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Science and its Enemies on the Left: An Update

Scientific integrity and scientific progress continue to take a beating from the Left.

In Part I of my series of essays on Science and its Enemies on the Left, I looked at the toll of junk science, quackery and anti-technological Luddism and the role of the social and political Left in promoting all three. In Part II, I looked at politicized science (both the misuse of science by politicians and the politicization of scientists themselves) and the temptations presented to scientists by their ability to gain power through science.

I’m overdue to finish Part III of the series, but in the meantime, there have been enough additional examples of my thesis that it’s worth taking an updated look at the myriad ways in which the agenda and interest groups of the political Left stand in the way of scientific integrity and scientific progress.

A. Fudged Environmental Data

You didn’t think it ended with “Climategate,” did you? The liberal San Francisco Chronicle reports on how a California agency used inflated, alarmist data to rush through costly environmental restrictions that helped push the state deeper into recession:

California grossly miscalculated pollution levels in a scientific analysis used to toughen the state’s clean-air standards, and scientists have spent the past several months revising data and planning a significant weakening of the landmark regulation, The Chronicle has found.

The pollution estimate in question was too high – by 340 percent, according to the California Air Resources Board, the state agency charged with researching and adopting air quality standards. The estimate was a key part in the creation of a regulation adopted by the Air Resources Board in 2007, a rule that forces businesses to cut diesel emissions by replacing or making costly upgrades to heavy-duty, diesel-fueled off-road vehicles used in construction and other industries.

Researchers have found that the board’s excuse – that it failed to foresee how much emissions would fall with the economic downturn – doesn’t hold water (unsurprisingly, since these sorts of “mistakes” always seem to lean in the same direction):

While air board officials and other defenders of the board’s science point to the economy as a major factor in the overestimates, Harley found that prior to the recession the board’s estimates of nitrous oxide were too high by a factor of 4.5 and its estimate of particulate matter was off by a factor of 3.1, an extraordinarily high amount to be off scientifically.

The voters this fall will get the chance to render their own verdict on the board’s junk science:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has promised to suspend the law for at least a year, while Democrat Jerry Brown supports the law. California voters, meanwhile, will vote on Proposition 23, a November initiative to suspend AB32 until the unemployment rate – now at 12.4 percent in California – falls to 5.5 percent or less for a year.

Perhaps not-unrelatedly, it turns out that the CARB’s lead scientist on this initiative got his Ph.D. in statistics from a mail-order diploma mill.

And of course, the inquiries into Climategate itself roll on; Clive Crook, who prefaced his article with an assurance that he believes in global warming, nonetheless savaged efforts to whitewash the scientific misconduct involved:

The Penn State inquiry exonerating Michael Mann — the paleoclimatologist who came up with “the hockey stick” — would be difficult to parody. Three of four allegations are dismissed out of hand at the outset: the inquiry announces that, for “lack of credible evidence”, it will not even investigate them. (At this, MIT’s Richard Lindzen tells the committee, “It’s thoroughly amazing. I mean these issues are explicitly stated in the emails. I’m wondering what’s going on?” The report continues: “The Investigatory Committee did not respond to Dr Lindzen’s statement. Instead, [his] attention was directed to the fourth allegation.”) Moving on, the report then says, in effect, that Mann is a distinguished scholar, a successful raiser of research funding, a man admired by his peers — so any allegation of academic impropriety must be false.

Crook’s piece on similar efforts to whitewash the CRU’s misconduct is worth reading in full, as is streiff’s entertaining takedown of Mann’s efforts to defend his tattered reputation. The British government has reacted by basically pressuring scientists into signing what James Taranto – only mildly exaggerating – termed a loyalty oath to the government’s scientific pronouncements:

The Met Office has embarked on an urgent exercise to bolster the reputation of climate-change science after the furore over stolen e-mails.

