Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
On Saturday (July 24) the American Geophysical Union published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters, entitled “Northern Hemisphere winter snow anomalies: ENSO, NAO and the winter of 2009/10.” This paper attempted to explain the unusually cold 2009-2010 winter, with its record snow falls.
The conclusions of the paper were reasonable, noting that this past winter experienced both an El Nino event in the Pacific as well as a very negative (cold) North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). To quote the paper’s conclusions: “In winters when an El Nino event and a negative NAO combine, analysis reveal that there are positive snow anomalies across the southern U.S. and northern Europe.”
The authors of the paper made no attempt to explain why these two climate events “combined” this past winter, which in the field of climate change is actually the essential question. What caused it? Moreover, did the deep and extended negative (cold) phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) contribute as well, and if so, why did the AO also go negative this winter? And finally, were all these climate events somehow related to the Sun’s unusally long and deep solar minimum?
That they didn’t answer these fundamental questions is not surprising. Climotogists have been struggling with them for decades, and to expect this quickly written paper focused on this one climate event — the cold winter of 2009-2010 — to answer them would be unreasonable. In fact, considering the state of our knowledge, it probably is impossible for any paper to answer these questions at this time.
What makes this particular paper really noteworthy, however, is a quote in its introductory paragraphs:
The wintry winter has encouraged deniers of global warming, and those opposed to restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, to mock climate change science. While these attacks confuse climate and weather and take a very geographically limited view (for example much of the Pacific Northwest had below normal snowfall), it is worth examining the causes for the winter’s snowfall anomalies. Such knowledge can be useful in climate prediction. In addition, explanations for climate and weather events that are in the news can help educate the public and diminish the effectiveness of efforts to exploit events to undermine the credibility of the science of climate change. [emphasis mine]
First of all, as I noted, the paper doesn’t really try to explain the fundamental “causes for the winter’s snowfall anomalies.” Though it notes the immediate cause (the combination of the NAO and El Nino events), it does not address why these events combined at all, at this time.
Second, and far more important, for a peer-reviewed paper published in a respected scientific journal like Geophysical Research Letters to use such a politically-charged word like “deniers” to refer to scientists who harbor doubts about the subject of global warming indicates the sad state of modern scientific discourse. Apparently no one (the paper’s four writers, its peer reviewers, GRL’s editors) questioned the use of such an ad hominim attack, suggesting that they all believed strongly that expressing any doubts about global warming was unacceptable. Worse, it also suggests that, to them, the airing of such doubts automatically discredited the credibility of any scientist who did so.
Science, however, is founded on skepticism and doubt. In order for scientists to figure out what is going on, it is essential that they have the freedom of thought to question everything. To deny anyone that freedom is to deny them the very essence of science. Or as Francis Bacon noted
Truth is to be sought for, not in the felicity of any age which is an unstable thing, but in the light of nature and experience, which is eternal. . . . Let every student of nature take this as a rule — that whatever his mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is be held in suspicion. [Novum Organum, sections 56 and 58]
That the editors, reviewers, and scientists of a modern peer-review journal do not understand this basic point about the scientific method speaks volumes about the corruption of modern climate research. It also explains why a scandal such as climategate could happen, and why there is such a willingness by so many scientists to cover the scandal up.
Unfortunately, it appears that climate research today is not about in seeking after truth, but in defending the personal theories of powerful scientists, regardless of facts.