How do we fund science?
Most conservative governments have bowed to the name-calling bullies for far too long. They are either fooled by the names (do they think “denier” is a scientific term?), or they are so afraid of being called “deniers” themselves that they adopt the bullies meme, too scared to ask the most basic and substantial questions of it. They have stayed out of science, while big-government players have milked the good brand-name shamelessly. Science needs to be set straight.
Above all else, those who care about the environment and the people should grab the moral high ground and the sensible-middle-road at the same time, and get serious about getting the science correct— which means the most rigorous investigation, the best practice, and a real ongoing public debate (no, there hasn’t been one yet). The environment and citizens deserve nothing less. And paying for better studies costs a fraction of global trading schemes, along with tens of thousands of bird-killing turbines and solar industrial plants.
Before we spend anything on mitigating a problem based on models, we need to know what empirical evidence supports the assumptions in the models. (Make no mistake, while CO2 causes warming it is the models that predict how much warming). I’ve been asking for since Jan 2010 and no one can name that mystery paper with strong observations. We need to understand how accurate those predictions are. It is only then that we can figure out which are the most important environmental concerns. As it happens the models are doing a really poor job of prediction (see also here).
Those who are our elected representatives should be representing their electorate. Who has audited the recommendations of the foreign committee known as the IPCC? Who is protecting Australians (or Americans, Europeans or New Zealanders) from being exploited? Can anyone name a government investigation that seriously discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the last IPCC report? Apparently checks are left to volunteers online. It’s a crazy way to run a country.
We need a free market in science
The monopolistic version of research is not serving us well. Unless both sides of a controversial theory get funding to put their best case forward, all-too-human factors can easily dominate the scientific process. John Howard, former PM of Australia, and other conservative leaders around the world could have set up independent research groups 15 years ago, but missed the chance to ensure there was real competition in science.
What sensible politicians could do (and should have done): Establish the Bureau of Climate Prediction or The Climate Research Institute
The western world needs some independent science organizations of experts outside official climate science — drawn from fields such as maths, statistics, engineering and geology. They should audit and check the IPCC pronouncements on behalf of Australians, Canadians, etc. They could also advise the government science funding bodies on which areas of research would be most useful for scientists to pursue. Obviously a research institute could do original research.
I suggested as much to a couple of high ranking elected Australian Liberals* a few years ago, and the response was essentially: “But who could we ask?” They wanted names, the obvious inference being that anyone they picked would be accused of being a skeptic, or attacked for some other reason. Which is true.
But the point (which I probably didn’t make well at the time) is that believers of the Global Warming religion would attack anyone and everyone who doesn’t believe. There’s no need to play that game, instead we point out the double standards. Labor employed Tim Flannery, after all. It is preposterous, beyond all reason, to think that virtually any highly educated math, engineering, meteorology or geology expert would not have as much credibility as a man who predicted we needed desalination plants urgently, and tried to convince us in 2007 that dams that would never again fill. (And a few other special Flannery quotes).
Critics would cry that only “climate scientists” can understand climate science. Sensible people could reply that all areas of science work on the same principles, laws and standards of evidence — and if climate science is different then it is not science.
The most important aim of an independent group would be to make predictions about the climate that did not prove to be false. Their reputation and future funding ought to depend on that. If that means the group produced conservative predictions with accurate uncertainty ranges, how could that be a bad thing? It would mean Australians would understand the risks — if it’s not possible to predict the climate yet, shouldn’t Australian’s be aware of that and base funding any emission reduction efforts accordingly?
If we aren’t 95% certain we can predict clouds and humidity a hundred years from now, why pretend we are 95% certain a disaster is on the way? In case you didn’t know, most of that catastrophe predicted by the models depends on clouds and humidity.
No one who has real concerns about the environment could object to having independent institutes set up, to compete to see which one can produce the most accurate predictions. Anyone who complains that an independent body was a front for a government policy could be asked if they also complained about the unscientific pronouncements of the current climate commissioners.
David Archibald points out that even setting up an inquiry into the matter would be enough. Certainly it would be cheaper and faster and involve less bureaucracy. But I’m being ambitious. I think we can do more than just point out the flaws in mainstream climate science, I think we could aim to do real science and see whether a true skeptical approach can outdo the current hobbled, misguided and bureaucrat-driven approach that starts with an assumption rather than a question. Competition is the key.
Can we engender science-as-a-quest for truth, rather than a policy driven profession?
Personally I would prefer it if more science research was privately funded — by philanthropic donors as well. The original format of science was carried out by self-funded investigators or people supported by private donors. There must be ways to make that possible again.
I can hear fellow fans-of-small-government groaning at the idea of another tax-funded institute — they’d argue that more government spending will not solve anything. And it’s true, sooner or later any government funded organization will be captured by those who are good at networking, filling in grant forms, and producing results that make the gatekeepers purr. I realize this is a short term solution. But if conservative governments took $10billion out of funds aiming to change the global temperature by 0.0C and spent 1% of that on building better climate models and assessing the evidence, the playing field would level dramatically. Overall, I’m suggesting less government spending.
Either the new institute would actually find the evidence that supported the models, or, more likely (based on the evidence we already have) it would start producing sensible press releases very soon, and be a source of “authority” figures that the media seem to need. The new institutes should also provide science and logic training for science journalists, most of whom appear to have never been taught what science really is.
An inquiry or a Royal commission (which Carter, Evans, Kininmonth and Franks called for) are less expensive than an institute and run without the cumbersome bureaucracy. There is no ongoing machine to be captured by government apparatchiks. An independent investigation would certainly help, but in the long run, I want to see real science supported. I don’t know what the solution is to the inevitable decay that occurs in all government funded groups, other than to periodically set up new competitors to shake the current ones up. I believe we need to make it easier for private donors to fund science, and for science institutes or “panels” never to be set up to investigate a “crisis” because then the group’s future existence depends on them finding a crisis. There is a powerful motivation to exaggerate and keep the crisis alive.
The IPCC’s future existence depends on them finding a crisis. Science groups should only ever be set up with the goal of providing more accurate predictions or a deeper understanding.
Where is the basic understanding of science from the shadow Environment minister?
Any science or environment minister ought to at least understand the scientific method. Few seem to have any idea. Australian ex-Climate-Minister Penny Wong sure didn’t: in 2009 she waved around a sheaf of model predictions and referred to them as “this evidence”.
Opposition Australian environment minister Greg Hunt is every bit as bad; he imagines scientific committees are above question (“infallible”, perhaps?) and that Obama, Xi Jinping and Manmohan Singh are waiting to hear what Greg Hunt thinks:
AN Abbott government would use Australia’s term as chair of the G20 to help broker agreement between the world’s four major carbon polluters to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said a “G4 agreement”, involving China, the US, India and the EU, was a “personal project” he would pursue at next year’s G20 meeting in Brisbane.
Nor do we need to put effort into pursuing the impossible –
A global agreement on CO2 emissions that includes the US, China and India is the big challenge in global climate change politics. The UN has set a timeline for a global agreement to be negotiated by its annual meeting in Paris in 2015 and take effect in 2020.
Why not look at environmental concerns we can do something about?
*Liberal mean conservatives in Australia, or at least the central, middle party, not the left leaning one.