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Clouding the debate

"Clouding the debate" Continued...

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Yet another motive, Spencer believes, is religious conviction: "I find that virtually all scientists that work in earth science or in climate research have the impression that the climate system is fragile, that it's delicately balanced. This is a belief that has no scientific basis. In fact, 'delicate' doesn't mean anything scientifically. Yet those beliefs on the part of a research scientist can alter the direction that they go."

Even so, the meteorologist-turned-climatologist acknowledges that his own evangelical beliefs have predisposed him to follow an opposite path. "An advantage of having a biblical basis for the way I look at nature is that I consider the possibility that nature is actually pretty resilient," he said. "So when scientists had found what they thought were positive cloud feedbacks in the climate system, which would mean that the climate system is very sensitive, I questioned their assumptions, and I went back and looked at the details, and found that when you dig deeper, the truth is actually in the opposite direction to what they found."

Spencer continues to pursue that truth by sifting through technical data-right now he's investigating how much of 20th-century warming could be due to regional weather oscillations. But one hurdle for scientists like him is funding: "Out of the billions of dollars we put into climate change research, all of it goes into supporting the view that climate change is man-made, or assumes that climate change is man-made." All of Spencer's research grants have come from traditional government sources (not Exxon Mobil, as his detractors seem to believe), but his contracts are written in general enough terms to allow him to study natural methods of climate change.

Even after scientists like Spencer do research, it's another matter to publish it in mainstream science journals, where gatekeepers are sometimes unfriendly to alternative views on warming. "We've had a lot of peer reviewers over the years who have wanted to reject our papers when it was clear they did not even read the papers," he said. Once a reviewer didn't like his paper because it conflicted with the conclusions of the IPCC: "Even though I had been asked to write a paper looking at the other side of the issue-the view that the IPCC could be wrong-one of the reviewers of the paper said that I needed to change the paper to align it with the IPCC." Peer review is prone to bias, said Spencer, but it's the best system we have for now. "Scientists ignore what I do," he muses, which is often better than attacking it. And Spencer plans to continue propounding his unconventional global warming ideas-and research-to whoever will listen.
Email Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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