04 February 2010

What Happens When the Dike Shows Cracks

A Dutch reader writes in with this interesting translation of a some "key points" from a Dutch newspaper article out today:
"Politicians angered by latest IPCC error

Reason for their ire is a flawed statement about sea-levels in the Netherlands. In the IPCC 2007 Report, 55 percent of the Netherlands is reported to lie below sea-level and 65 percent of its GDP would depend on economic activity located in that part of the country."

"Following a review by the Dutch Central Statistics Bureau (CBS) it now appears that the IPCC's numbers are wrong. According to the CBS, only 20 percent of the country is situated below sea-level supporting 19 percent of GDP."

"Environment Minister Cramer said to be "very concerned" and "not prepared to accept any more mistakes". Liberal party representative Népperus said she wants recommendations currently under consideration by the "Delta Commission" to be postponed. "I'm not saying that sea-levels aren't rising", she said, "but there is a big difference between spending 100 billion or 80 billion Euros on reinforcement of our coastal defenses".

Another Dutch reader writes in with a translation (from one of his colleagues, admittedly rough they say) of a speech by a Dutch labor party politician, Diederik Samsom, in the Dutch Parliament earlier this week (apparently prior to the publication of the newspaper article excerpted above). Mr. Samsom is not just any old politician. According to Wikipedia,
[Samsom] is a Dutch politician and has been a member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the Labour Party (PvdA) since January 30, 2003. Before that he was the CEO of a green energy company and a campaigner for Greenpeace Netherlands. Samsom is the party's spokesperson on environmental issues.
The speech is interesting not just because it shows how the issues with the IPCC are being interpreted in a political context, but by a politician who (and whose party) has been very supportive of action on climate.

Mr. Samson (PvdA):
“Mr Chairman. Something has gone seriously wrong with the international climate panel. There are sizable errors in the panel’s report. The thorough correction process, which everyone always has been keen on, has failed. That is in the words of the minister “disturbing”. That is correct. However, more than disturbing – that is, outrageous – would it be if it turns out that the author of the contested Himalaya-passage indeed had political motives for embroiding the text. Will the minister vow that she will have this last allegation investigated to the bottom and inform the Chamber quickly about it?

The minster writes in her letter that she will insist on sharpening internal IPCC procedures. Rightfully so. However, the PvdA-fraction does not think this is sufficient. She realizes that this Chamber is not debating the faith of IPCC boss, mr. Pachauri, because neither the Chamber nor the minister are his employer. Does the minister share the opinion that for recovering faith more is needed than revising procedures? And if so, which possible additional measures does she have in mind for this?

Finally, I would like to ask the minister to have the “Planbureau for the Living Environment” on the shortest possible notice prepare a new version of their regular review of the state of the knowledge about climate. Obviously taking into account an evaluation of the scientific implications of the recently discovered errors.

Does this mean all is said and done? No, because we also have to talk about ourselves, about the way in which politics has run off with the science, about how she has pushed scientists towards either side of the debate and by doing so they themselves have undermined the neutrality of that science, neutrality which we are now calling for.

How does a scientific discipline far away from politics function, like for example the mating behavior of fruit flies? A researcher finds that two orange fruit flies process orange offspring. Until a colleague discovers a different result; they produce green offspring. Both of them check each other’s work, test their own results again, start a debate, think about it, and lo and behold, the theory of dominant and recessive genes is born. That is the beauty of scientific progress.

But within climate science this beauty has been long gone. When the Dutchman Damsté recently published a paper about a new theory about the reduction of snow on the Kilimanjaro, the Dutch magazine “Elsevier” obviously and immediately presented the headline: “Dutchman falsifies Al Gores climate evidence”. Damsté let me know in an email that he regrets that this message had been taken completely out of context. There was no talk of falsification, but rather a useful contribution for understanding the complex processes leading to the reduced snowcap over there, but for this nuance there is no room anymore in the climate debate.

Rather than that the work by Damsté leads to reconsideration and scientific progress, the results are immediately – before the ink is even dry - shredded to pieces in an overheated public arena of the climate debate, not it the last place by politicians themselves. The abuse of the science which then occurs, contorts, politicizes and perverts the same science, and so we should not only be appalled and start to cry when the science falters, but we should dive into our own bossom.

Science has to be neutral. She has to be a home where there is room for everyone. We must be able to base our politicial opinions – no matter how different – on the same scientific knowledge. The political debate has to be about choices that can be made on the basis of that same knowledge and not degenerate into some quarreling about the question which knowledge is true and which is not. One side, let me call it “my side”, has been too easy on stating that the science does not provide any room for other choices than immediate action. We have defacto removed “the others” from the house. Mr. De Mos and his kindred spirits have left that scientific house rather enthousiastically, and retreated themselves in the blogosphere, and all to easy now restrict themselves into the denying all science. And while we now frenetically try to keep the door closed, they are throwing in the windows with bricks. As far as I am concerned the lesson for us all today should be that I open the door and mr. de Mos drops his bricks. Then it is not only IPCC, but also us, who learn a valuable lesson.
For Dutch speakers, more discussion here. Thanks to all for the team effort! Go Orange ;-)