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Global Warming & Climate Change Policy

by Greg Bernhardt
Tags: climate, global, gw or cc, policy, warming
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story645
#55
Jan10-10, 07:59 PM
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Quote Quote by Mark24 View Post
much in the field of climate science, particularly the models, have appeared to largely involve hand waving rather than real science to the outside observer.
*shrugs* I work with data from one of the models, and the climate adviser (one of those really well known/respected people in the field) to the research group always gives a laundry list of ways the model is or may be broken and requires us to do a bunch of runs to account for/work with/catch that. His attitude made me think that within the community it's generally accepted that the models are a bit wonky.

but to the experts in the field who have spent their life studying climate, it may seem like such an elementary issue that they choose to ignore it
That's actually my reason for asking if we could discuss just the models/data here. It's really confusing to a newbie 'cause they're just really dense and full of all sorts of crazy math and science (there are like sixteen forms of wind in some of these models) and I'd love to be able to just discuss the nitty gritty hows of it all and forget the whole bigger picture.
sylas
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Jan10-10, 08:43 PM
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Quote Quote by DaveC426913 View Post
It is quite possible to discuss anteaters and tyrannosaurs without being able to discuss DNA, despite the fact that anteaters and tyrannosaurs are intimately-connected to DNA.

Better?
Well sure, it's possible to limit discussion artificially in this kind of way, and for useful discussion to continue to take place in any case. I agree on that.

The crucial thing for me is this. There's no good reason from a science perspective to rule out GW topics. The only reason for such a sweeping ban, IMO, would be that mentors have not found a way to keep discussion appropriately focused on the science, and we are putting a fence around the area where they have not succeeded.

Sure, it is going to be possible to discuss various Earth science topics without raising GW. It is going to be a highly artificial restriction, and the enforcement of it may be harder than people realize. We'll see, I guess. The enforcement will, in my view, be a constant reminder that physicsforums has failed on this one matter to live up to its stated aims, and that's regrettable. It is worth thinking about how it could be fixed. Ultimately, the mentors will make that call, but Greg has allowed for people to make comments and suggestions in this thread.

I do not think we need to demand it must be fixed right away. The mentors have been struggling this for a long time, apparently. I can see ways to manage it better than has been done in the past. I've made a couple of concrete suggestions in msg #26 for things that could be done differently. I'll be continuing to look for widely acceptable solutions with those who have an interest, while at the same time abiding by the guidelines the mentors have put in place... including this new policy.

Cheers -- sylas
Ivan Seeking
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Jan10-10, 08:47 PM
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Quote Quote by Mark24 View Post
I'm very sad to see this post. As someone who has mainly lurked on the PF forums, i've found the Earth forum - specifically the discussion on global warming - to be one of the best resources for understandable and unbiased science on the issue.
Unless you are already an expert, how do you know that what you learned was correct? It certainly isn't because we had any qualified climate scientists moderating the discussions. It isn't because the threads were populated with qualified climate experts, because they weren't. Whether something seems to make sense, or not, is irrelevant unless you have the proper background.

Frankly, your post is a great example why [based on the constraints] I support the ban on the topic.
sylas
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Jan10-10, 08:52 PM
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Quote Quote by story645 View Post
His attitude made me think that within the community it's generally accepted that the models are a bit wonky.
That's certainly true. Wonky is not quite the word I'd use, but the general fact that all the models are incorrect is pretty clear to people actually working with them. One phrase that iI have heard used is "climate models are always wrong, and often useful".

Argh. We have someone here now who could really give some great contributions on working with models, and what they can and cannot do. Welcome to physicsforums!

That's actually my reason for asking if we could discuss just the models/data here. It's really confusing to a newbie 'cause they're just really dense and full of all sorts of crazy math and science (there are like sixteen forms of wind in some of these models) and I'd love to be able to just discuss the nitty gritty hows of it all and forget the whole bigger picture.
Same here. In fact, that is one of my suggestions for how climate discussions could be managed better... having a much stronger expectation on topic drift.

Unfortunately, climate models are one of those topics that sometimes attract a lot of heat and sweeping pontifications without a lot of backing; both by people keen to defend the successes and by people keen to emphasize their limits. In the meantime, any focused consideration of how they work and what they do and how they are used all gets a bit lost.

