Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pinch Yourself – Are You Alive?

This week, Barbara, my wife, was cleaning out the attic, and came across our wedding album, one I hadn’t looked at in decades.  Who were those people?  We weren’t just young and thin; we were DIFFERENT.   Every photo reminded me how much we’ve changed.

But despite the inevitability of change, most of us are reluctant to do so.  I certainly am.  After all, we don’t hold our opinions, habits and beliefs because we think they’re stupid, right?  But if you’re within hailing distance of our age, look at your wedding album, and see how hard it is to recognize those strange people.

Fortunately, we’re not alone, and last week we saw a stunning example of it.  The new Congress was holding hearings on climate change, and climate-denial politicians brought out a raft of expert witnesses.  They had a marketing professor, a lawyer and an economist.  But their star witness was a physicist named Richard Muller, a scientist at the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at UC Berkeley. 
Muller didn't like NASA's global temperature data
For years Muller had been expressing skeptical views about the consensus climate data.  The existing data, developed separately by NASA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.K.’s Hadley-CRU, all pointed to a 2.2°F increase in global temperature over the last century, accelerating in the last 30 years as atmospheric CO2 concentrations have accelerated.  It’s some of the most important data about global warming.  But Muller didn’t like the way the scientists at NASA, NOAA and CRU had selected the data.  And he thought they hadn’t accounted well enough for the temperature effects of urban sprawl on some of the measurement sites.

So last year, backed by grants from coal & oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, Muller’s Berkeley team began developing their own global temperature data for the last century.  Climate skeptics were gleeful.  Finally, there was going to be a real record, free from the biases with which the world’s climate scientists had been tarred on skeptic blogs.  And last week, Muller was there at the U.S. Congress to unveil his new bias-free record of global temperature changes. 
As I said, it’s hard to change your mind, but there, in front of the entire nation, that’s exactly what Professor Muller did, to the shock of his climate-denial sponsors. 

Muller's results, virtually identical to NASA, NOAA & CRU
Here’s what the professor had to say:  “The world temperature data has sufficient integrity to be used to determine global temperature trends.”  In other words, the data he had been criticizing was actually valid.  But he went on: The work of the consensus researchers was “excellent.”  The human causes of climate change are very much what the U.N. IPCC declared in its 2007 assessment.

In fact, Prof. Muller made a disarming admission: He was surprised at his own results. “Data integrity is adequate. Based on our initial work at Berkeley Earth, I believe that some of the most worrisome biases are less of a problem than I had previously thought.”  The facts had changed his mind. 

In a subsequent video interview, Muller said:  “There are some real deniers out there….  They should be ignored.” 

Well, maybe I was glad at Muller’s willingness to change his thinking, but the denial machine was not amused at all. Their star player had grabbed the ball and raced into the wrong end zone.   Anthony Watts, a leading skeptic blogger who had previously endorsed Muller’s work now labeled his testimony “post-normal science political theater” in a letter delivered to the House committee.

Mainstream researchers, predictably, were more measured.  Scientific research is always subject to a process called “peer review.”  You submit your data, processes and conclusions to the scrutiny of other researchers in the field, so that they can rebut, refine or confirm your results.  Muller hasn’t done this yet.  So most researchers withheld judgment.  But they can't miss the fact that Muller’s conclusions to Congress are almost identical to theirs, conclusions that he’s spent years criticizing.

Cizik: I've changed my thinking
I recently saw a riveting documentary about nuclear arms called Countdown to Zero.  One of the film’s commentators was Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading Christian evangelical thinker.  The film ended with this quote from Cizik:  “I've changed my thinking and millions and millions of other people are changing their thinking. And frankly, if you've never changed your mind about something, I say, pinch yourself. You may be dead."

Well Rev. Cizik, there are at least some signs of life in the political wars over climate change.  Skeptic professor Richard Muller has seen the data, run the numbers and determined that the research he had been attacking was right after all.

It’s not that painful to change your thinking.  After all, you’re alive.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

1 comment:

  1. I have read and reread this post many times. It truly does take a certain maturity and humility to change your mind in that way. But at times, it's also a necessity. Thanks for the post.

    Go Well,