The Trump administration wants to bail out failed contrarian climate scientists

Climate contrarians, like Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, don’t understand how scientific research works. They are basically asking for a government handout to scientists to do what scientists are should already be doing. They are also requesting handouts for scientists who have been less successful in research and publications – a move antithetical to the survival of the fitness approach that has formed the scientific community for decades.

The helping handout would be through a proposed exercise called a “red team/blue team” effort. It is a proposal that would reportedly find groups of scientists on both “sides” of the climate issue (whatever that means), and have them try to poke holes in each others’ positions. I will explain why this is a handout but first let’s talk about the plan and how it interferes with the scientific process.

I say that Pruitt and Perry don’t understand how science works because we are already doing “red team/blue team” exercises everyday in our normal line of business. Science works by challenging each other and our ideas. If we think that a colleague has made an error, we tend to be merciless and tenacious to correct the errors. This is part of the premise of the concept of peer review – where we send studies and manuscripts to journals to have other experts objectively review them for errors.

So back to the basic premise of a red team/blue team exercise – basically the “red team” would critique some conclusion of a “blue team.” The blue team would be able to respond, and there would be this back and forth exchange. On its face it sounds pretty straightforward even though scientists are already doing that in the scientific literature. But how would this work in practice? 

First, how would the red team and blue team members be selected? Would they be picked by Pruitt and Perry who have already demonstrated a commitment to unbridled fossil fuel usage? The red team would almost certainly be selected from the very small but vocal group of contrarian scientists and non-scientists who have failed in the scientific arena. The fact is, there are no credible scientists who doubt that human emissions of greenhouse gases cause global warming. They just don’t exist. 

There are some “lukewarmist” scientists who think the problem won’t be that bad, but these “lukewarmers” have failed to provide compelling evidence in the scientific literature. In many instances, their work has been shown to be wrong, the mainstream scientists have evaluated their claims and found them lacking or faulty. And this is why 97% of the world’s top climate scientists agree with each other on climate change. 

So forming a red team would basically amount to a governmental helping hand to scientists who have not succeeded in the scientific arena. Since they cannot compete in the cut-throat area of scientific research, they would be given a free pass by the government to circumvent the normal peer review process. Let’s be clear, the red team cannot make the case in the scientific arena so they would be given a free pass to make their claims in the political arena.

What would the exercise look like? Well that isn’t clear. Some ideas have been floated such as a live debate. Perhaps a red team response to a summary article such as the National Climate Report made public recently by the New York Times? Would it be special earmarked funding for contrarians to perform research? Would it be an “official” U.S. government report that is written by the contrarians? We just don’t know.

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Posted by John Abraham on Thursday, 31 August, 2017

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