If we could find a way to manage a discussion of climate models of the sort you envisage, we'd have solved the problem! (IMO) There would also be a huge educational benefit, IMO.

Cheers -- sylas
Chronos
#59
Jan11-10, 01:54 AM
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Climatology is a frustrating science. There are more variables than scientists. The geological record tells us it does as it pleases. Given the ebb and flow of climate change over the history of earth, I doubt human activity greatly disturbs whatever cycles are preferred by nature. Human contributions to the atmosphere are undoubtably significant, but only over a century or two. Climactic volatility supercedes the human factor by billions of years. Our hubris exceeds our understanding.
Ivan Seeking
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Jan11-10, 02:29 AM
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Quote Quote by Chronos View Post
Climatology is a frustrating science. There are more variables than scientists. The geological record tells us it does as it pleases. Given the ebb and flow of climate change over the history of earth, I doubt human activity greatly disturbs whatever cycles are preferred by nature. Human contributions to the atmosphere are undoubtably significant, but only over a century or two. Climactic volatility supercedes the human factor by billions of years. Our hubris exceeds our understanding.
The geologic record also shows that species can change the climate and chemistry of the planet so dramtically that they can no longer exist - recall for example that oxygen-breathers once did not exist here.

What I don't understand is why so many people have opinions. While we may have more varialbles than scientists, we certainly have far more opinions than we do people qualified to have one.
Jonathan Scott
#61
Jan11-10, 06:08 AM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
What I don't understand is why so many people have opinions. While we may have more varialbles than scientists, we certainly have far more opinions than we do people qualified to have one.
It seems to me that the main problem is more related to gambling and everyday human psychology than specifically to climate science.

We have some scientific but not totally conclusive evidence of what may be happening, and people are trying to guess what will come up next. If some people are right, then it is very important that we take one course of action, as the cost of the consequences could otherwise be unacceptable. However, if others are right, then a different course of action may be better.

It appears to me that rather than exposing these factors (the risk and the potential costs or benefits of each outcome) separately, some people are becoming (intentionally or unintentionally) biased in their evaluation of the risk because they feel that the cost of the consequences is so high. This then makes them vulnerable to criticism and undermines their own position. This then results in polarization of positions as usual, and a general slanging match.

I'd like to see quantified risks and costs rather than a naive polarized "Oh yes it is! Oh no it isn't" approach. Of course this is tricky, as on balance it might maximize the potential benefit in the short term to decide to take action based on a risk which might not even be the majority scenario, simply because of the potential cost of the consequences, and this could be difficult to accept. However, that's how insurance works, and we live with that.
vanesch
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Jan11-10, 06:34 AM
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Quote Quote by sylas View Post
The only reason for such a sweeping ban, IMO, would be that mentors have not found a way to keep discussion appropriately focused on the science, and we are putting a fence around the area where they have not succeeded.
This is entirely correct. Moderating GW threads has not only been a difficulty in execution, but also a difficulty in agreeing on what to do exactly, as within the mentor crew, you have almost the same "spectrum" of opinions as in the forum itself. So I think that Greg decided to amputate the leg instead of having gangrene infect the whole body.

I know of one other instance where there is a similar problem, although there is no politics, and certainly no society-related issues connected to it, and that is in the battle field of "beyond the standard model". It is there where a lack of genuine field expertise is a problem, because you need that expertise to separate the "outside of the bulk of the mainstream but a knowledgeable suggestion/criticism/observation" from the "unfounded opinion/crackpot/conspiracy" idea. In the end, such a decision is always somewhat subjective for borderline claims. If you have some people rather knowledgeable of the field on board, you can rely on their intuition to make those decisions.

If you know a field rather well, you know what is "so rock solid that it is silly to dispute it" from "rather well established but with some known/unknown criticisms" and "the more speculative parts of the domain". We have people on board for most of the sciences to make these decisions. We don't have such persons on board for GW. So we do (did) the best we can, all with our own conceptions, (ill) understandings and opinions. And those opinions, uneducated as they may be, don't agree within the Mentor crew. On top of that, there is a certain, justified or unjustified, suspicion towards at least part of the top scientists in the field, so that some within the mentor crew don't take their word for granted.

