Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The (para)psychology of climate change research

Jerry Stratton, November 27, 2009

In Ghostbusters, there were four types of researchers associated with parapsychology research: the complete fakes using it for personal gain (Peter Venkman), the inordinately gullible who believe anything (Ray Stantz), the completely incomprehensible theorizers (Egon Spengler) and the evilly hostile denier (Dean Yager). As badly as he was portrayed in the movie, Dean Yager was right: Venkman was faking his research, Stantz believed anything that came their way, and Spengler wasted university money building insane devices that would never work. If it hadn’t been a movie, Venkman would have gone on to write pop-psychology books, Stantz would have gone on to some menial job and wasted every paycheck chasing psychic rainbows, and Spengler’s devices would have gone deep into the pigeon-dance of insanity.

A long, long time ago, when such things still existed, a friend of mine took a parapsychology class at one of the California universities here in San Diego. The introduction to her textbook told the reader to take care when studying psychics. Some of them believe so strongly in psychic ability that they will fake their test results to help you believe psychic ability exists. Don’t hold it against them, their heart is in the right place, and they get so frustrated that psychic ability is harder to show in a laboratory setting.

Seriously. Discover that one of your “psychic” test subjects is cheating? That isn’t evidence that they’re a fraud. It’s evidence that they really are psychic. They believe so strongly in the cause that they’re willing to risk their reputations to prove psychic powers exist. By faking psychic powers.

I can’t help but remember that reading through the leaked e-mails—and especially the leaked software—in Climategate. The whole idea of leaked software in a field as important as global warming research is nuts. There should have been no reason to leak it: this software should have been made public as soon as any research that used it was published. No useful software is bug-free. Even if the researchers were completely unbiased and honest, minor bugs could have been misleading them. They still should have made their software models and their software available for testing.

Talking about faking results is not “an understandable defensiveness”. And when their data doesn’t match reality, they don’t need to come up with “a” reason, they need to come up with the reason. Something that’s testable, verifiable, and able to withstand public scrutiny.

If we spend trillions and destroy economies only to discover we wasted our effort trying to solve the wrong problem, it isn’t going to matter that the dishonesty was “understandable”.

  1. <- Taxes of the devil
  2. Coal in their stockings ->