Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Does a scientist crying about apocalyptic predictions make their science more convincing?
According to The Guardian;
Should scientists show emotion while discussing their science? I ask because a professor of ocean geology wept as she discussed with me the impact carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are having on the sea.
She fears we are acidifying and heating the ocean so fast that her young daughters may no longer enjoy coral reefs and shellfish by the end of the century.
And as we pondered the future, her passion for the oceans triggered tears.
I have no doubt that the tears are genuine. But tears and displays of intense emotion are not the hallmark of an objective observer.
Science is fragile – it is incredibly easy to inadvertently contaminate your results with preconceptions. This fragility is why laborious techniques such as the double blind experimental protocol were developed. Nobody would bother with all the extra work needed to set up a double blind experiment – if bitter experience hadn’t taught the scientists who practice double blind, how easy it is to make a mistake.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. – Dr. Richard Feynman From “Cargo Cult Science“, adapted from a 1974 Caltech commencement address; also published in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
If a scientist feels so emotional about their work that they burst into tears, how can we possibly trust that same scientist can successfully set that strong emotion and potential bias aside, when they evaluate whether the evidence supports their theories?
Climategate contains numerous examples of questionable scientific practices, such as the infamous hide the decline email, and the Oroko Swamp email – but it doesn’t in my opinion contain evidence of a systematic conspiracy to deceive the world. Instead, my impression is that the people who wrote the climategate emails very much believe in what they are doing. But they believe so strongly in their mission to save the world, in my opinion they seem to have no problem with bending the rules, to deny skeptics an opportunity to impede their mission. And that willingness to reframe bad news, that apparent lack of commitment to objectivity and scientific best practice, is what in my opinion opens the way for unscientific bias.
This isn’t the first time climate scientists have tried to win us over by showing us their “feelings”. It didn’t work last time, and I don’t think it will work this time.