Of course, the proposed philosophy, "let's strictly stick to peer-reviewed material", was supposed to handle this. However, even there, you need expert knowledge, because of course not EVERYTHING can have peer-reviewed sources. In mechanics, nobody is going to require you to come up with a peer-reviewed source of Newton's laws, or of basic material that is taught at the level of the first years of university in the field. Point is, you need to have some expert knowledge to even be able to *recognize* that. Some strictly non-peer-reviewed sources are probably thrustworthy, like some data that are on public servers. Even though that is (probably unrightfully, but if you're not an expert, how do you really know) put in doubt with the hacked e-mails. It would also be simpler if we had several scientific experts who were at the same time not involved in any "political" action. If we had climate scientists that had the viewpoint "I want to find out what is going to happen to climate, but I really don't care how society will act onto this or what are the moral implications of my work, I only want to find out, that's all". Because, as said otherwise, how to know if a "scientist" that is at the same time an "activist" is wearing his scientist hat, or his activist hat.

All this means that the "stick to the peer-reviewed material" doctrine, nice as it looks, was more difficult to put in place than it may sound.

On top of that, there's another difficulty. The "social" utility of discussing AGW on a forum like PF is probably because what the public wants to know, to a certain extend, is: "how seriously should we take those climate scientists and their claims ?". If we start already with the answer: "what can be discussed here is what climate scientists say", that essential question cannot be answered. If that's the point we take on, there's much more interesting material on something like RealClimate. My personal view on a GW discussion here - on the public utility of a GW discussion here - would have been to try to explain, to try to discuss what should be taken seriously, and why, because it is "basic science" and what is more prone to doubt or error, even though it is published and peer-reviewed. And NOT refer "just" to "peer-reviewed authority" without the ability to back it up. That's also only possible with enough expertise on board. Then you can refer eventually to peer-reviewed material, but if you master it enough, you can also explain it. You also know the extend of the certainties and uncertainties of the field.

However, if constantly you have the discussion between "you put the words of the IPCC in doubt, how dare you, heathen " against "I think many climate scientists are lead by a small group of influential people whose aims and objectives are suspicious and misuse their scientist statute to push through an agenda" and the entire spectrum in between, it is, as a non-expert, very difficult to intervene. Especially because among the non-expert moderators, almost just as large a spectrum of uneducated opinions is present. So any moderation action taken by one mentor is then put in doubt by others, reversed, or not, and this is a very unhealthy state of affairs.

Hence, I suppose, Greg's decision.

Yes, it is a failure of the PF crew. No, we shouldn't be proud of it. But because there's a lot of other nice scientific stuff here at PF, where things DO work out great, Greg wanted to protect that part from all the hassle of GW.
Borek
#63
Jan11-10, 06:50 AM
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Quote Quote by Jonathan Scott View Post
It appears to me that rather than exposing these factors (the risk and the potential costs or benefits of each outcome) separately, some people are becoming (intentionally or unintentionally) biased in their evaluation of the risk because they feel that the cost of the consequences is so high. This then makes them vulnerable to criticism and undermines their own position.
Are you trying to describe the situation or to word new definition of groupthink?
sylas
#64
Jan11-10, 10:12 AM
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Quote Quote by Chronos View Post
Climatology is a frustrating science. There are more variables than scientists. The geological record tells us it does as it pleases. Given the ebb and flow of climate change over the history of earth, I doubt human activity greatly disturbs whatever cycles are preferred by nature. Human contributions to the atmosphere are undoubtably significant, but only over a century or two. Climactic volatility supercedes the human factor by billions of years. Our hubris exceeds our understanding.
I'd rephrase the first part of this.
Science is frustrating. There are more variables than scientists and more questions than answers.
... except that I don't find it frustrating. I *like* living in a complex world with a depth of detail that leaves no apparent end to the questions and no easy path to answers. Science is fun, and difficult, and worthwhile, and makes progress with no apparent end point.

