I went to hear Dr. Alan Robock, a climatologist from Rutgers University, speak at a local organization in my town last night. He gave the usual slide show: light on the science; heavier on the ‘predictions’ and scare stories; heavier on what we should do about it, i.e., alternative energy and all. I was pretty disappointed, as he seemed like a reasonable guy, polite and energetic, and I was hoping for something new.
Instead, he presented an example of why the controversy is so hard to discuss rationally. His remarks were overtly partisan. True, he was speaking to an avowedly left-wing group, and I happen to agree with his swipes at Kissinger getting the Nobel, and other rhetorical jabs at the right, but I would have liked to have heard that stuff separately from the scientific talk. No, it was all mixed up.
I asked him a question about how the average global temperature was computed and what was his opinion on the issue of bias in the surface temperature record due to station locations. His answer was remarkably lame. There are lots of stations on the land, and the 70% of the Earth that is ocean is covered by bucket samples taken by roving ships. Not exactly a homogeneous record in my book, not to mention historical problems. Then he said the problems with the urban heat island are “well understood” and that each station is paired with a rural station, and if a bias in an urban station is clear, they “throw out that record.” That’s news to me.
One woman gave him a really hard time in a rather disjointed way, bringing in a raft of accusations and questions. She mentioned several scientists who disagree with AGW. His response was to claim that each of them was not an expert in climatology: this one’s an expert in atmospheric dynamics, that one in tropical storm formation, etc. She mentioned Lindzen, a prominent critic from his alma mater, MIT, and he said, “Lindzen lies to you. He should know better. I could talk a long time about Dick Lindzen.” How do we know Robock doesn’t lie to us? And of course, he repeated the claim that the “deniers” are funded by oil and coal corporations.
His remarks on the published emails from CRU were enlightening as well. It was a crime to publish them. This from a man who certainly supports Daniel Elsberg’s filching and publication of the Pentagon Papers. What crime, I wonder? The standard line – no evidence of criminal fraud was found, that’s a lie, so there’s no problem. Conspiracy theory contra conspiracy theory.
Inadvertently, he let the real cat out of the bag during his discussion of the emails. Remarking on the “hide the decline” fracas over tree-ring proxies and 20th century data, he said (from memory, I quote): “The proxy data for the latter 20th century showed a decline, and this data was contaminated for some reason, by pollution perhaps, so they threw out the bad data.” Ahem…bad data? Because it didn’t follow the projected uptick in surface temperature?
Is this the best they can do? When Bush invaded Iraq, I remarked to a friend, “They better find those damn WMD or there’ll be hell to pay!” They didn’t find them, and there wasn’t much hell to pay, so I was wrong. I predict again: If these computer models are shown to be off target in fifteen or twenty years, there’ll be hell to pay – the standing of science with the public will be seriously damaged.
For the record, I am not paid by fossil fuel corporations, and I voted for Al Gore and Barack Obama.