A few random items on expertise, elitism and credibility.
About the ‘elitist’ part: Scientists are really stuck. It’s exactly the same thing in medicine, it’s the same thing with pilot’s licenses and driver’s licenses: We don’t let just anyone go out there and make any claim that they’re an expert, do anything they want, without checking their credibility. Is it elitist to license pilots and doctors? Is it elitist to have pilots tested every year by the FAA to make sure that their skills are maintained? Is it elitist to have board certification on specialities in various health professions? I don’t think so. I think it’s the way we have safety. We have an FDA, which analyzes food and drugs.
We’re talking about planetary life support. People who are special interests in making money in the fossil fuel industry, who are ideologues, who are so deeply opposed to government regulation or international agreements, will just make any wild claim to support their ideology or special interest. They’ll find some hired gun PhD, or they’ll pick weak scientists for the most part – and should they really be afforded as much credibility? Can you tell me that a hundred institutions around the world, that have been working for 40 years, that have had dozens and dozens of carefully reviewed assessments, are somehow no more credible – even if they’re more elitist – than petroleum geologists funded by an oil company? They’re as knowledgeable about climate science as I would be about how to fix the leak in the Deepwatergate problem. I mean, they’re really not experts, and it really does matter what people know. If we do not do the due diligence of letting people understand the relative credibility of claimants of truth, then all we do is have a confused public who hears claim and counter-claim.
The second is from an article by Kerry Emanuel discussing the “swifthacking” of CRU emails (aka “climategate”):
What the emails show are a few researchers behaving in a manner unbecoming scientists and gentlemen. The true scandal is the attempt to catapult such behavior into high crime and to dismiss an entire scientific endeavor based on the privately expressed sentiments of a few (a very few) researchers working in an environment of ongoing harassment. At the time of this writing, three separate panels convened in Great Britain, and two investigations conducted by the Pennsylvania State University have cleared the authors of the controversial emails of any serious wrong doing, and with good reason. Meanwhile, the gross mischaracterization of what those emails actually contain continues unabated.
It is helpful first to remember that the emails in question were semi-private correspondence among scientists and that the vast majority of the email shows a high level of diligence and professionalism in conducting and reporting research. The few emails that have been the subject of so much heated rhetoric show that some scientists are occasionally prey to human pitfalls (shocking!). It is simply naïve to suppose that we never complain to each other about the unfairness of editors and reviewers and openly wish we could replace them, or that we sometimes wish we could keep data out of the hands of those we know are determined to misuse it. Drop a microphone into a conference social event and one would hear countless conversations along these lines. This is nothing to be proud of, and most of us are wise enough to keep it out of written correspondence, but the idea that this represents a conspiracy among a broad cross-section of researchers is ludicrous.
And lastly, a little advice: