-sceptic feeling.

No-one said they had been refused a place on the IPCC, the central global body in climate change, or denied a job or turned down for promotion or sacked or refused access to a conference platform, or indeed anything else. If there is an anti-sceptic bias running through the institutions of science, it is evidently keeping itself well hidden.

Whether this exercise has conclusively disproved a bias is not for me to say - I am sure others will find plenty to say, doubtless in the courteous and gracious language that typifies climate discourse nowadays. But I will say this; if someone persistently claims to be a great football player, and yet fails to find the net when you put him in front of an open goal, you cannot do other than doubt his claim.

Andres Millan, who wrote to me on the subject from Mexico, offered another explanation for why scientific journals, research grants, conference agendas and the IPCC itself are dominated by research that backs or assumes the reality of modern-day greenhouse warming.

"Most global warming sceptics have no productive alternatives; they say it is a hoax, or that it will cause severe social problems, or that we should allocate resources elsewhere," he wrote. "Scientifically, they have not put forward a compelling, rich, and variegated theory. And until that happens, to expect the government, or any source of scientific funding, to give as much money, attention, or room within academic journals to the alternatives, seems completely misguided."

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