Sunday, May 09, 2010

How to v. How not to Open Up the Debate on "Global Warming"

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has invoked a state anti-fraud law against climate scientist Michael Mann over use of $500,000 in grants that funded Mann's studies. This move has caused even some scientists skeptical of global warming, including Paul "Chip" Knappenberger, to question how the AG's actions could impact free scientific inquiry. (Hat tip to Climate Depot.)
The idea, I guess, would be to look for evidence that Dr. Mann produced results while working under his University of Virginia research grants (considered to be state money even though it may have come from non-state sources) that he knew to be wrong.

But, except in very rare instances - for example, completely fabricating data - scientific research and the results it produces do not fall neatly into being right or wrong, nor lend themselves to being judged as fraudulent under Virginia’s FATA.

Well, let me back up. I am not a lawyer, but I sincerely hope that scientific research cannot be judged that way. Because if it can, a FATA case can be built against virtually every practicing scientist.

Knappenberger says that more free scientific inquiry is the way to hold the claims of Mann and others accountable.
Nowadays, blogs are playing a larger role in this process, to the dismay of some but to the great pleasure of others.

The purpose of all of this is to stimulate discussion and thought about the new data, methods and results and how they add to the scientific knowledge base. And, of course, to inspire new investigations.

This process moves science forward. Perhaps not always smoothly and without setbacks. But, in the long term, there is ultimately progress.

Better ideas eventually replace outdated ones. Sometimes only after bitter debate. But the discarded results are not fraudulent. They are a normal course of science.

In no way will the threat of a civil lawsuit move science along more efficiently. More than likely it will have the opposite effect as intimidation will result in fewer ideas being put forth.

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