I have waited awhile to chuck my tuppence into the ‘Climategate’ ring as I am not a true believer and have preferred to see how things played out over time. I personally favour the hypothesis that humans are causing some climatic effects but I do not believe the evidence is sufficient to prove my opinion correct. I have an open mind towards those who are weakly opposed, which is to say those who are waiting on data to prove me wrong. If one were to place my opinions on a dartboard, I would fall pretty close to the one labeled Bjorn Lomborg.
I am far more worried about the collateral damage the CRU researchers have caused. Their machinations, exposed by these ‘Pentagon Papers’ of the oughties, is damning and damaging to public trust in science. It opens the door to all sorts of pseudo-science by making their expositors appear superficially to be as trustworthy as the real thing. This is bad. This is very bad.
‘Climategate’ is not the first case of serious scientific fraud in recent years but may be the most damaging and far reaching one. Other well known cases included South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk who falsified his work on cloning and Bell Labs Physicist Jan Hendrik Schön who faked results in numerous papers. Schön used the same fake graph, with modified labels, in three totally different papers. That was just a starter. His massive misdeeds caused a gravity wave ripple through the Physics world as every paper citing his work had to be reconsidered.
Since all CRU citations must now be treated as problematic, the potential of ‘Climategate’ is not a ripple but a terrible and destructive tsunami. The researchers responsible for this have set their field back by years and should be disciplined by their peers accordingly. Cleaning primate cages is too good for them.
A second facet of ‘Climategate’ is the reported shortcomings in the model code base. Part of the document release included source code. In a discussion with Rand Simberg over breakfast in LA earlier this month I heard that some very knowledgeable open source programmers are having a go at it. If half of what he told me turns out to be true, the models used by IPCC are worse than useless.
I have several times in my career translated serious numerical modeling code from Fortran to modern languages and thus had to deal with the issues of validating the results. In the real world mistakes cost money and sometimes lives. Most recently I translated some aerodynamics code for a New Space company. I spent weeks doing nothing but validating and checking to be sure the output was reasonably trustworthy for questions within the realm of interest. When Rand told me the CRU model code did not even handle numeric overflows I was speechless.
Let me explain. Computers represent numbers in binary. Any signed representation (ie one that handles plus and minus) will use some formatting trick to differentiate the two. The problem is, if a positive number gets incremented to be one bit too big… it may suddenly become a negative number. Regardless of what does happen, any calculation using the value after an overflow might as well be a random number generator. The results are totally, utterly worthless. There is not a chance in hell that the output will be meaningful.
There are ways of dealing with this sort of thing but I will not go into that sort of techno-detail here. My goal is simply to point out that if the statements I heard are true, I must cease to believe the validity of any output from CRU and CRU related models.
There is really only one acceptable way for the field to recover credibility and reinvigorate trust. The code for models must all be made open source. It must be released into the public domain where experts in numerical programming can openly argue about the validity of the code, the mathematical techniques and the mathematical and physical simplifications and assumptions it contains.
I will no longer believe results which lack this corroboration. If an author refuses, I am going to assume they have misdeeds to hide.
Early in this article I said I lean towards pro on the hypothesis of human caused climate change. I should expound upon that a bit more. It is my belief that we are causing some change at present and if things went on as they are now there might be some serious, but not civilization threatening results.
However, things are not going to stay the same. A collapse in carbon output is going to occur and the reasons for it have nothing to do with cap and trade or Copenhagen or any other State or NGO foisted crisis plan. By the middle of this century liquid fuels such as gasoline will be generated using the Fischer-Tropsch process in some updated form. It will be carbon neutral because part of the feedstock will be free for the taking: atmospheric CO2. It will be split using either grid power, mechanical nanotechnology or genetically modified algae (some of which is purportedly working already). With the addition of energy, CO2 -> CO + O, and the Carbon Monoxide may be fed into the same FT process that was used to fuel the Nazi war machine. Towards the end of World War II this was nearly the only source of fuel available to Germany. Anyone who believes this technology is unproven on an industrial scale is simply historically ignorant.
Carbon based grid power is already declining as a relative portion of US energy (30% according to a recent SciAm article). I expect that decline to accelerate as use of ever cheapening and ever improving solar panels really starts to bite. We will also see inputs from Space Based Solar Power growing explosively by 2050. New technology nuclear and perhaps even game changing wild cards like Polywell Fusion will be taking up major roles by then as well.
If you toss in the huge impacts nanotechnology will have on all facets of technological civilization and the expected population decline in the second half of the century one begins to wonder exactly what will be the climate change problem of 2100? If human CO2 inputs collapse and population declines what climatic impact will the modeling of that scenario show?
There is yet another wildcard to consider. What if we are about to hit a Maunder type solar minimum? There is debate on this issue but it is certainly not closed. Such a decline could cover any human global warming until long after we have transitioned to more modern energy sources.
We need Climate Science to cleanse itself of political hacks. Young scientists must learn that Science cannot save Politics… but Politics can certainly ruin Science. Let scientists generate science and leave politicians to deal in the realm of opinion and ‘what people want’.