July 21st, 2019

Taking scientists’ research seriously

By Letter to the Editor on March 8, 2017.

Re: “Did we jump the gun?”, Feb. 25

Let’s take a step back in time and imagine that we are living in a world where people take scientists and their research seriously. What would that be like, and how might it apply to Barb Taylor’s recent letter to the editor and to “Dark Winter,” the book by John L. Casey which she references?

There is an expectation within the scientific world that scientists build hypotheses on detailed and systematically collected data. When an investigation is completed, the scientist will write a report. If, upon review by other scientists, it is affirmed that she or he has followed scientific method diligently, the hypothesis is of some importance, and the scientist’s reasoning is sound, the report will likely be published in a scientific journal. Other scientists in that field may choose to collect and analyze their own data and, as a result, the original hypothesis will be more generally accepted, modified, or replaced.

Over time, a hypothesis which consistently explains the data becomes a theory. Global warming caused by human activity is a theory which is accepted by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists. A 2016 study led by John Cook investigated 12,000 articles on climate change and, of the just over 4,000 that discussed causation, 97.1 per cent concluded that human activity is a significant causal factor.

In her letter, Ms. Taylor rejects that theory, offering two hypotheses of her own; one, the climate science community is dishonest and corrupt and two, the earth’s atmosphere is in a cooling trend. Do these hypotheses stand up to any scrutiny?

She chose to rest her first hypothesis on climate scandal articles that can be found on the web. The latest of these is “Climate-gate 2,” which gained public attention at the beginning of February. The unscrupulous behaviour of climate scientists was “exposed” in an editorial penned by David Rose in a British newspaper, The Daily Mail.

His source was retired climate scientist John Bates, who had concerns about one particular 2015 study.

Subsequent articles written by scientists explain both the ways in which Bate’s critique was inaccurate and the ways in which the journalist’s analysis was seriously flawed. Even Bates later clarified his position, stating, “The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was.” It may be noteworthy that Wikipedia editors voted to ban The Daily Mail as a source, citing, “poor fact checking and sensationalism.”

Her second hypothesis is dependant upon one source. John Casey, author of “Dark Winter,” is a retired engineer with no scientific training who has published nothing in any scientific journal. Again, it is possible to find explanations of the ways in which his hypothesis and analysis are flawed. http://www.junkscience.com, a climate change denier site, went so far as to label him a scam artist.

The scientific community might be the first to admit that scientists can be wrong. For this reason, scientific method must be adhered to and further data collection and testing is constantly required. It is the only rational way for us to better understand our world.

Choosing to believe discredited unqualified outliers over what close to 3,900 out of 4000 scientifically reviewed reports conclude is misguided, even if it makes us feel better about doing nothing to adjust our behaviour.

Ed Dick

Medicine Hat

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