For most of its history, Science has always made room for amateurs or non-science professionals. However the 20th Century pushed these scientists to the edges in favor of professional chemists, physicists and biologists using advanced tools at large well-funded laboratories, leading the authors of a 1996 paper to write “Modern science can no longer be done by gifted amateurs with a magnifying glass, copper wires, and jars filled with alcohol.” Writer, teacher and amateur scientist Forest M. Mimms III has published numerous scientific articles in publications like Science and Nature and disagrees, “The term amateur can have a pejorative ring. But in science it retains the meaning of its French root amour, love, for amateurs do science because it’s what they love to do. Without remuneration or reward, enthusiastic amateurs survey birds, tag butterflies, measure sunlight, and study transient solar eclipse phenomena. Others count sunspots, discover comets, monitor variable stars, and invent instruments.”
More importantly is a deep understanding and appreciation of the Scientific Method and its application in our daily lives. One doesn’t have to have beakers boiling away in their basement to apply the method to everyday problems. Science is a powerful tool; one could argue it’s the most powerful tool ever invented.
Skepticism plays an integral role in Science. In a sense it begins with the null hypothesis that attempts to prove the claim under investigation is not true until proven otherwise. The purpose of the null hypothesis is to weed out biased results.
One could say that it’s easier for an amateur scientist to be mislead by the media. In response, the amateur scientist could state that working alone she is less likely to be mislead by group think and the unwillingness to voice a contrary opinion in the corporate setting. How easy is it for a scientist to disagree with the opinions of his peers or his superiors? In a professional setting one exchanges autonomy in exchange for support: a paycheck, equipment, peers. How easy is it for a scientist to disagree in this environment? Go back even further. How difficult is it to dissent in college or graduate school when from your advisors decide whether you advance in your field or not?
The amateur scientist has the freedom to think and dissent if necessary, whereas the professional scientist has been indoctrinated throughout his entire career to accept the validity of a theory on faith. Express disagreement at any step along the way and forget tenure, hiring or the next promotion.
That’s why I find the emails stolen from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia troubling. These emails show a clear pattern of intellectual character assassination against anyone who is skeptical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory. Instead of a healthy clash of ideas supported by evidence we have “scientists” acting more like medieval inquisitors to prevent the publication of arguments and evidence that question the current scientific orthodoxy. I
The emails support what global warming skeptics have said all along – that theories and evidence that undermined AGW were being buried, hidden and in some cases outright destroyed in order to shore up AGW. In an exchange between Professor Phil Jones, the head of the Climate Research Unit, and professor Michael E. Mann at Pennsylvania State University, Jones writes, “”If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone” and, “We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.” Mr. Jones further urged Mr. Mann to join him in deleting e-mail exchanges about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) controversial assessment report (ARA): “Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re [the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report]?” All this to hide the fact that the earth has been cooling over the past decade instead of heating up as the models predicted.
Add the inability of AGW to be disproven (if global temperatures rise – it’s due to anthropogenic global warming. If they fall as they have been doing for the past ten years, it’s due to anthropogenic global warming), and it’s easy to see how James Delingpole at the Daily Telegraph calls the emails the “final nail in the coffin of ‘anthropogenic global warming’,” and what Andrew Bolt calls the greatest scandal in modern science.
I don’t expect the theory to die so easily. There is too much money behind the current orthodoxy, and worse, an entire generation of scientists have been raised to not question anthropogenic global warming. Fighting money and faith… Well I’m confident that in the end Truth will win out but before it does trillions of dollars will be wasted on solutions to a problem built on a shaky scientific foundation.
The Anthropogenic Global Warming theory points out the danger of professional science straying from the path of legitimate scientific inquiry into faith and orthodoxy. Science needs the amateur scientist and the skepticism and freedom of thought he or she brings now more than ever.
Update: Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy writes:
Most of us, however, lack expertise on climate issues. And our knowledge of complex issues we don’t have personal expertise on is largely based on social validation. For example, I think that Einsteinian physics is generally more correct than Newtonian physics, even though I know very little about either. Why? Because that’s the overwhelming consensus of professional physicists, and I have no reason to believe that their conclusions should be discounted as biased or otherwise driven by considerations other than truth-seeking. My views of climate science were (and are) based on similar considerations. I thought that global warming was probably a genuine and serious problem because that is what the overwhelming majority of relevant scientists seem to believe, and I generally didn’t doubt their objectivity.
At the very least, the Climategate revelations should weaken our confidence in the above conclusion. At least some of the prominent scholars in the field seem driven at least in part by ideology, and willing to use intimidation to keep contrarian views from being published, even if the articles in question meet normal peer review standards. Absent such tactics, it’s possible that more contrarian research would be published in professional journals and the consensus in the field would be less firm. To be completely clear, I don’t think that either ideological motivation or even intimidation tactics prove that these scientists’ views are wrong. Their research should be assessed on its own merits, irrespective of their motivations for conducting it. However, these things should affect the degree to which we defer to their conclusions merely based on their authority as disinterested experts.
While packing for our move to North Carolina I found the Wife’s data books from her master’s research in Japan – a small boxed brick of penciled in data books. That data was used for her degree resulted in several published papers. Not that the data was ever lost; I knew pretty much where it was at all times. I even know where all the Statistica, Excel, and other data files are on my home office network for that work, as well as her more important chimpanzee research that netted her her doctorate. Even though those files haven’t been touched in a decade they are backed up and stored. Why? Because you don’t throw out data.
Unless you believe in AGW - then it’s okay evidently.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.
It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.
Science isn’t supposed to be this sloppy which is why I would hesitate calling the University of East Anglia personnel “scientists.” I believe “charlatans” and “hucksters” would be better terms.
Christopher Booker at the Daily Telegraph calls ClimateGate the “worst scientific scandal of our generation.” What I find particularly troubling is that by injecting science into politics, as AGW believers have done, they are also creating one of the worst political scandals of our generation.
Investors Business Daily takes issue with the lack of ClimateGate coverage by the mainstream media:
So the dominant media no longer check the growth of government, especially when government is poised to impinge on our freedoms.
Rather, they feed public perceptions in a propagandistic loop. Those fearless watchdogs of the press? Gone.
They’ve been gone for awhile – at least since becoming propagandists for Obama. Given the press’s infatuation with Leftist icons like Mao, Che, and Stalin (the New York Times was propagandizing about Comrade Josef almost sixty years ago) and adoration of collective action, it’s not a surprise. Thankfully there is the Internet – which they haven’t shut down. Yet.
Wired magazine explains how scientists screw up and some eventually overcome their own biases to make discoveries.
Dunbar came away from his in vivo studies with an unsettling insight: Science is a deeply frustrating pursuit. Although the researchers were mostly using established techniques, more than 50 percent of their data was unexpected. (In some labs, the figure exceeded 75 percent.) “The scientists had these elaborate theories about what was supposed to happen,” Dunbar says. “But the results kept contradicting their theories. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to spend a month on a project and then just discard all their data because the data didn’t make sense.” Perhaps they hoped to see a specific protein but it wasn’t there. Or maybe their DNA sample showed the presence of an aberrant gene. The details always changed, but the story remained the same: The scientists were looking for X, but they found Y.