Good scientists are special people. They have the ability and the willingness to look at facts objectively and change their opinions, even when there are financial and reputation penalties for doing so. Elizabeth Muller is executive director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project which she founded with her father, Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. The Mullers got funding for the largest study to date on global warming from sources such as the billionaire Koch brothers, very aggressive climate-change deniers, funding that was easier because the Mullers themselves were climate change skeptics as well as distinguished scientists.
The massive study didn’t come out as the Koch brothers hoped. Starting with 1753 data, the study’s analysis of 1.6 million temperature readings from 36,000 temperature stations around the world showed that average world land temperatures had increased 0.9 degrees C in the past 50 years, and that the rate of warming was increasing. The Mullers were surprised and massaged their data and tentative conclusions for two years, but eventually released the full results of their study. See Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer’s post “Healthy Skepticism on Climate.” No more Koch money for the Mullers.
Ms. Muller itemized a series of issues she and her father had believed cast doubt on other scientists’ statements that the Earth was getting warmer, and that human activities were the primary cause or “forcer.” They did the massive study, and the data gave results that were “virtually identical to that of previous groups,” according to Ms. Muller’s interview published in the August 5, 2012, Dallas Morning News. Ms. Muller added that “For me, personally, I am now convinced that essentially all of the global warming of the past 250 years is due to humans.” For Dallas-Fort Worth, Ms. Muller said that for the entire period from 1810 to the present, temperature had been increasing at the rate of 0.59 degrees Centigrade per century, but that from 1990 to the present, the rate had accelerated to 3.69 degrees per century.
The contrast between the Mullers’ looking objectively at evidence, and then changing their opinions, and what we see in American politicians whose set positions are impervious to facts and rational argument is sad. Continuing to defend a viewpoint despite whatever tsunami of facts comes along is a recipe for political gridlock, which we are now seeing in Washington on climate change, federal government solvency, and other issues.