More than 1,700 scientists have agreed to sign a statement defending the “professional integrity” of global warming research. They were responding to a round-robin request from the Met Office, which has spent four days collecting signatures. The initiative is a sign of how worried it is that e-mails stolen from the University of East Anglia are fuelling scepticism about man-made global warming at a critical moment in talks on carbon emissions.

One scientist said that he felt under pressure to sign the circular or risk losing work. The Met Office admitted that many of the signatories did not work on climate change.

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One scientist told The Times he felt under pressure to sign. “The Met Office is a major employer of scientists and has long had a policy of only appointing and working with those who subscribe to their views on man-made global warming,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Watts Up With That site has undertaken a massive study of the sources of temperature data, and its report (caution: link opens a 209-page PDF) finds major problems in the whole data-collection process:

It was necessitated by the extraordinary revelations in the recently released CRU emails, including the admissions of Ian “Harry” Harris, the CRU programmer. He lamented about “[The] hopeless state of their (CRU) database. No uniform data integrity, it’s just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they’re found” and “Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. This whole project is SUCH A MESS. No wonder I needed therapy!!” CRU member, Phil Jones, candidly confessed in a BBC interview that “his surface temperature data are in such disarray they probably cannot be verified or replicated.”

This reflects on both NOAA and NASA in the United States. Phil Jones also admits that “Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the GHCN archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center” and that NASA’s GISS uses the GHCN, applying its own adjustments, as it explains: “The current analysis uses surface air temperatures measurements from the following datasets: the unadjusted data of the Global Historical Climatology Network (Peterson and Vose, 1997 and 1998), United States Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) data, and SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) data from Antarctic stations.”

The paper is also a natural progression of the ongoing work of the authors, who have focused on actual data instead of models and theories. Anthony Watts put together a volunteer team to do the due diligence the government said it could not afford on the stations and found the vast majority (90%) to be sited poorly by the governments own standards.

The 15-point summary of conclusions on pp-6-7 is worth reading even if you don’t have time for the full report. Examples:

Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant “global warming” in the 20th century.

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Global terrestrial temperature data are compromised because more than three-quarters of the 6,000 stations that once reported are no longer being used in data trend analyses.

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In the oceans, data are missing and uncertainties are substantial. Changes in data sets introduced a step warming in 2009.

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Due to recently increasing frequency of eschewing rural stations and favoring urban airports as the primary temperature data sources, global terrestrial temperature data bases are thus seriously flawed and can no longer be representative of both urban and rural environments. The resulting data is therefore problematic when used to assess climate trends or VALIDATE model forecasts.

Garbage in, garbage out; the problem goes all the way to the root of the data that underlies not just the theory but the reliability of models that can only be tested against this ever-shifting landscape of unreliable data.

At the same time, scientists are beginning to recognize that they don’t really have a complete, settled understanding of the Sun, and maybe should start considering it in future climate models.

B. Obama Administration Again Squashes Unfavorable Reports

Once again, government scientists were pressured by this Administration to avoid releasing embarrassing reports:

The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster. . .

Citing interviews with government officials, the report reveals that in late April or early May, the White House budget office denied a request from NOAA to make public its worst-case estimate of how much oil could spew from the blown-out well.

The Administration played a similar game when it came to its moratorium on offshore drilling, pretending to have “peer-reviewed” scientific support it didn’t actually have:

The White House issued a blanket moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Obama cited a report commissioned by the Interior Department that purported to recommend the ban.

“The recommendations contained in this report,” declared the document, “have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.”

Except that was untrue. In fact, it was such a glaring lie that the seven engineers who peer-reviewed an earlier version of the document felt obliged to come forward to clear the air.

“The Secretary should be free to recommend whatever he thinks is correct,” wrote the scientists, “but he should not be free to use our names to justify his political decisions.”

The draft these experts saw was substantively different from the document that bore their names. The draft called for a moratorium on issuing new permits, not stopping existing drilling (a move many experts believe would be unsafe).

