Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Coincidental Synergy

From The Public Trust (originally from driftglass), I read an article from the New York Times about evidence (yet again) that the Bush administration has manipulated science to fit policy. Then I also saw this comic from today's Non Sequitur that echoed the same theme. I love when non-related things coincide to strike a chord.

In the case of the NY Times article, the guilty party is Philip Cooney, a lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics. I.e., not a scientist. And add to that his history as a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing oil interests. Apparently all of this qualifies him to discard parts of scientific reports for "straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings." So his law and economics background has apparently helped him learn to decide what is sound scientific research. And note the word "strategy." It implies that there is a preconceived notion of where the research is to go. My understanding is that research works like this: You make observations, then you formulate possible explanations of what happened. Repeat until you reduce the possible explanations to a leading candidate. I.e., forming speculative findings is part of the process. So, what is this atrocious speculation? Here's what was removed from the report:

Warming will also cause reductions in mountain glaciers and advance the timing of the melt of mountain snow packs in polar regions. In turn, runoff rates will change and flood potential will be altered in ways that are currently not well understood. There will be significant shifts in the seasonality of runoff that will have serious impacts on native populations that rely on fishing and hunting for their livelihood. These changes will be further complicated by shifts in precipitation regimes and a possible intensification and increased frequency of extreme hydrologic events.

The first two sentences seem pretty obvious. If the air temperature surrounding glaciers is warmer, then the ice will melt faster. If the ice is melting faster, then the rate of water running off the glacier will probably change. I cannot comment on the rest of it because I willingly admit that I am not a climate scientist. So, instead, I defer to those who are and give the writers of this report the benefit of the doubt. I guess I shouldn't hold my breath waiting on a job offer from the White House...

My favorite part of the article was the reference to the statement by Myron Ebell, a long-time campaigner against limits on greenhouse gases. The article states that Ebell "said such editing was necessary for 'consistency' in meshing programs with policy." I would be curious to see Ebell's original quote. But this phrasing is, again, interesting. It's implying that science and policy must be consistent. In order to make them so, notice that it is the science that has been changed. Not the policy. Sounds a bit like the preconceptual scientist Danae is trying to become in the comic.

Again, none of this is news to me (probably not to you, either). It's just a neat thing when I see two unrelated sources talking about the same thing at the same time.


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