Friday, September 9, 2011

What's Love Got To Do With AGW?

Sissy Willis points to a very important paper published in Nature. I haven't seen it yet, but I will (Nature papers are behind a pay wall).  Breitbart News is on the case.  Don't expect the MSM to pick this up anytime soon. In a nutshell, the paper contributes the news that CO2 is a minor contributor to AGW, i.e., there are multiple hypotheses to explain earth's increasing temperatures. The real news here is the venue of publication, the venerable Nature.  Will America's leading scientific journal, Science, also allow dissent? If both mainstream science publications pick this up, then perhaps there finally can be a grown up discussion on "what to do" about warming if anything. Meanwhile, I applaud Nature for publishing this. Scientific integrity ultimately depends on such decisions.

As for my title, a recent unrelated turn of events led me to an astonishingly prescient paper by T.C. Chamberlin published in 1897. Chamberlin was president of the University of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1892 (there is a building named after him there, IIRC). Chamberlin wrote a highly influential paper called The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses which I reproduce in part below. The snippet is lengthy (but rich) and offers almost a psychological analysis of how good science can fail:
Love was long since represented as blind, and what is true in the personal realm is measurably true in the intellectual realm. Important as the intellectual affections are as stimuli and as rewards, they are nervertheless dangerous factors, which menace the integrity of the intellectual processes. The moment one has offered an original explanation for a phenomenon which seems satisfactory, that moment affection for his intellectual child springs into existence; and as the explanation grows into a definite theory his parental affections cluster about his intellectual offspring and it grows more and more dear to him, so that, while he holds it seemingly tentative, it is still lovingly tentative, and not impartially tentative. So soon as this parental affection takes possession of the mind, there is the rapid passage to the adoption of theory. There is an unconscious selection and magnifying of the phenomenon that fall into harmony with theory and support it, and an unconscious neglect of those that fail of coincidence. The mind lingers with pleasure upon the facts that fall happily into the embrace of the theory, and feels a natural coldness toward those that seem refractory. Instinctively there is a special searching-out phenomenon that support it, for the mind is led by desires. There springs up, also, an unconscious pressing of the theory to make it fit the facts and a pressing of the facts to make them fit the theory. When these biasing tendencies set in, the mind rapidly degenerates into the partiality of paternalism. The search for facts, the observation of phenomena and their interpretation are all dominated by affection for a favored theory until it appears to its author or its advocate to have been overwhelmingly established. The theory then rapidly rises to the ruling position, and investigations, observation, and interpretation are controlled and directed by it. From unduly favored child, it readily becomes master, and leads its author whithersoever it will. The subsequent history of that mind in respect to that theme is but the progressive dominance of a ruling idea.
Briefly summed up, the evolution is this: a premature explanation passes into tentative theory, then into an adopted theory, and then into ruling theory. 
~ T.C. Chamberlin, The Journal of Geology, 1897, 5: 837-848.  Link.

Related thoughts here


  1. Jewett makes the crucial point in the "Related thoughts" link:

    Peer-review of research can help avoid these mistakes, so long as the reviewers are not in the thrall of the same hypothesis. But if there is a shared enthrallment among the reviewers in a commonly believed hypothesis, then innovation becomes difficult because alternative hypotheses are not seriously considered, and sometimes not even permitted.

  2. I think you have summed the problem, packaged it and tied a bow on top of it.