Between Scientists & Citizens

another analogy explaining climategate

with one comment

Yesterday, I looked at how one analogy for the impact of climategate went astray.  Here’s another, from Randy Olson’s recent interview with Ed Begley, Jr., over at The Benshi:

Like the point Bill McKibben makes recently, what’s happening with global warming is like what happened with the O.J. case:  you have a mountain of evidence, yet they manage to get it all thrown aside through their theatrics.

Bill McKibben recently likened the “controversy” surrounding climate science to the botched O.J. Simpson trial

Climategate is nothing more than Mark Fuhrman. You have one cop that does some weird things and that’s enough to outweigh all the evidence. They had to come up with a Mark Fuhrman for the glove, because the glove had O.J.’s hair, it had Goldman’s blood, and Nicole’s blood and fiber from the bronco. If they didn’t have Mark Fuhrman, they’re screwed. Well that’s what they did with Climategate, there’s sea temperatures, air temperatures, melting glaciers, with all that’s there, they’ve got to come up with some guy in East Anglia in Britain that’s kind of wacky, and they gotta hack into his computers, and make a case as they did with O.J. That’s the point Bill McKibben made recently, if you’ve seen what he said.

Ouch!  Ed Begley, Jr. (and Bill McKibben), I don’t think this is what you want to say!

First off, it’s not nice to imply that Phil Jones is the same as a racist cop and convicted perjurer who would not verify under oath his handling of key evidence.  OK, guys?

But second, the analogy reinforces again that what’s at stake in climategate & associated IPCC troubles is not a failure of evidence, but a failure of trust.  Let’s take this judicial analogy seriously, and consider:  There are two ways a juror could go about reaching a verdict in the OJ case:

Way #1: The juror could go to the crime scene, scope it out, collect items that might be evidence, take them to the lab, test them–and  first she’d have to build the lab equipment herself, right?  Then based on everything she discovered about the evidence, she could make a decision.

In this method, there are no “media”–no one in between the juror and the evidence.  The emphasis here is on the juror’s own observations, so of course lawyerly “theatrics” would only serve to distract her from her job.

Way #2: The police could secure the scene, have their tech people collect possible evidence and take them to the lab, giving them to lab techs who use equipment built by others to test them.  Then everybody–police, police techs, lab techs–would come to the juror, and tell her what they’ve found.  Based on her review of all the testimony, she could make a decision.

In this method, much or all of the evidence is “mediated” by people (experts) who are the ones doing the observing, and who then pass on what they’ve learned through testimony.  The juror has to decide which of these witnesses to trust.  And she has to decide that based on what appears before her in the courtroom setting–i.e., based on “theatrics.”

To understand how Way #2 works, we have to figure out what kinds of visible signs expert witnesses can offer jurors that will provide jurors with good reasons to trust them.  I’ve got some ideas on that and undoubtedly will post them at some point.  (Hint:  yesterday’s notion of making very visible corrections is one of them).

But for now, let’s note that there were very visible signs of Mark Fuhrman’s untrustworthiness.  He was a racist cop with a prior intervention between Simpson and his wife;  he had had plenty of opportunities to manipulate the scene of the crime, e.g. by planting evidence. In addition,  the inexperienced police and lab techs were conspicuously incompetent.

We require a high standard of proof to take away a person’s liberty.  In the OJ case, there were plenty of reasonable doubts–plenty of reasons to distrust the witnesses.

So it’s possible to see the OJ verdict as inaccurate, but fair. Just as it’s possible to see the IPCC as accurate, but having failed to do what has to be done to earn the public’s trust on matters affecting the lives of billions of people.

Written by jeangoodwin

March 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm

One Response

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  1. Hi Jean. Finally reading through some of your blog posts. I like your analysis here.



    April 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

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