Why single out climate? What about cosmology, or anthropology, or medicine, or a host of other examples we could mention? I don't think there is anything particularly different about climate that makes it in a class of its own. Each field of science has its particular problems. If they didn't science would be much easier -- and more boring.

You make some assertions in the rest of the post that seem odd. You state them apparently with a degree of confidence, and then complain about hubris. That doesn't ring true to me. Why would the ebb and flow of climate over Earth's long history mean that human activity cannot greatly disturb things? The scientific evidence is pretty unambiguous that human activity has indeed disturbed things significantly. Can this be quantified? Well, yes, it can, though as is common in science the estimates come with uncertainties. This isn't unique to climate.

You acknowledge that effects on the atmosphere are significant, but the assertion that this is only over a century or two is unsupported and dubious on its face. The scale and duration of impacts are an open question; but they are investigated, and in line with physicsforums we should not be just soliciting opinions, but looking to see if the question is actually being addressed in the actual practice of science. It is.

Contrary to what some posters seem to suggest, you really don't need to have an expert on hand to look into the question. It would help, of course; but the literature is not that hard to survey and the Earth forum guidelines already has a sticky thread with pointers that would be enough to get good appreciation of what is being done.

Also, contrary to what some posters have suggested, we really do have people involved here right now who can pick up such questions and address them with reference to the actual practice of science, and we've had them for some time. I'm one of them, and I am not the only one. Nor am I limiting myself only to individuals who share all my views on the various specifics of climate. There are a number of contributors, with a range of views, who are all well able to back up their posts with useful and directly relevant references from the work of science being done right now. (Me, Andre, mheslep, Xnn, joelupchurch, Skyhunter, chriscolose, Bill Illis, and my apologies to lots of folks I have omitted. Every now and again I notice some really first rate contribution coming in from a contributor who is not all that regular.

I do not mean contributions that merely state a point I agree with. Indeed, some of the folks I list don't agree with me. What makes a good post, in my opinion, is one that actually gets substantive on the questions of a thread, and backs up the information with references people can use to explore further what is actually being done on the subject within working science.

You don't need to have one person who can cover all the bases. Indeed, I think the whole desire to get a climate scientist on the staff is fundamentally missing the point. I support whole heartedly support the idea of finding someone like that, it would be great. It would help a lot. They wouldn't even need to be a mentor, frankly.

And yet... this won't get to heart of the problem -- which is that too many people, even some within staff, simply don't trust climate scientists.

On how best to deal with a question relating to climate

This is not a debate thread, so I am not proposing at all to debate the question raised. But Chronos makes a claim above, and it is worth looking at HOW it might be addressed without trying to actually make that debate here and now, which would be off topic.

The claim I mean is this:
Human contributions to the atmosphere are undoubtably significant, but only over a century or two.
Seeing the claim made I immediately recognize without even looking up the papers that this is a fairly hot topic in climate being actively investigated, and there are a couple of recent papers that explore the likely duration of significant consequences of the anthropogenic impact. I think I have at least one of those recent papers already in my own private collection of downloaded resources that I have been using as I've studied this whole area for myself.

If this claim had appeared in the relevant science forum, and if the forum had remained open to actually talking about such questions in the light of existing work on science, I would very likely have noticed, and presented a brief explanation of what durations are thought likely, and why, and with a reference to one or more papers that deal specifically with the topic.

I know already, from the responses I have received from different people, that this kind of contribution is useful and appreciated. It doesn't tell you what you must believe. It gives information about what is going on in existing science in relation to the question. And that, in my opinion, is what physicsforums is all about.

No personal criticism of you in intended, Chronos! Indeed, just the reverse. Having input like this, so that it can be addressed, is really useful. I would not expect anyone to be immediately satisfied with my response. The idea, IMO, is simply to give people the background and the pointers to explore further if they are interested. If anyone actually changes their mind, that's their own doing and their own thinking through resources from the discussion and from whatever else they look into. (I've touched on the nature of debate generally at my blog as well; links are in my signature.)

On why a substantive response still has problems

And yet, even given a substantive, properly referenced post, that gives some insight into the actual practice of science on the matter, there are going to be people who object.

