What a real scientific discussion looks like

John Timmer on some climate change back-and-forth.

After reviewing debates over two papers published in American Geophysical Union journals,

These situations tell us a couple of valuable things about the current state of climate science. First of all, they make it obvious that papers that go against the consensus can still get published, even when they come from people who very notably fall outside the scientific community’s mainstream. And, in fact, the scientific community takes these things seriously—seriously enough to check the math and examine the data sources.

That seriousness can lead to some pretty harsh criticism, but it’s criticism based on the science. In the public debate, scoring cheap and easy points—highlighting the mislabeled graphs that were corrected, for example—often rules the day. But that was completely ignored in the scientific response, which focused primarily on mathematical issues.

And therein lies a major public communications problem: these debates are difficult to follow and take place in less-sexy journals. How do you turn this into a sound bite:

The analysis of MFC09 greatly overestimates the correlation between temperature anomalies and the SOI by inflating the power in the 2–6 year time window while filtering out variability on longer and shorter time scales.

I can say from experience, that when you start speaking like that, people’s eyes tend to glaze over.

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Author: Mike White

Genomes, Books, and Science Fiction

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