Restraining Climate-Science Diversity; Uniformity of Academic Opinion Serves No One

Article excerpt


Diversity is a big deal on college campuses these days. Yet social diversity is what's promoted primarily, if not exclusively, not diversity of opinion. In a complex field such as climatology, intellectual diversity should be encouraged to help unravel the what, why and how of the globe's climate.

A careful, dispassionate look at the enormous complexity of the Earth-atmosphere system and what we think we know about it reveals that we know very little. Mountains of data have been collected on our land masses, oceans and atmosphere - thermal properties, structure, chemical composition, short- and long-term fluctuations and the like. But the integration, interpretation and confident, long-term predictive powers that might

someday emerge from the data seem to be a knowledge reserved for the distant future. Nevertheless, numerous scientists and politicians speak with one voice that not only do we know enough about how the climate operates to alter its operation, but that there is a strong, even overwhelming, consensus in this supposedly confident knowledge.

Where did such single-minded confidence originate? The halls of academia offer a good place to start. Atmospheric science has blossomed tremendously since I was a meteorology student at Pennsylvania State University in the mid-1970s. From slide-rule calculations, paper maps and lumbering mainframe computers, the field exploded, not only with new theories and models and lightning-speed computer products, but in celebrity as well. Meteorologists seemed to handle the increased attention and authority in a reasonable, measured manner, whereas climatologists, not accustomed to being in the limelight, seemed to relish the sometimes fawning attention. After all, climatology jumped from a cloistered and tedious compilation of facts and figures to a field trusted not to make mundane daily and weekly weather forecasts for Podunksville, USA, but to prognosticate years, even decades, into the future for Planet Earth. Upon these momentous outlooks, world economies would rely, living conditions would be altered, personalities would be exalted.

Climatologic products lived up to and probably even exceeded technical expectations with marvelous mathematics and three-dimensional animated graphics. But with all their deep sophistication, climatologists' ability to predict the distant future with any modicum of certainty is most likely cosmetic.

Back at the academy, as models of the physical climate continued to impress, models of education continued to digress. …