Stress Vs. Credibility: Modern Science At A Crossroads

Steven Wiley talks about Biology, but his words explain the one long-lasting damage Climategate has done to mainstream (AGW) climatology, whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigations: an increasing number of skeptics because emotional outbursts destroy confidence in the very data:

it is essential that we maintain respect for each other in our public discourse. Respecting each other is essential for real scientific dialog. If you dismiss someone’s opinion based on your feelings, you lose your objectivity. But being dismissive and emotional during public discussions also makes you look bad to other people and erodes your credibility.

Ideally, a scientist should be a dispassionate observer of the world who weighs the evidence and provides a thoughtful, well-reasoned judgment. This is clearly an idealistic vision of our profession to which we frequently fall short, mostly because scientists find it difficult to be dispassionate about anything. Yet, we should strive for this ideal if we expect that scientific opinions should be given special consideration in society.

This is important because we want people to believe in the data gathered and evaluated using the scientific method. If people aren’t confident in the people who are gathering the data, they won’t believe in its veracity.

[…] Most people can tell the difference between reasonable assertions and unsupported conjecture. The problem is that when emotional outbursts are injected into a situation, any pretense of objectivity becomes lost.

In these times where science offers the best hope for progress in an increasing complex and fractious world, it would be a real tragedy if the bad behavior of some scientists compromised our reputation as neutral seekers of truth. Whether we like it or not, the behavior of each of us colors the popular perception of scientists as a whole.

There’s going to be a need for a huge amount of “the science is settled” declarations before AGW climatology will start to look again as anything remotely objective, in the eyes of the general public. In the meanwhile, it will remain caged within politics and silly holier-than-thou discussions bordering on fundamentalism. And that’s no place for a scientific discipline.

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Here two examples of pretty damaging “emotional outbursts”:

(1) Professor Andrew Watson making the cheap shot of calling Marc Morano an “asshole” at the very end of their BBC Newsnight exchange, i.e. when Morano had no way to respond

(2) The LSE’s Bob Ward going hysterical and literally off on a tangent on Spectator’s Editor Fraser Nelson, during a Sky News debate