Best practice in science is achieved through a minimum of two critical conditions: humility and perspective. If humility and perspective are ignored, science suffers.
The field of climate science is suffering from some lack of both humility and perspective.
This deficiency in climatology may certainly be unintentional. But, it is quite possible that the atmospheric topic of utmost interest and importance to many scientists and laymen alike — Earth’s future climate — has been degraded by groupthink. If so, the degradation by groupthink likely originated in the halls of academia, arguably the locus of the largest echo chamber on the globe. Therein, schoolyard science, with its frequent go-along-to-get-along environment and immature, name-calling attitude, can germinate and thrive.
Moreover, an exemplar of hubris is academic certitude over long-range climate outlooks — confident predictions of not just near-future average global conditions, but regional and local climes, for not just decades, but centuries into the future.
Indeed, sophisticated climate studies involve the highest level of computer modeling and require the brain power and computational capacity available in the academic community. But, because of the complexity of the challenge, a broad perspective is also required, and the campus, schoolyard setting is somewhat limited in this regard.
Enter the government to finance and run resource-intensive climate models and yet add its own inherent bias.
Government assistance often brings politically-driven science, cost overruns, redundant efforts, and the like.
That’s what the Trump administration is looking into, but is facing opposition from academia and government inspired “resistance.”
So, on with Science Marches and Climate Marches for more “settled science.”
Yet science is never really settled, especially when the perspective of a large group of well-qualified contributors are ignored or denigrated.
Atmospheric-science practitioners with years of field experience have been marginalized, and with them their fruitful insight into the operations of the climate system.
Many “contrarians” have challenged the carbon-dioxide-increase-leads-to-disastrous-climate-disruption hypothesis with, for instance, the fundamentals of atmospheric physics and chemistry that point to the controlling impact of water on the atmosphere. Water in all its phases — as ice in glaciers, snow cover, and cloud particles; as liquid in the oceans, cloud droplets, and rain; and as invisible airy vapor — mitigates temperature extremes and its related climate connections.
Furthermore, in addition to noting the substantial, and sometimes overwhelming, climatic influence of the occasional El Nino, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, and the like, challengers have also advanced concepts such as cosmic ray linkage with cloud condensation nuclei formation at different altitudes of the troposphere, stratospheric ozone depletion’s relationship with global warming, and the well-documented variation in solar radiation impact on temperature trends.
And, nothing beats proof of concept like reality. For nearly 20 years, global mean temperatures have been stubbornly stable when according to revered climate model predictions those temperatures should have been displaying a dramatic increase.
As physicist Richard P. Feynman once observed: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” And, by extension, if your climate model’s forecast doesn’t agree with observation, it’s wrong.
Author Michael Crichton recognized that the work of science “has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.”
While arrogance yields ignorance, humility is graced by wisdom. And, while narrow thinking limits expanded understanding, perspective broadens horizons.
At the risk of overdosing alliterations: An air of arrogance leads to an atmosphere of fear over pretentious predictions of a climate of calamity.
The outcome: People and planet suffer from misdirected talent and taxes.
The remedy: A potent prescription of humility and perspective.
• Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and author of “In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail” (Stairway Press, 2016).