Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chrichton To Senate On Global Warming

Free Republic has posted the testimony of Michael Chrichton before the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works on the important subject of the scientific validity -- or utter lack thereof -- in global warming research.

An excerpt:

Verification may take several forms. I come from medicine, where the gold standard is the randomized double-blind study, which has been the paradigm of medical research since the 1940s.

In that vein, let me tell you a story. It's 1991, I am flying home from Germany, sitting next to a man who is almost in tears, he is so upset. He's a physician involved in an FDA study of a new drug. It's a double-blind study involving four separate teams---one plans the study, another administers the drug to patients, a third assess the effect on patients, and a fourth analyzes results. The teams do not know each other, and are prohibited from personal contact of any sort, on peril of contaminating the results. This man had been sitting in the Frankfurt airport, innocently chatting with another man, when they discovered to their mutual horror they are on two different teams studying the same drug. They were required to report their encounter to the FDA. And my companion was now waiting to see if the FDA would declare their multi-year, multi-million-dollar study invalid because of this contact.

For a person with a medical background, accustomed to this degree of rigor in research, the protocols of climate science appear considerably more relaxed. A striking feature of climate science is that it's permissible for raw data to be "touched," or modified, by many hands. Gaps in temperature and proxy records are filled in. Suspect values are deleted because a scientist deems them erroneous. A researcher may elect to use parts of existing records, ignoring other parts. But the fact that the data has been modified in so many ways inevitably raises the question of whether the results of a given study are wholly or partially caused by the modifications themselves.

His conclusion:
I would remind the committee that in the end, it is the proper function of government to set standards for the integrity of information it uses to make policy. Those who argue government should refrain from mandating quality standards for scientific research-including some professional organizations-are merely self-serving. In an information society, public safety depends on the integrity of public information. And only government can perform that task.
There's plenty of good, solid stuff in between, and it's just a three-minute testimony, so it's a very quick read.

The same failure of science to be strict, transparent and verifiable is one of the big problems with the Endangered Species Act. When the California gnatcatcher was listed, we presented genetic data showing Californian and Mexican populations of the bird were one and the same. The service rejected our science for the findings of Jon Atwood, which were quite suspect.

Years later, when mitochondrial DNA studies verified our findings, Atwood signed on to the study at the end -- but by then unverified science had done its work. The listing of the gnatcatcher using Atwood's "science" increased home prices and made Southern California less competitive.