Blog 3 – The Problem of ‘Data’

Every so often, I come across an article that has me questioning the science behind everything I believe about climate change. Although not a peer reviewed scientific journal, ‘Watts Up With That’ recently published an interesting piece arguing that 92% of the data used by the U.S. Historical Climatological Network (USHCN) to graph global warming consisted of estimated values. If this is true- if the entire environmental movement was created around the fact that worldwide temperatures ‘may be’ rising- everything I’ve ever believed in is questionable.

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Both sides of the fight argue over data. Climate change deniers have specific data supporting their stance, while climate activists have their own. But as a scientist, I can’t help but wonder: isn’t data 100% subjective? This week’s discussion topic had me realize otherwise.

As environmentalists, we sometimes naïvely believe in ‘the cause’. We read published journals, study the materials that match our ideologies; but are we critical enough of the data we swear by? As paranoia sets in, I suddenly begin to cast doubt on everything I read- in every journal, in every article, everywhere.

One of this week’s essential readings deals with the idea of integrating local and scientific knowledge. It seems that while I slowly become of scientific data skeptic, my trust in local and traditional knowledge keeps on growing.

In a frantic search for insight on how indigenous knowledge is cracking the question of global warming, I come across a piece by Gleb Raygorodetsky, on the United Nations University website, debating the merits of scientific data and the need for us to better understand traditional knowledge. He goes on to state that traditional ecological knowledge holds the key to climate change.

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Nevertheless, I am and will always be a scientist. I firmly believe that knowledge is power, that data is knowledge, and that solid verified peer reviewed data is necessary to understand the limitations and boundaries of earths systems. What the scientific community needs to do is work together as a whole towards ensuring this data correlates with the message. Also, as scientists, we shouldn’t be afraid of changing our message to whatever truths we find through the gathering of new data. Techniques are evolving and methods are strengthening the way we study. The climate is changing, indigenous and scientific knowledge indicates it, it is time for us to better present it. Transparency is key.

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