Short Circuiting The Scientific Process – A Serious Problem In The Climate Science Community

There has been a development over the last 10-15 years or so in the scientific peer reviewed literature that is short circuiting the scientific method.

The scientific method involves developing a hypothesis and then seeking to refute it. If all attempts to discredit the hypothesis fails, we start to accept the proposed theory as being an accurate description of how the real world works.

A useful summary of the scientific method is given on the website they list six steps

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

Unfortunately, in recent years papers have been published in the peer reviewed literature that fail to follow these proper steps of scientific investigation. These papers are short circuiting the scientific method.

Specifically, papers that present predictions of the climate decades into the future have proliferated. Just a two recent examples (and there are many others) are

Hu, A., G. A. Meehl, W. Han, and J. Yin (2009), Transient response of the MOC and climate to potential melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet in the 21st century, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L10707, doi:10.1029/2009GL037998.

Solomon, S. 2009: Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print January 28, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812721106

Such studies are even reported in the media before the peer reviewed process is completed; e.g. see in the article by Hannad Hoag in the May 27 2009 issue of Nature News Hot times ahead for the Wild West.

These studies are based on models, of which only a portion of which represent basic physics (e.g. the pressure gradient force, advection and the universal gravitational constant), with the remainder of the physics parameterized with tuned engineering code (e.g see).

When I served as Chief Editor of the Monthly Weather Reviews (1981-1985), The Co-Chief Editor of the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences (1996-2000), and as Editor-in-Chief of the US National Science Report to the IUGG  for the American Geophysical Union (1993-1996), such papers would never have been accepted.

What the current publication process has evolved into, at the detriment of proper scientific investigation, are the publication of untested (and often untestable) hypotheses.  The fourth step in the scientific method “Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment” is bypassed.

This is a main reason that the policy community is being significantly misinformed about the actual status of our understanding of the climate system and the role of humans within it.

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