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15 December 2004

The Unspoken Kyoto Code of Ethics
by Katy Delay

»Environment - General

The hot winds of global warming are blowing stronger as the Kyoto debate gathers strength. The underlying topic of climate change used to concern only scientists; but now, the environment activists and their supporters in government have latched onto the wings of this albatross, and we find ourselves in a very sticky predicament. The question is whether the world, and more particularly the US, will sign onto a global treaty that will cost trillions of dollars for what may not even result in one degree of difference in our climate, but which will certainly enrich the Russians and the Enron-type carbon pollution brokers of the future as they barter quotas among the signatories of this ill-founded folly.

On the scientific front, we have something which, if not resolved soon, is beginning to look like scientific malpractice. The basic "hockey stick" argument that is the main pillar of support for the whole man-made global warming hypothesis was created by a team of climatologists named Mann, Bradley and Hughes. However, since 1998, they have been sticks-in-the-mud when it comes to sharing essential elements of their research, as the rules if this gentlemanly sport would require. Only after two years did they divulge some of the roots of their calculations, thereby finally permitting the skeptical opposition to begin testing the theories; and even the rest came only in fits and spurts, and after much protest. As a result, the skeptics have been forced to absorb at least a two-year handicap in the production of rebuttal argumentation and in maintaining the rhythm of what is called the "peer review" process. Meantime, the media's customary hot winds had already had time to gather speed, and the public has begun to believe in something just short of the "Day After Tomorrow" scenario.

On the second level of this debate we have other scientists claiming to act as an elite group, privy to the results of their colleagues' research before it is published. These sages claim to have the right, the privilege, indeed the duty, to inform the public of what science will prove before it has had time to do so. The two most flagrant examples of this are the IPCC and the ACIA. These organizations (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a project of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee) are made up of a combination of government appointees and science experts who claim that the premature, biased summaries and reports they emit are the product of impartial research and not of personal opinion, politics or activism – in denial of the stark evidence and in spite of the many flaws and inaccuracies found in them. Even if errata were to be subsequently published (which is highly unlikely), the damage has already been done, because the politicians and journalists on the receiving end of these exposés have long taken our yeomen at their word and given accelerating spins to the malevolent gusts of deception of the only man-made cyclone that can be proven to exist, which is the melodramatic global warming debate itself, full of a great deal of hot air. If this isn't scientific malpractice, than what is it?

The scientific method is a code of ethics that has evolved over the last century or so. It is an oath accepted by all scientists to ensure the impartiality and objectivity of the processing and final results of their research. It exists because no man, by definition, can claim to be 100% objective. The process of scientific peer review was implemented precisely because of this human frailty, to counterbalance our murky, blinding personal biases and unintentional shortsightedness, and to open our conjectures to opposition and challenge. At the same time, of course, the methodology serves to catch any intentional wrongdoing in its net; but if its rules aren't applied, it can't even stop a breeze, never mind a man-made force 4 hurricane, at least not before a great deal of damage is done.

In the case of organizations like the IPCC and the ACIA, what we have are activist organizations masquerading as even-handed political committees, supposedly advised by scientists betrothed to their code of ethics. Perhaps these agency members and their advisers would do well to take a good, hard look at themselves in the mirror during the hiatus of this storm's eye, and draw up a code of ethics among themselves before their credibility is drowned in the gale. Short of this, let they be warned loud and clear that their bias is as visible as a tornado in the middle of Kansas.
 

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