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home : opinions : opinions August 20, 2017

6/6/2017 12:18:00 PM
Red-teaming climate is not a good choice
By Phil Ganter and Mary Ann Asson-Batres

We are writing in response to The Nugget column posted by Craig Rullman in the Wednesday, April 26, issue of The Nugget.

There are no simple answers to scientific questions. No easy black or white indicators of "truth." Lots of argument and controversy swirl around scientific questions until reproducible evidence comes in, and, even then, a complete resolution may lag. Sometimes, new evidence (data) can make us less sure.

Such an unsure world can be overwhelming. Many who feel overwhelmed by science often refer to that universal tool, common sense. Craig Rullman confesses to being overwhelmed by climate science and, in his search for a common sense approach, turns to Steven Koonin's recommendation that the best way forward is to "Red Team" it.

Koonin wants climate science to be the subject of public debates involving a Red Team to attack the consensus on climate science against a Blue Team to rebut the Red Team. Common sense says that this will improve the situation.

The idea that debate is the key to scientific progress completely misses the point. To be sure, debate plays a role in sharpening arguments and establishing ideas about factors that "cause" outcomes, but such arguments are the speculative well-spring of untested hypotheses - arguments and debate have nothing to say about actual scientific progress.

Evidence or "data" are the lone and final arbiter.

Science stands or falls on data, and data may constantly change. If this makes you sort of queasy, that's OK. If it makes you question the importance of using data for public policy decisions, get over your queasiness and ask yourself: what's better? What do you rely on if you reject the best answer science can give you?

Koonin's idea is based on false (and easily falsified) assumptions. The first is that there is no debate. Citing previously published data, Koonin asserted in 2014 that ocean rise had slowed over the past two decades. In 2015, a research team led by Christopher Watson re-examined this question and showed there were errors in the data cited by Koonin. These errors led to the wrong conclusion - rather than slowing, sea level rise had actually accelerated over the past two decades. Independent work by other researchers has generated results that support Watson's conclusions.

We say the Red Team as a public event is not a good choice. Let those who feel that climate change is not occurring or is not the result of human activity fight the fight in the only meaningful arena: in scientific journals. To do this, they will have to have data.

For the rest of us, we need to use the climate science consensus as the basis of our public policy, warts and all. We have nothing better. With regard to climate science, we can say that the best current evidence indicates that, 1. The current episode of climate change is real; 2. That it is primarily caused by changes in the heat budget of the Earth due to human activity; and 3. That it will result in more harm than good.

Mary Ann Asson-Batres is a resident of Sisters. Before moving to Sisters, she was a professor in the biology department at Tennessee State University (TSU). Phil Ganter is a colleague and professor of biology at TSU.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, June 16, 2017
Article comment by: Bert Schube

Regarding the Looking Outward column by Dan Glode on climate change, he needs to get his facts straight. A quick Google search reveals the the USA is NOT the biggest carbon producer! China produces 8175.31 metric tons per year, compared to 5490.63 metric tons for the USA. Russia and India are next with approximately 1750 m.t. each. Also, take a look at the direction that each country is trending to.

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