17 September 2008

Junk Science 1

Here comes another little spin-off of the "Khilyuk and Chilingar" story. In their 2006 paper, these fellows had an interesting reference. In their conclusion they wrote: "Estimates show (http://www.JunkScience.com) that since its inception in February 2005, the Kyoto Protocol has cost about $50 billion ... ". The point here is not the old contrarian argument that Kyoto costs a lot and has little effect, but the JunkScience link. Quite obviously not the usual scientific reference...

Probably most of you will already know JunkScience.com. If not, it is really worthwile to take a look, as a test for your sense of reality. The site supposedly teaches you how to distinguish "junk science" from real science. Kind of like what I am trying to do here, except that the outcome is completely different. According to the site, many health-related concerns (e.g., that secondhand smoke or asbestos cause cancer) are junk, as well as of course global warming and other environmental issues such as the ozone hole. To me, the statements on this site are junk, just as the papers of Chilingar and friends who cite them. But how do I know? And how could you know?

I have an advantage over most readers in judging this site: I happen to be an environmental scientist. I have seen the progress of research on issues like climate change and ozone depletion from an insider's perspective for about 20 years. I know that this is serious science, where mistakes happen but tend to be corrected as knowledge grows and data and models improve. It is simply an infamy to call "junk science" what hundreds if not thousands of researchers have documented in tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in the most prestigious journals. If all of this is junk, and a few amateur climatologists can do better, we better ought to abolish science at all.

But, of course, as an environmental scientist I am one of those "junk scientists" and thus you cannot trust me. So is there something you could do to find out who is right? Well, yes, there is. As I recommended before, check the sources. You'll have to check me out yourself, but I am going to help a bit about JunkScience.com. The site is run by Steven J. Milloy, on whom both Wikipedia and Sourcewatch have quite extensive and revealing entries, and who also features prominently in the UCS's Exxon report. These (and other) sources show that he is intricately linked to the tobacco (Philip Morris) and oil (ExxonMobil) industries, who sponsor the various "institutions" he has worked for. Despite official-sounding names such as "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition/Center" or "Global Climate Science Team", these groups seem to do much more lobbying than science. Or more junk than science.

It seems that for Milloy "junk science" is just about every scientific study that potentially could interfere with the business interests of his sponsors. What I never understand in such cases: Is he really convinced of what he says or is he just taking the money? Of course he thinks (or says) that we environmental scientists are exaggerating things just to get jobs and research funding. Could it be that he is suspecting us to do what he is doing all the time (lying for money)? Well, it's up to you to decide whether bending the truth is more typical and useful for lobbyists or for scientists.

No comments:

Post a Comment