The most important thing that happened this week in Berkeley, California was definitely not the news of a small and probably ephemeral excess of multi-lepton events at the Large Hadron Collider‘s CMS experiment — and probably not even the disconcerting earthquakes on (near?) the strained Hayward fault — it was the (public but not yet peer-reviewed) report from the Berkeley Earth Team, a group of mostly non-climate scientists [mostly from physics] who went back to analyze and check the data that climate scientists have been studying for years. Go look at their website; it’s for you.
My understanding is that the scientific director, Richard Muller, organized the team because he was highly skeptical that climate scientists were treating their data properly. His agenda seems to have been largely scientific rather than political. Though I did not share his point of view, I found it understandable. In my field we have often seen data mis-analyzed, even though high-energy physics is a largely apolitical domain. It is not easy, even with full scientific integrity, to avoid all sources of bias. With something that has enormous policy implications, such as climate change, there was some concern among serious scientists that error and/or group-think bias could set in within even a large community. The idea of having a largely independent review by scientifically experienced non-experts was a good one.
Well, in science, when you see vocal skeptics starting to come around to the point of view of those they previously criticized, you know the climate is changing.
I doubt we’ll ever have a more independent review than the Berkeley Earth Team has just given us. I don’t know all the scientists on the team, but I am confident at least that Saul Perlmutter (who just won the Nobel Prize) is of the highest integrity. The team included only scientists who had not taken a public position on climate change, and their funding sources are very broad-based. Moreover, unlike climate scientists, who could be subjected to the accusation of letting a vested interest in obtaining funding bias their science toward a prevailing viewpoint, some members of this team had to give up time from their own personal research, thereby reducing their funding opportunities, in order to participate in this endeavor. None of them has much obviously to gain — no probability of scientific recognition, prizes, funding, or even thanks — especially Muller, who in confirming what he expected the team would likely refute has burned plenty of bridges in the interest of honesty.
I’m definitely not qualified to comment on the details of climate science, and I haven’t read the report. All I have to go on right now is the two-page summary of the results reported here:
which I highly recommend you personally read. It has subtleties and details that the press is not capturing.
Nevertheless, it seems to me at this early stage that the report’s main result — that where it has so far come to conclusions, it agrees with what many climate scientists have long been saying — represents a success story for science, one worth noting. It confirms yet again that preconceptions and funding sources do not automatically determine scientific results. And it confirms also that it is possible, over time, to obtain consensus about nature — that even while the US Congress witnesses ideology placed before the nation’s best interest, the collective scientific process still manages to put the integrity of science first, and a scientist’s pride second.