Feb 12, 2010

Scientists' Opinions Are Sometimes Irrelevant

Two days ago scientists in the Netherlands issued a 3-page open letter about the scandal-plagued Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Only 55 people attached their names to this document. Nevertheless these folks claim to speak for "the Netherlands scientific community."

On the one hand, the letter acknowledges that the public's trust in climate science has been damaged and that there's a need to address this. On the other hand, the letter expresses extravagant confidence in IPCC principles and procedures which, while they may exist on paper, have clearly been regarded as less-than-compulsory.

Just because IPCC review editors are required to sign a statement declaring (as this letter describes it) that they've treated each comment submitted by section reviewers "properly and honestly" does not make it so. Just because the IPCC is supposed to verify the "quality and validity" of non-peer-reviewed information sources doesn't mean the IPCC actually bothers.

What's most interesting, though, is the baseline assumption that we should care what a group of scientists from a particular country happens to think about the IPCC.

When a dish is being prepared in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant, how the chef feels about that dish is of utmost importance. But the minute the meal is placed on a tray, carried down the hall, and set in front of a paying customer the chef's opinion becomes irrelevant.

From that point onward, it's the customer's assessment that matters. Is the meat tender? The sauce flavourful? The salad crisp? The customer will come to her own conclusions.

If she thinks the béarnaise tastes of too much tarragon, that the portions are too meagre, or that the wine is off - how the kitchen staff feel about these questions is beside the point.

If a customer decides that the meal is less-than-acceptable, that it isn't worth the money, and that she has no interest in repeating this particular dining experience, a signed statement from 55 chefs talking about the splendid design of the kitchen changes nothing.


>> Yes Virginia, the climate bible relies on newspaper clippings
>> More dodgy citations in the Nobel-winning climate report
>> Systemic failure: invasion of the drama queens