Friday, February 11, 2005

An unhelpful climate for scientific research

I recently attended a Scientific Alliance conference on climate change at the Royal Institution in London. Apart from the fact that the discussion was much more level-headed than the hysterical headlines the day before about global warming, what really fired me up was the hatchet-job done on those attending by Royal Society president, Sir Bob May. His comments, which made the front page of the Guardian, basically suggested that anyone who didn't follow the orthodoxy on climate change, or criticised the Kyoto Protocol, was either deluded or in the pay of Big Oil.

This seemed to me a particularly lazy way of dealing with these arguments - particularly given the comments of one of the leading speakers, Richard Lindzen, who quite rightly pointed out that sceptics and orthodoxy shared a consensus, but a trivial one. Nobody seriously argues that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas or that pumping more into the atmosphere won't make the world warmer. But carbon dioxide is just one element in a very complex system and it is not possible to say "more carbon dioxide necessarily equals higher temperatures". We need to work out how the interactions and processes involved work.

So, on the one hand we have a body of science which has made some progress in understanding an extremely complex issue - but with a lot of uncertainties outstanding. On the other hand, we have a highly politicised debate. What's the betting that the science is going to suffer?

spiked-science | Article | Cool heads required