Monday, June 12, 2006

Just the Facts: a Promethean tale

Quite often my position on ecomyths in general, and climate change in particular, makes people uneasy. It invokes in them a reactionary desire that I just stick to the facts. That somehow I must be forgetting about the science and over-emphasizing the social, economic and/or political aspects of issues. Wouldn't all of these questions just be resolved if only we stuck to the facts? What we need here is more science.

Well here is a tremendous post that illustrates why this is not the case. It examines a discrepancy in the last IPCC report: the scientific "bible" of climate change, the consensus summary of refereed journal articles and research, the pinnacle of academic enquiry.

In itself, the issue can be viewed as minor but its meaning is actually far bigger. The factoid under discussion has become imbedded in government policy documents in at least three countries and it has been cited extensively. In short, it has become an axiomatic construct. But its meaning and its origins are ambiguous at best.

As a sidebar, read also about the authors (futile) attempts to have his questioning published. It highlights the value of blogs and the difficulties facing anyone who questions the emperor's new clothes.

Lest anyone think that this is an isolated instance, think how often you have read about the impending levels of species extinction in the next century and then ask yourself: 'just where and when did that number originate, and with whom?'

(Hint, the number is a random guestimate with no mathematical basis nor relationship to empirical data).