On Abandoning the Scientific Method, Continued
In his 2005 book entitled ‘A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis’ Ian Lowe suggests that the global environmental situation is so desperate we abandon the traditional scientific method in favor of sustainability science.
Professor Lowe explains that sustainability science differs fundamentally from most science as we know it: ‘The traditional scientific method is based on sequential phases of inquiry, conceptualising the problem, collecting data, developing theories, then applying the results. … Sustainability science will have to employ new methods, such as semi-quantitative modelling of qualitative data, or inverse approaches that work backwards from undesirable consequences to identify better ways to progress’.
This is really the ‘Chicken Little Principle’. If I say the sky is falling, then there is no time to go through the normal rigor of the scientific method, because by that time, the sky will have fallen.
Now Kevin Trenberth, a lead author of the IPCC reports and key protagonist in the Climategate emails, is suggesting climate scientists abandon the null hypothesis.
Dr Trenberth’s upcoming address to the American Meteorological Society on 23-27 January 2011, in Seattle, Washington, is now available at the society’s website and he writes:
‘Given that global warming is “unequivocal”, to quote the 2007 IPCC report, the null hypothesis should now be reversed, thereby placing the burden of proof on showing that there is no human influence.
‘Such a null hypothesis is trickier because one has to hypothesize something specific, such as
“precipitation has increased by 5%” and then prove that it hasn’t. Because of large natural variability, the first approach results in an outcome suggesting that it is appropriate to conclude that there is no increase in precipitation by human influences, although the correct interpretation is that there is simply not enough evidence (not a long enough time series). However, the second approach also concludes that one cannot say there is not a 5% increase in precipitation. Given that global warming is happening and is pervasive, the first approach should no longer be used. As a whole the community is making too many type II errors.
‘So we frequently hear that “while this event is consistent with what we expect from climate change, no single event can be attributed to human induced global warming”. Such murky statements should be abolished.
‘On the contrary, the odds have changed to make certain kinds of events more likely. For precipitation, the pervasive increase in water vapor changes precipitation events with no doubt whatsoever. Yes, all events! Even if temperatures or sea surface temperatures are below normal, they are still higher than they would have been, and so too is the atmospheric water vapor amount and thus the moisture available for storms. Granted, the climate deals with averages. However, those averages are made up of specific events of all shapes and sizes now operating in a different environment. It is not a well posed question to ask “Is it caused by global warming?” Or “Is it caused by natural variability?” Because it is always both.’
We know from the climategate emails that these scientists discuss strategies to have editors removed from journals, interfere with the review process and keep critical papers out of publication thus creating an exclusive body of scientific literature that fits the story they want to tell. And now Dr Trenberth is advocating they also abandon the scientific method.
Is this is an extension of Professor Lowe’s sustainability science concept, but with particular regard to the conclusions of past authoritative reports that claim the unequivocal?
Anyway, Willis Eschenbach has penned a detailed reply which Anthony Watts considers a must read: Unequivocal Equivocation – an open letter to Dr. Kevin Trenberth, by Willis Eschenbach