The last chief scientist of Australia, Penny Sackett, was disappointed not to be invited to the cabaret at Copenhagen. She quit after she she felt “ignored” . Possibly she belated realized that the government may have appointed her to just so she would not disagree inconveniently with any of their pet projects, thus neutralizing the role of Chief Scientist and reducing it to a rubber stamp.
The new chief scientist is Ian Chubb, Vice-Chancellor of ANU, and a neuroscientist. Unlike Sackett, he’s already said he will “leave the climate debate to politics”. Surprisingly, his actual views on climate science are not easy to pigeonhole. He didn’t mind getting money to buy huge supercomputers for ANU climate modelers (what vice chancellor wouldn’t?). But when he spoke at an event at the ANU climate change conference in Oct 2007, many of his statements can be read both ways.
Is it possible… could it be, that he is a scientist enough to know what the scientific method is and be willing to be a guardian of it? Refreshingly, he does not like the name-calling and the hyperbole of the climate debate. He repeated calls for rational debate, from both sides. He wants a contest of ideas and (good news!) he realizes this is a multivariate problem which is highly complex, so at least we have a chief scientist who is not repeating pat anti-science lines like “the science of climate change is settled.”
I have done a smattering of transcription: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__zLZoBkFtc
Asia Climate Change Policy Forum at The Australian National University on 27 October 2010. Session one: Opening and Perspectives on the International Climate Change Regime
4.06 mins: Ian Chubb — I think everyone, no matter which side of the fence you sit on, thinks this is an important issue. This is one of those tricky issues, where opinions vary, scientific evidence of course is always a balance of probabilities. There is little that is proven, makes it easy to question it, and difficult to defend it, both positions have to be aired. The defense of the scientific method is an important part of understanding climate change and what the data show.
I have been a bit disturbed in recent years that the scientific method has been thrown in to doubt because it can’t prove anything… [repeats again, about science being the "balance of probabilities"] There are people that wish that it could…
This extraordinarily complicated process has got many variables in it…
It requires intelligent debate, considered debate, reasonable and rational debate, and not something that has turned into name-calling and diversions, … when the main thing about this ….is how do we understand what’s happening. how do we understand the consequences of what’s happening…..
8:40 It’s important that people like you sit in this room and contest ideas. It’s through that contest of ideas that we need to advance.
I’m going to leave it to you because I’m not an expert in this area but I know what’s important to me.
I know what I feel most strongly about: rational debate.Thinking things through in a rational way.
But he’s neatly stepping out of being an advocate for the Carbon Tax:
Prof Chubb said he would be take an appropriate role in the climate change debate.
‘I think personally that the overwhelming bulk of the science is in and that we have to do something about it,’ he said.
‘What’s done is an issue for government and not an issue for me.’
Can you tell what side of the fence he’s on?
Is he on the net “believer” side, but decidedly uncomfortable with the poor quality of the public science debate, and hoping to just stay right out of it? Or is he a quiet skeptic who knows he would be pounded if he so much as let on, and this is as far as he can get away with? His comments can be read either way.
Probably, given statements like this, he falls more into the passive, uncomfortable “believer” who does not wear his belief with conviction: “I think the role of the scientific community is to provide all of the evidence that is available, arguing that there is climate change and there is human intervention, and something needs to be done about it.”
Either way, it’s good to have a chief scientist who is not an outspoken activist for one theory, and who holds rational debate to be of the highest importance. Such is the current climate, we’ve lowered our expectations so far down, that this seems like an advance: he acknowledges some scientists are skeptical, and doesn’t want to just call them names.
No doubt he’ll be pushed to utter stronger lines from the climate litany soon.
Perhaps we ought email him, asking if he could at least help to arrange some real public debate between climate experts from both sides of the fence.
UPDATE: On the 7:30 report tonight, perhaps I’m reading too much into things, he appeared to be suggesting exactly that– that he would arrange some real public debate. He did pointedly say let all the experts speak, and when asked about whether he’d help create the forums for that, there was a vague affirmative response. Of course, he has yet to prove whether he really is a man of science on the topic, and it’s possible he is a mild version of “a Mueller” (the Berkley prof who appeared skeptical until he was put in front of the US congress). It remains to be seen.