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Should the public trust climatologists in the global warming debate?

melian          30 October 2015 06:52 AM


In complex questions deferring to the opinion of experts is often the only sensible course of action. However, in the case of the global warming controversy, a couple of factors make trusting the climatologists problematic:

I) Climatologists who work for government agencies (that is, nearly all of them) face a strong pressure to conform to the consensus opinion. In addition to the public opprobrium, expressing contrarian positions can put at risk their job, research funding and academic reputation. By contrast, there are almost no negative consequences for exaggerating the case for global warming. Unlike, for example, doctors who risk prosecution for misdiagnosing their patients, there were no penalties for climatologists whose models turned out to grossly overestimate the expected rise in temperatures.

II) So far, there is no evidence that climate models can predict weather changes over long term periods.

The opinions of dissident climatologists who do not work for the government are similarly unreliable (since they also need to make a living, most simply end up working for organizations with the opposite agenda).

So what is the correct way for a non-climatologist to form an opinion on the GW issue?



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Alice 30 October 2015 06:47 PM
74%

I can totally imagine a scenario where there is much more incentive to publish papers supporting the theory, and whoever does not support it gets ostracized by the academic community. We have seen many examples of this kind of thing happen, for example in medicine (when for many years the accepted hypothesis was that it is fat that contributes to obesity, and people who suggested it could be simple carbs where ridiculed and their research was shunned). There are many other examples. Various medical guidances tend to completely change every once in awhile. So this kind of phenomenon definitely exists in some sciences.

That said, common sense tells me that pollution is bad regardless of whether or not it causes global warming, and I'd like to see it taken under control.


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wolverine 30 October 2015 11:05 PM
68%

Another factor creating bias: the more it is believed that global warming is a dire threat, climatologists acheive greater importance.

Generally, I will still defer to the consensus expert opinion, but be aware that the biases all seem to push in the direction of overstating the threat.


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yaacov 31 October 2015 12:34 PM
68%

Climate models are pretty sketchy. That said, we know as a fact that the fastest temperature increases on record are correlated with human production of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, and that alone should motivate action.


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is4junk 31 October 2015 05:46 PM
66%


So what is the correct way for a non-climatologist to form an opinion on the GW issue?

I'd recommend considering that it is not science. In the same sense that you wouldn't think of political science as science.
For example, if polysci professors were convinced that a 0.5% increase in say "democratic anarchists" would increase say "income inequality" by 3% over the next few decades - you probably wouldn't take them too seriously. How could the model be so refined? Do they really have enough examples to model something with so many parameters?

Note: democratic anarchist and income inequality were selected just for the example. I don't think there is any connection.


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FrameBenignly 30 October 2015 01:29 PM
62%

Without objective evidence of positive or negative bias being stronger one way or the other, you should expect these biases to cancel each other out except for increased sensitivity. That is to say you will need to read more sources to get a clear picture than you would if everyone was being objective, but you should still expect the average source to be accurate adjusting for source quality. But I wouldn't worry about it. Take a look at the policymakers summary from IPCC; specifically page 19. They're estimating only weak impacts to the economy currently unless you live in a mostly coastal country.

IPCC AR5 summary


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