I generally don’t take politics personally. Sure, I’ve been called an “America-hating” liberal, a “socialist,” a “Constitution-hater,” and a host of other nonsensical and platitudinous insults. Usually, I recognize these attacks for what they are – a logical fallacy known as “argumentum ad hominem.” However, once in a while, a politician irks me just the right way, and I feel personally affronted by their statement.
Republican hopeful Rick Perry has done just this. During a recent speech in New Hampshire, Perry made three claims in regards to climate change. First, that “the issue of global warming has been politicized.” Second, “a substantial number of scientists have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” And third, “scientists [are regularly] coming forward, questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what’s causing climate change.”
As someone who’s spent most of his college career studying climate science, I find Perry’s statements not only grossly misleading, but offensive as well. I’ve spent two summers in Greenland researching how climate change affects arctic ecosystems. I’ve spent endless weeks in labs running tests on samples. I’ve gone cross-eyed staring at computer monitors while I crunch data. Along the way I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest minds in climate science. I promise you; none of these people manipulate data in an effort to get their projects funded. In fact, many of these scientists are exemplars of personal integrity and honesty.
Okay, let’s say you don’t trust my personal testimony. Fair enough. Even if these scientists wanted to grossly manipulate data for money, they couldn’t. The rigors of submitting grant proposals and publishing in peer-reviewed journals prevent data manipulation from happening.
It’s obvious that Perry knows nothing about academic research or how it’s funded.
Accusing scientists of being conniving and greedy data manipulators is a very serious allegation. Making such a statement undermines the credibility of all scientists. It undermines their professional integrity as well as the legitimacy of their research.
The vilification of scientists brings about a visceral reaction in people, turning them off to all scientific research. The whole enterprise of scientific research is then brought into the American culture war.
To be fair, it’s reasonable to express skepticism about climate change science. There’s nothing wrong with questioning the conclusions drawn from research. The extent to which anthropogenic climate change drives more powerful storms, for example, is not well understood. Indeed, being skeptical about these kinds of causal stories is what science is.
Climate science is not about “proving” that climate change is anthropogenic. Indeed, science actually tries to disprove existing theories. Einstein arrived at general relatively first by disproving the universal applicability of Newtonian physics.
People do not go into science so they can manipulate data and take money. If they were interested in duping the public and pushing some liberal political agenda, there are much easier, and far more lucrative ways of doing so. People study science because they enjoy it. There aren’t many careers where you get paid to satisfy your curiosity by designing and carrying out fun experiments.
Perry ignores the facts of climate change – almost all scientists believe that contemporary climate change is largely anthropogenic. A recent report released by the National Academy of Sciences states that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is “very likely” caused mainly by human activity.
Many critics of climate change agree that at least some of the recent warming has been driven by anthropogenic CO2. In fact, most “criticism” of climate science is actually directed at how modelers predict future warming trends, rather than at whether or not anthropogenic CO2 drives warming.
Scientists have good reasons to support man-made climate change. There is an enormous body of research that substantiates the claim that climate change is largely driven by the consumption of fossil fuels and subsequent release of carbon dioxide.
This isn’t a difficult concept to grapple with. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that it absorbs infrared radiation reflected off the surface of the Earth. When greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation, they are effectively trapping energy in earth’s atmosphere, increasing the total energy of Earth’s climate system. When you increase the energy of a system, you heat it up. The more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the greater the greenhouse effect.
This greenhouse effect makes Earth habitable. If our planet’s only source of heat were solar radiation, the average temperature of the earth would be around zero degrees Fahrenheit. The oceans would freeze every time the sun went down, and life on earth would be impossible.
When you burn fossil fuels, what you’re doing is taking ancient carbon, in the form of hydrocarbons, burning it, and unnaturally increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels is like having a perennial volcano on the surface of the earth, endlessly belching out carbon that was previously trapped below the surface of the earth.
It should be duly noted that most catastrophic extinction event in our planet’s history, the Permian Extinction Event, which killed off almost all life in Earth’s oceans, is thought to be the result of a global warming event, driven by a series of massive volcanic eruptions.
The point here is that I don’t need to manipulate anything to prove that anthropogenic climate change is real. The basic physical processes are actually quite simple.
When people like Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry start challenging climate change research by belittling the issue and vilifying scientists, they’re the ones politicizing it. It’s irresponsible for our public leaders to promote such a myopic and perverted message. Questioning climate science is one thing, but calling proponents of anthropogenic climate change liars is something else entirely.
I hereby declare an open challenge to Perry supporters; find me a “substantial number” of scientists, who regularly contribute research to peer-reviewed journal articles, that have intentionally and malevolently manipulated data in an effort to receive additional funding. I doubt you’ll even find a few.