(1) There's an unrealistic desire for a complete answer. There's no such animal. Scientists actually DON'T have the hubris, in general, to think their work resolves such things with a final answer or finished understanding.

(2) There's an unrealistic desire for equal time to some other allegedly equivalent alternative perspective. The expectation by many contributors that climate science is about equally credible alternatives is flatly mistaken. Contrasting ideas exist, of course, and the work of science is focused on resolving discrepancies and identifying those ideas that are wrong. Think "falsification". The work of science includes minority views, and they are perfectly on topic for the forum. But a presumption of equal legitimacy is not any part of science. For instance... the idea that changes will persist only over a century or two not really backed up by any scientific work of which I am aware. The best you can get is a lack certainty on potential longer durations for the effects of a human impact to dissipate; and that is already a part of the work I'd be citing on the matter.

Be that as it may, anyone else who wants to add depth to discussion by giving properly referenced alternative is making a useful contribution. Anyone who remains skeptical of the scraps provided by one contributor is perfectly within their rights. It's not a good idea to post with the objective of changing someone else's mind. The proper objective is simply to give some useful additional information.

(3) There's an unrealistic desire for authority. Science doesn't depend on authority. It's great to have an expert available, but for a basic question like this one, a student who has looked at bit at climate science will already have some useful contributions to make. Anyone who takes the time to try and learn about the subject will quickly come to a point of making useful substantive contributions. We don't need final authoritative answers to everything, or complete agreement even within staff, before the discussions become helpful.

(4) People confuse the lack of answers to some questions with the lack of answers to all questions. There are a heap of wide open problems in any area of active science. That's what keeps it active. At the same time, there are some useful discoveries and fundamental theories that make a solid foundation for pushing back the boundaries of what is known.

Of course there's a heck of a lot unknown in climate science. But frankly, the biggest problem is with people who think everything is unknown, or at least behave as if they think that. I listed back in msg #26 some foundational points that are often disputed in climate discussions but which could (I hope!) be usefully recognized by staff as a common basis that is not actually in any credible dispute. They are:
  • Temperatures are increasing over recent decades, with a total gain of roughly 0.7 C since the start of the twentieth century. Even if people question the importance of this, the actual change itself is real and significant.
  • The greenhouse effect is real. The atmosphere does interact with thermal radiation and this does result in a much warmer surface temperature than would exist otherwise. (About 33 degrees warmer, on average.)
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide has a significant effect on climate. (A forcing of about 5.35 W/m2 per lateral log of atmospheric concentration.)
  • Humans have a significant effect on carbon dioxide levels. (The 30% increase in atmospheric levels since the start of the industrial revolution, and the measured increase in the present, is being driven by human activities.)
All of these are solidly established well quantified information. It is by no means a complete account of everything that matters, but it is a solid foundation not in any credible doubt. We can easily explain and reference these points for newcomers, and recognition still gives full reign to all manner of "skepticism" on various points of climate.

(5) People mix up confidence in scientific theories with the importance of scientific theories. That's a distraction from dispassionate consideration of what we can actually know and with what confidence. This is a very politically charged topic, and we should not even attempt to resolve all the political questions of appropriate policy responses. The unique contribution of physicsforums, and our greatest strength, is the capacity to help people learn more about the scientific questions. That will, no doubt, inform their views on policy as well, and I don't see why we can't allow for political discussion in the designated subforum. But our prime business is education in the science itself, regardless of how important you think it is. We'd still consider it as an interesting scientific topic even if there were no immediate pragmatic consequences; and policy considerations should be ruled as a divergence of topic for a thread that focuses on a scientific question.

I'm not saying that it is easy to manage this issue. I continue to support the new policy, albeit reluctantly, and to hope that it might indeed be temporary, without presuming so. But I do think it is a failure of physicsforums to achieve its stated aims, at least as far as this one topic is concerned, and that the major problem has been lack of unity within the staff. This isn't surprising; it is a reflection of deep lack of unity in the community. If it was only disagreement between different competing ideas in science the problem would be manageable; science takes competing ideas in its stride.

