A Social Network for Climate Scientists

I’ve recently decided that human kind needs this even more immediately than brain augmentation.

There is no reason why large organized discussions about climate should be limited to yearly conferences. In fact it’s inexcusable in the internet age. I want to see a website that exclusively connects climate scientists, not only to expedite problem solving, but also to provide the public with a single reliable place to go to for the definitive scientific consensus on climate change. One reliable place for up to date data analysis on the front page that is easy enough for the layman to understand. You will need proof of a PHD in earth science to join, crate a profile, post research, make comments, and cast your vote on consensus positions relating to climate change. Anyone can view this information, but full membership will be completely exclusive. It may be a good idea to have a second tier membership which any scientist with at least a masters degree can join. Those members could participate in the consensus polls. The end user would have the ability to choose what data to look at. They could look at the percentage of agreement within only climate scientists, only scientists with a PHD, or all scientists. The particulars could all be worked out later and evolve. The key component is an organized network to connect these scientists that is accessible to the public and is not run or owned by one biased source. I think this network could potentially be built on top of Diaspora, the open source, node based, distributed social network.

There are plenty of websites out there with good information, but most are somewhat dense and confusing, as well as there is a lot of misinformation. It can take a long time to decide if what you are reading is credible, and even then you may be wrong. The fact that there is a contention online about whether there is in fact a consensus among climate scientists about climate change, is insane to me. It should be completely verifiable, one way or the other. Some climate scientists assert that there has been something of a consensus since the late 80s and it has only gotten stronger. If that is true, then holy crap someone isn’t doing their job. That or the opposition is doing one hell of a job of casting doubt.

I started delving into climate science as best I could online because I realized two people I respect disagree on the consensus position that, it is happening, it is potentially catastrophic, and it is caused by human expulsion of CO2. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a full supporter but James Randi is not, or at least was not entirely convinced as of 2009. So I decided I needed to do my own research. Before that I was more than happy to just trust what I heard was the scientific consensus, but then I started reading and found that some even contested that there really was a consensus. The skeptical community seems to have a lot of the holdouts, people who don’t want to jump on the band wagon of popular opinion. There are other groups such as Republicans, libertarians, and anyone connected to the oil companies who have within them a large number of people who are not yet convinced. Not that I’m trying to automatically put those groups together or suggest that all the people in them feel the same way. I’m just less interested in arguments based on politics, suspicion, or necessity. People who are first and foremost interested in being logical and critical are the ones who’s arguments I want to hear. The only problem is you never know a persons real motivations. You can rarely even decipher your own.

The 2 Degree Promise
I recently read about the 2 degree Celsius goal. The goal isn’t even to prevent global warming anymore, it’s just to limit it’s effects. Many Climate scientists seem convinced we’ve set the bar too low with this goal and that even a 2C rise in temperature may be quite devastating. This is feared to be the case based on the effects of the 0.6 degree rise seen thus far. It seems policy makers have more or less agreed to the 2 degree limit, but will not go any lower and have not put in place any oversight in place to enforce this commitment. Whether that’s the right way to go or not remains to be seen, but the issue deserves to be in forefront of the public consciousness. With such a website as I propose, maybe it could be.

Having gone through a lot of research at many websites, doing my best check credibility, trying my VERY best to be objective, I’m left believing basically the same thing I believed when I started. I tried very hard not to only read thing that I already agreed with, but it is incredible convoluted out there for a lay person such as myself. Also I’ll never really know how much I’m just giving way to confirmation bias. A well crafted argument has so much weight even if it’s light and loose with the facts and heavy on the logical fallacies. Some of the sites on which I found the most information are realclimate.org, skepticalscience.com, climate.gov, climateaudit.org. However wikipedia was of some significant help putting things in context and sequence.

The Value of Skepticism
This whole experience has been very upsetting, reading endless comments of people who can’t even agree on basic facts and both furiously accuse the other of being intentionally deceptive. So much so that it makes me wonder about how much skepticism is really beneficial. Sometime in the future when this issue is hopefully settled for everyone (if such a time ever comes) and you look back at the percentages of people who believed one way or another (assuming such data were available and accurate), if the percentage of self proclaimed skeptics acceptance or belief in what turned out to be true is no higher (perhaps even lower) at any given time throughout the debate than the general public, what does that say about the value of being a skeptic? If it keeps you from being easily fooled, but also makes you slow to accept the truth, isn’t it kind of an even trade off? Is disbelief fundamentally more advantageous than belief, whether it is baseless or not? Also, how do you know if you really are a skeptic? Aren’t people particularly poor at self assessment? Is it enough to like a video of James Randi humiliating a fake psychic and swear henceforth to always be skeptical?

These questions do come from a great love of skepticism. I’m not trying to be over critical of it, and I do realize that first question is an absurd run on sentence. I consider myself a skeptic for the most part. I make an effort to be skeptical, even if I particularly want to believe in something. Though I’m surly far from perfect in that regard. I just want to know if there has been and study on it’s proven benefit.

So I guess my questions in this area are:
Can it be proven statistically that being skeptical is a benefit?
Can one objectively quantify ones own skepticism?
If so, is there a healthy degree of skepticism along the spectrum which should not be undershot or exceeded?

One of the problems I found in doing haphazard research about climate change is that you don’t get a good sense of numbers or credentials. Anyone can say anything as loudly or as many times as they want and it takes a long time to weed through. I could really go on about this forever there is so much point counter point that I get exhausted just thinking about it and you could never really trust my conclusions anyway, not as much as doing your own research. So, long story less long, I want to see a site like I describe at climatenet.org or something like that…before it’s too late, or someone puts a stupid parking page there.

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One thought on “A Social Network for Climate Scientists

  1. aepxc says:

    A couple of (interrelated) observations.

    1. Seems to me that the value of (pure) scepticism can only be figured out ad-hoc and retrospectively. What were the benefits to rejecting some specific ultimately-proven-wrong beliefs? What were the costs to being slow to accept some specific ultimately-proven-true conclusions? That having been said, it is a poor sceptic who gets flummoxed into inaction by uncertainty. Most practical claims are not binary – they have some likelihood of being true and a complimentary likelihood of being false. A sceptic should not be one who treats everything that is <50% (<100%) likely to be true as being 0% likely to be true. Rather one evaluates the estimated likelihoods of each outcome, the estimated costs associated with each identified outcome, and the estimation errors of both and then manages the risks accordingly.

    2. Climate change is an excellent example of a problem that should be about prudential risk management rather than about scepticism. The question to ask is not "is (anthropogenic) climate change happening?" but "what are the risks of climate change and what can we do about them?" "Do nothing until you are convinced that a problem is inevitable" is a pretty irresponsible (and juvenile) approach to take. Climate change sceptics are not really sceptics – they're acting like devil-may-care teens.

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