Speculation versus research in climate science

Over the last few weeks several of my CFACT articles on climate science have collectively garnered over 4000 comments. This is the wide ranging climate science debate personified, with many sides represented. Anyone who claims that there is no scientific debate should read through these comments to see it in the flesh. Two of these articles are here and here.

In following this debate I have noticed a systematic mistake frequently being made by climate change alarmists. This is to confuse speculative conclusions drawn about the science with the science itself. The core science is the research results reported in the journal articles. Speculation based on the interpretation of these articles is not the science, but it is what alarmists mostly cite. I will now unpack this idea a bit.

Journal articles report specific research project results. The standard structure of an article is (1) here is the problem or question, (2) here is what we did and (3) here is what we found. The research results are what the researchers specifically found.

There also may be some speculative conclusions, drawn by the researchers at the end of the article, which try to interpret what was found. These speculations are not part of the research results. In fact they are often overstated and directed toward future funding.

Then we get a host of follow on things like the IPCC or other government reports, press releases from the researchers’ institutions, news items, etc., which are mostly just speculative conclusions.  The actual research results are typically pretty mundane, while the speculations are a lot flashier.

My point is that these research results may be true but the speculative conclusions are then exaggerated, or likely false, or of unknown truth value. Unfortunately, the alarmists typically cite these speculations as though they were established facts about the world.

For example, NOAA can truly report that their surface statistical temperature model shows 2017 to be the warmest year in the period covered, say since 1880. The research result is just the output of the model. To then say that 2017 is actually the warmest year since 1880 is a speculative conclusion that may well be false.

But this is just what NOAA does and it is this speculative claim that makes the news.
Their reasoning may be that their model is perfectly accurate, but that is not supportable. In fact there is a large literature on problems with their statistical model. I discuss a potentially fatal problem here.

More broadly, that humans are actually causing global warming is a speculative conclusion, not a research result. There is no research project that finds that humans are causing global warming.

So when someone refers to 100 years of science, or The Science, or some such, supporting alarmism, they are talking about speculative conclusions, not actual research results.

Many of the claimed statistics are simply unreliable statistical model outputs, just like the global temperatures. All of the supposed future threats are based on computer models, which are entirely speculative. Speculative model outputs are not knowledge and climate change alarmism is dominated by speculative model outputs.

So all you have to do to find that a claim is not scientific knowledge is to determine that it came from a speculative computer model. Skepticism of climate alarmism does not get any easier than this.

Where the changes are real (which is rare), that the real changes are not natural is not known. That these changes are real is the research result. That they are caused by humans is just speculation.


About the Author: David Wojick, Ph.D.

David Wojick is a journalist and policy analyst. He holds a doctorate in epistemology, specializing in the field of Mathematical Logic and Conceptual Analysis.