The problem is far deeper, with disagreement as to whether scientists are actually really doing honest science at all. And that makes it very hard indeed to keep to the physicsforums mandate: "to help students learn the current status of physics as practiced by the scientific community". If people think the current status of science practice is riddled with fraud or incompetence or distortion, then the whole basis for this physicsforum mandate is undercut. And so -- most regrettably -- this active area of science is going to be ruled off limits here. Not because physicsforums has determined that the practice of science is compromised, but, in my opinion, because the staff cannot even agree on whether the practice of science in this area is something that should be the basis for education.

--------

Sorry this has been over long. I'm presuming this thread will probably close off as well, though I'd like to see it open for a little bit longer to let people comment on whether they would like to see physicsforums find a way to manage this, or give some more thoughts as to what that might take.

Cheers -- sylas
Xnn
#65
Jan11-10, 11:52 AM
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Could somebody explain what would be required of and expected of an appropriate expert?

I would like to help in the search.
Evo
#66
Jan11-10, 11:56 AM
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Quote Quote by Xnn View Post
Could somebody explain what would be required of and expected of an appropriate expert?

I would like to help in the search.
Vanesch summed it up.

Quote Quote by Vanesch
It would also be simpler if we had several scientific experts who were at the same time not involved in any "political" action. If we had climate scientists that had the viewpoint "I want to find out what is going to happen to climate, but I really don't care how society will act onto this or what are the moral implications of my work, I only want to find out, that's all". Because, as said otherwise, how to know if a "scientist" that is at the same time an "activist" is wearing his scientist hat, or his activist hat.
Wallace
#67
Jan11-10, 02:22 PM
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So you mean, almost any climate scientist? The idea that the line between professional scientist and activist is blurred in climate science is a myth plain and simple. There are activists with science backgrounds but the professional research scientists are just doing science.

Once again I'm truly shocked, saddened and disappointed that there are staff members of this fine place actively spreading this kind of ignorant disinformation. Once again it flies in the face of the very things PF stands for (or that I thought it did).
Mark24
#68
Jan11-10, 03:41 PM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking View Post
Unless you are already an expert, how do you know that what you learned was correct? It certainly isn't because we had any qualified climate scientists moderating the discussions. It isn't because the threads were populated with qualified climate experts, because they weren't. Whether something seems to make sense, or not, is irrelevant unless you have the proper background.

Frankly, your post is a great example why [based on the constraints] I support the ban on the topic.
Who decides if the person responding to an inquiry is an expert or not? You? This sounds like an appeal to authority, and science should not be subject to that. Science should be able to stand on its own based upon the evidence. IMO, this attitude demonstrates the whole problem with the AGW debate, and it has been exemplified by the arrogance shown by climate researches in the hacked e-mails toward people who voice any degree of skepticism.

I do not simply rely on being told by an expert which way is up from down. I am capable of examining the validity of the evidence as it is presented to me by doing further research into the premise on my own. I, as most people here I suspect, do not simply take for granted what I am told by the "experts." If I did, I would have long ago hopped aboard the AGW express to begin touring the country with Al Gore.

For those who are skeptical in nature (as I believe all scientists should be), the GW discussions on the Earth forum made for an environment to obtain more information about the foundation of the AGW theory including it's limitations, from contributors who do not consider themselves above responding to an honest inquiry. Banning discussion simply because Gavin Schmidt isn't moderating it does a disservice to the pursuit of knowledge here IMO.
Xnn
#69
Jan11-10, 04:01 PM
P: 555
Thanks Evo;

When I find a few experts that are not involved in political action, where should they be directed?
Count Iblis
#70
Jan11-10, 05:55 PM
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Quote Quote by Redbelly98 View Post
Put another way, and briefly, the Mentors are tired of arguing amongst themselves without reaching consensus on how to moderate numerous CC/GW threads. That is the simple reality of the situation.


Count Iblis
#71
Jan11-10, 06:22 PM
P: 2,157
Wikipedia can moderate editing climate science articles, so why can't physicsforums?
D H
#72
Jan11-10, 06:50 PM
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Wikipedia's moderation in this regard has become quite suspect. Wikipedia is a good, and sometimes excellent, source for non-controversial, mainstream science topics. Things start going downhill in areas where the science is not fully developed or where science, politics, and religion interact.


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