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Building Climate Change Consensus:
Mann Vs McIntyre, For Example

By Bill Henderson

13 November, 2010

So from the response to my previous essays I'm guessing I'm confusing most of you about how a science-process, controlled-access climate change wiki would work. I was too busy trying to get you to see the incredible synergies possible in transferring the peer review and publication part of the scientific process from print to the net.

Especially transparency: how moving to the net sets up a competition that should tear the blinders off of denial so as to make climate change denial - both flatearth and society wide - less tenable than say claiming Nolan Ryan's Rangers won the World Series, untenable in any rational discourse.

So this essay is about how such a wiki would work. Hopefully, my description will be both interesting technically and falsifyable.

And this description of how it works should better illustrate the  benefits of the new medium for speeding up and keyword focusing of the science process on a very complex, multi-faceted subject. Just as digital tech innovating of board games like Scrabble and watching movies online opens up new possibilities, there are dimensions of the peer review publication process that can now be exploited on the net as a climate change gamechanger.

Don't take me too literally but envision a war with many fronts and many key strategic areas on these fronts. Skirmishes would evolve into battles, broad fronts and then winning stable positions.

The battle I hope for would be a team putting together their state-of-the-art description of climate change, submitting and then defending this position as premier wiki page on climate change against myriad challenges, defeating or incorporating challenges, or being proved off the island completely.

When the dust clears anyone in the world could access a page with a universally accepted description of climate change: cause and effect with uncertainty and risk of the spectrum of  predicted dangers for future generations skillfully quantified.

But just for fun let's imagine a small beginning skirmish on the hockey stick front: What is the science out there correlating increasing greenhouse gases with rising global temperatures? And how would moving to the net speed up and focus the scientific competition winnowing out the uncompetitive and leading to science improving our understanding of this correlation? (Or the lack of correlation or problems in need of further exploration.)

Begin, for example, with a paper say by Mann on 'Reconstructed estimates of the temperature record of the past 1000 years'. Many informing responses result; one, for example, by McIntyre et al. points out statistical errors.  All (scientifically formatted or falsifyable) papers are posted but either Mann or McIntyre's stays up as definitive page (or with the present definitive page containing indicated correction) with reasons why explicitly stated by the referring entity on a page that Mann or McIntyre or anybody else can contest, falsifyable science being the criteria.

This transparency in the acceptance, criticism and ranking of competing hypothesizes is the key emerging benefit form moving from print to net.

Many iterations of input and correction would whittle down to best state-of-art  science (with a residue of a full list of contested explanations and why they lost). The result of this skirmish would be definitive consensus upon the temperature record - not an absolute, but definitive consensus with the full reasoning process transparent for all to see at one spot, the second major benefit of switching from print to net.

You or I couldn't referee but AAAS, NAS or the Royal Society (in a process much like Newton reading his latest science to them) could - but the referring would have to be completely fair because their reasoning would be up there for all now and in the future to critique. (A digital tech leader like Google or Microsoft could also get the ball rolling by supporting this innovation for evidence based decision making and/or by prototyping the architecture of transfer to the net.)

Shouldn't be too big a money or time consuming process and if it worked well and was adapted to decision making everywhere such easily accessed definitive science could turbocharge democracy with a much better informed public.

Of course there could be challenges ad infinitum but, with the exception of presently unexplored or difficult areas of climate change science, I think it would settle out quickly into the 'present consensus' (what ever that will prove to be) while always being open to new, possible outlier/Einstein, successful overturning. This innovation promises a much more robust consensus on what we know from the present science so that we can move on to focusing upon whether there might be an immediate emergency -tipping point to runaway warming - danger and sorting out Trenberth uncertainties about how GHG caused warming will play out.

Blogging experts in the particular battle areas would help the public follow the competition, commenting on the individual battles and alerting the public to the importance of small victories in establishing fronts until the 'present consensus' is established.

Right now climate change is defined on TV. It's the worst of worlds with publics confused by predictions of catastrophe alternating with talking heads sowing ignorance about cause and effect. Anybody - those with money have greatly enhanced access to mainstream media - can say whatever they want about climate change (or about the reasons for recession, for another example) and there is no competition or evidence based decision making.

Our civilization today has the technological power to possibly degrade the biosphere basis for humanity's continuing existence. Like an adolescent learning to live in our complex world today, we must recognize that in learning to drive, for example, we could be candidates for a Darwin Award if we don't mature and have the foresight to recognize danger and change our behaviour accordingly. We need to rapidly increase our capacity for foresight and self-management. Presently our governance is short term self-interest and that is just not good enough considering the possible consequences of our actions for future generations.

Climate change is but one of the global scale 'Bottleneck' problems threatening our continuing evolution. A science-process, controlled-access wiki could be a key tool in looking down the road, quantifying dangers, and acting with due diligence to future generations .

Bill (at) pacificfringe.net