That pattern extends as well to social-science surveys:

Seventy percent of American parents and 53.5 percent of American adolescents believe sex before marriage is wrong, according to a federally funded study released Monday by the Administration of Children and Families, an agency within the Health and Human Services Department….

Although the report on the study was completed by February 2009, HHS did not release it until [August 2010], even when asked to do so — prompting speculation that the Obama administration did not like the report’s conclusions.

C. Quackery and Luddism

As I have noted before, while liberal commentators are quick to deride the beliefs of ordinary citizens on the Right, there is plenty of fodder on the Left; Moe Lane notes a Pew survey showing that “somewhere around 30% of Democrats believe in a whole range of New Age stuff, explicitly including astrology.” And as I observed in Part I of this series, one of the ugliest manifestations of that worldview is the campaign by hysterics like Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy jr. against vaccine manufacturers, and the inevitable (as a result) popular movement against vaccinating children. The grim result: an outbreak of whooping cough in California so bad even the relentlessly anti-modern-medicine Huffington Post was forced to acknowledge it:

State health officials reported Thursday that California is on track to break a 55-year record for whooping cough infections in an epidemic that has already claimed the lives of nine infants.

At least 4,017 cases of the highly contagious illness have been reported in California, according to the state. Data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control show 11,466 cases nationwide, though the federal numbers are known to lag behind local reporting.

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Many parents forgo vaccines for their children because of concerns about autism, typically fueled by misinformation on the Internet, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a University of California-San Diego professor and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The vaccines against whooping cough are free of the additive thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury that has been the subject of a long-running public debate about whether it can cause autism.

A federal ruling in March said there was no connection between autism and thimerosal….

An Associated Press analysis found that 127 of the 7,174 public and private schools in California reported 2009 whooping cough immunization rates of 50 percent or less for kindergartners.

D. Propaganda

Doug Bandow looked back in June at the career of the late Stephen Schneider, a global warming alarmist who had, earlier in his career, been a “new Ice Age” alarmist (oh, that settled science!). Here’s an extended quote from a 1992 piece on Schneider, which captures all too well the mindset of his school of scientist-activist (or perhaps, activist-scientist):

“It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides [of the global warming question] as though it were a question of balance,” he told the Boston Globe recently. “Given the distribution of views, with groups like the National Academy of Science expressing strong scientific conern, it is irresponsible to give equal time to a few people standing out in left field.”…

But there are good reasons for balanced reporting, and one of them is none other than Stephen Schneider. Those who quote him run the risk of using information from someone who can’t seem to get his story (to say nothing of his facts) straight. Two decades ago he was warning the world that “a cooling trend has set in, perhaps one akin to the Little Ice Age.”…

One of Mr. Schneider’s problems is that the doesn’t let data get in the way of a good scare. “Looking at every bump and wiggle of the record is a waste of time,” he once said. “So, I don’t set very much store by looking at the direct evidence.”

His methods are admittedly more unorthodox. “To avert the risk [of global warming] we need to get some braod-based support, to capture public imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make some simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. … Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”

That would be hyperbole like when Robert F. Kennedy jr. blamed Haley Barbour for Hurricane Katrina in the pages of the Huffington Post, just before the hurricane hit New Orleans: “Perhaps it was Barbour’s memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast.” Or, more recently, Al Gore getting caught spinning bogus science again at the Copenhagen summit:

Mr Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, stated the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.

In his speech, Mr Gore told the conference: “These figures are fresh. Some of the models suggest to Dr [Wieslav] Maslowski that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during the summer months, could be completely ice-free within five to seven years.”

However, the climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast.

“It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,” Dr Maslowski said. “I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.”

Mr Gore’s office later admitted that the 75 per cent figure was one used by Dr Maslowksi as a “ballpark figure” several years ago in a conversation with Mr Gore.

And it’s not just climate science but the nanny state too: as Jacob Sullum has documented in Reason, New York City’s war on salt rests on a very shaky scientific foundation.

The Left’s menace to science continues, unabated. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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