Monday, January 4, 2010

Climate Change and Scientific Behavior

Just read an interesting article on Climate Change and Scientific Behavior by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky over at Cocktail Party Physics.  I feel the same way that Diandra does. As a community college Earth science professor, I teach classes in weather and climate even though my area of expertise is geology (more specifically, structure / tectonics).  I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, a climatologist, yet I have to teach students about global climate change.

Don't get me wrong, I know enough about paleoclimate proxies, stable isotope analysis, solar cycles, natural and anthropogenic CO2 sources, basic atmospheric chemistry, etc. to teach my 100-level course, but I also want to understand the data, assumptions, and models used to predict anthropogenic global warming over the next few decades.  I would like to be able to confidently discuss the effects of warming - sea level rise, changes in oceanic thermohaline circulation. glacial melting, etc.

The problem is that the issue of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) appears to have become heavily politicized.  Simplistically, Democrats "believe" in AGW and Republicans do not.  The issue's "settled."  Anyone who questions any aspect of AGW is a GW "denier."  Scientists who publish studies critical of AGW need to be silenced and the journals who publish those papers need to be punished.

Silly me, I thought science wasn't about "belief," openness was an essential part of the process, and a little skepticism was a good thing. So, while I certainly think the evidence indicates AGW is real, the other bullshit surrounding the issue disturbs me.  I'm guess I'm just a naive idealist. It makes me want to shy away from the issue completely.  Just teach the kids the basics of chemistry, physics, etc. necessary to understand the arguments and then hand them the latest IPCC report.  Problem is that some of them (the smart ones, at least) then want to know what I think.  Damned if I know.

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