The discussion on why people don’t ‘trust the experts’ in climate science has produced some interesting feedback on the weather forum. This is how I have summarised the 100-odd comments so far:
This is an attempt to summarise a few of the points made in the past day or two. My apologies if anyone thinks this misrepresents their position: I’m trying to get at the nob of the question why some of us don’t ‘trust the experts’.
What do these ‘sources of mistrust’ amount to?
Most obvious are the number of people who think that the data being used, or the methods being used to turn the data into models, is flawed, or imperfect.
1. Does this not amount to the same as the claim that the people doing the work are incompetent? The implication is that these ‘experts’ are bad enough at their jobs not to know how to collect and evaluate data, how to apply formulae to this data, or to take scientific uncertainties (error bars, probabilities, for example). I would ask people who are making this claim to explain how such people got their positions in universities and organisations in the first place? I would also ask how it is that their output is deemed to be sufficiently rigorous to meet the standards of academic publishing, if it is so inept? I would also ask if they really believe that there are tens of thousands of specialists in atmospheric chemistry and physics, oceanography, palaeography, meteorology and computer science, who are equally inept, and in the same direction? As has been said before, ‘climate science’ is not a single discipline, but a combination of a number of precise specialisations, which have to be joined together to get any output at all.
Then there is the suggestion that climate science is in some way an ‘inferior’ science, practised by second-rate scientists.
2. I am not sure what to say about this claim, which isn’t covered in my other responses, except that, of course, I disagree. AFAIK, the vast majority of people involved in this work are first specialists, physicists, etc., and second specialists in a climate-related area, such as atmospheric physics. Is it credible to believe that the people who are in these specialisations are invariably the least competent? Surely, if these people are motivated by ‘jumping on the climate bandwagon’, this must suggest that the best money, and therefore the greatest competition for places, exists in this discipline; why, under such circumstances, would departments choose the worst candidates?
Then there is the perception that there exists a substantial number of scientists in some disciplines (though still a minority) who disagree with the ‘mainstream’ climate science ‘picture’.
3. This is a peculiar claim here, in the sense that it is testable and has been tested. Some of you will know that I have been involved in the testing of this claim. Speaking from my results, I can say that there are a good-sized minority of scientists who are dissatisfied with the representation of the science of climate change as given by the IPCC. Some of these think the IPCC exaggerates the role of CO2, others that it underestimates the impact of climate change; the dissatisfaction exists on either side of the ‘mainstream’, which is what you might expect. The number of scientists who would agree that climate change is basically natural and not human-induced is miniscule; this result comes from testing in five different disciplines. I found no evidence that there was any discipline in which a substantial number of scientists dissented with the ‘mainstream’ view.
Finally, for now, the suggestion that climate science is uniquely influenced ‘in the process’ by political pressure to produce certain results in favour of a particular conclusion.
4. All of the evidence which has so far come to light (principally in the USA), relating to political pressure on climate science, points to a systematic attempt by the Bush administration to suppress the conclusions which point to AGW, which is the diametric opposite to this claim. If this evidence has become available, then surely, any evidence that the opposite process has been going on should be equally available; where is it?
Can these ‘doubts’ be further simplified?
It looks as if what is broadly being felt here is that people ‘do not trust the experts’ because they believe that the experts, for one reason or another, are not doing their jobs properly, or especially well, either from innate inability, or because of circumstantial pressures on them to produce biased results.
Does this amount to the belief that climate science is itself an intrinsically flawed area of study/research? It seems to. Some of us don’t trust the science because we think it isn’t very ‘good’ science.
If this is right, I think it is an interesting result. It suggests that there is a perception problem for the people engaged in the relevant disciplines and specialisations. I say this to avoid ‘passing judgement’ on whether I think it is true or false; there is no need here. What is more important, perhaps, is to address the question why some of us think that ‘climate science is bad science’.
I’d also point out that this is based on the comments and observations of non-scientists, by and large, and can be said to represent a cross-section of public thoughts on the subject.