John Broder writes today in the New York Times that the uproar over the unauthorized release of hundreds of emails and recent revelations about a mistake in the IPCC report threatens to undermine decades of work and has badly damaged public trust in the scientific enterprise.
Broder’s interviews with scientists reveal two thoughtful but seemingly opposing viewpoints:
‘Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious scientific body in the United States, said that there was a danger that the distrust of climate science could mushroom into doubts about scientific inquiry more broadly. He said that scientists must do a better job of policing themselves and trying to be heard over the loudest voices on cable news, talk radio and the Internet.
“This is a pursuit that scientists have not had much experience in,” said Dr. Cicerone, a specialist in atmospheric chemistry.
The battle is asymmetric, in the sense that scientists feel compelled to support their findings with careful observation and replicable analysis, while their critics are free to make sweeping statements condemning their work as fraudulent.
“We have to do a better job of explaining that there is always more to learn, always uncertainties to be addressed,” said John P. Holdren, an environmental scientist and the White House science adviser. “But we also need to remind people that the occasions where a large consensus is overturned by a scientific heretic are very, very rare.” ‘
‘But some scientists said that responding to climate change skeptics was a fool’s errand.
“Climate scientists are paid to do climate science,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, a senior climatologist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “Their job is not persuading the public.”
He said that the recent flurry of hostility to climate science had been driven as much by the cold winter as by any real or perceived scientific sins.
“There have always been people accusing us of being fraudulent criminals, of the I.P.C.C. being corrupt,” Dr. Schmidt said. “What is new is this paranoia combined with a spell of cold weather in the United States and the ‘climategate’ release. It’s a perfect storm that has allowed the nutters to control the agenda.”
The answer is simple, he said.
“Good science,” he said, “is the best revenge.” ‘
Cicerone, Hodlren and Schimidt are all right on target. We need to do a better job talking about science with the public using all available media. That includes explaining the uncertainties of science as well as what is meant by scientific consensus. We also need to keep doing the best scientific work possible. Few scientists have time to do both. But we are a large community. Lets divvy up the work.