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Reblogged:Scientist Flags Institutionalized Catastrophism

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Yesterday, Patrick Brown, a climate scientist whose work recently appeared in Nature, published a bombshell article in The Free Press about what he had to stoop to to get it published there, despite its scientific merit:
I am a climate scientist. And while climate change is an important factor affecting wildfires over many parts of the world, it isn't close to the only factor that deserves our sole focus.

So why does the press focus so intently on climate change as the root cause? Perhaps for the same reasons I just did in an academic paper about wildfires in Nature, one of the world's most prestigious journals: it fits a simple storyline that rewards the person telling it.
A bit later, we learn that Brown had, earlier in his career, tried to get more complete accounts of some of his other work published, only to find himself relegated to less-prestigious journals.

The rest of the piece is a good description of how perverse incentives help distort reporting of climate science, thereby making it of less practical use and more suited to the anti-fossil fuel narrative.

For example:
Unlike your foot, information can get lost entirely or grossly mangled when one forces it to fit a narrative. (Image by Clément Bucco-Lechat, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
This type of framing, with the influence of climate change unrealistically considered in isolation, is the norm for high-profile research papers. For example, in another recent influential Nature paper, scientists calculated that the two largest climate change impacts on society are deaths related to extreme heat and damage to agriculture. However, the authors never mention that climate change is not the dominant driver for either one of these impacts: heat-related deaths have been declining, and crop yields have been increasing for decades despite climate change. To acknowledge this would imply that the world has succeeded in some areas despite climate change -- which, the thinking goes, would undermine the motivation for emissions reductions.

This leads to a second unspoken rule in writing a successful climate paper. The authors should ignore -- or at least downplay -- practical actions that can counter the impact of climate change. If deaths due to extreme heat are decreasing and crop yields are increasing, then it stands to reason that we can overcome some major negative effects of climate change. Shouldn't we then study how we have been able to achieve success so that we can facilitate more of it? Of course we should. But studying solutions rather than focusing on problems is simply not going to rouse the public -- or the press. Besides, many mainstream climate scientists tend to view the whole prospect of, say, using technology to adapt to climate change as wrongheaded; addressing emissions is the right approach. So the savvy researcher knows to stay away from practical solutions. [italics and links in original, bold added]
We thus have a scandalous, blow-by-blow account of how an important part of what energy expert Alex Epstein calls the knowledge system systematically distorts scientific information even at the earliest stages of transmission.

All that is missing is a deeper explanation -- which Epstein indicates elsewhere, "Experts who are on the standard of 'lack of human impact' are unconcerned with the benefits of fossil fuels, including the climate mastery benefits."

The powers that be at Nature and similar publications hold the wrong standard when evaluating what climate science results to publish.

This last point indirectly comes up several times in Brown's piece, although it remains obvious that the kind of narrative scientists are having to shoehorn their work into is compromising how well it is understood and used.

In addition to having made so many aware of what is going on, Brown deserves credit for the following call for culture change:
The media, for instance, should stop accepting these papers at face value and do some digging on what's been left out. The editors of the prominent journals need to expand beyond a narrow focus that pushes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And the researchers themselves need to start standing up to editors, or find other places to publish.
I am glad for Brown's sake he has already left academia. His uphill battle will not be easy, but there is some hope he can carry it on and that it will be a bearable burden.

-- CAV

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