Monday, July 18, 2011

CERN boss: I forbade employees to interpret our climate experiment

Political pressure on scientific research even at CERN began to resemble the undemocratic regimes of the past

Veteran science journalist Nigel Calder has found an incredible interview with Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the boss of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in "Die Welt" (see also The Register, Ace Mu Nu, dozens of blogs):
Wie "Illuminati" den Cern-Forschern geholfen hat (German)

How did "Angels" helped the CERN researchers (autom. transl.)
Heuer is also asked about the CLOUD experiment (TRF) that will release its results on its simulation of the formation of clouds by the cosmic rays momentarily.

Galactic elementary particles - cosmic rays (the left picture is our Galaxy) - may help to produce the condensation seeds of water droplets and therefore clouds in the atmosphere (the right picture), much like in the case of the lines left by an ionizing particle in a cloud chamber (middle picture). A more active Sun - which is what we observed in recent decades - may also help to magnetically shield the Earth from the cosmic rays. A smaller number of cosmic rays could mean a lower cloud cover and therefore higher temperatures.

His answer contains these shocking sentences:
I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them. That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.
In reality, the relevance of the experiment for the fashionable debate about the "global climate change" is the only sensible justification of the investment of 9+ million euros by CERN whose job is something completely different than atmospheric science. CERN is Europe's - and arguably world's - top place to study elementary particles and is primarily running the LHC collider.

One could perhaps understand if all scientists were similarly gagged and prevented from interpreting the results of their research in ways that could be relevant for policymaking. However, the main problem is that many people who are trying to work on very different phenomena in the climate are not prevented from interpreting - and indeed, overinterpreting and misinterpreting - their results that are often less serious, less reliable, and less rigorous, perhaps by orders of magnitude, than the observations by the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Moreover, this sentence by Heuer
One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.
is really a proof of his prejudice. Whether the cosmic radiation is just one player or the only relevant player or an important player or an unimportant player is something that this very research has been supposed to determine or help to determine. An official doesn't have the moral right to predetermine in advance what "one has to make clear" about these a priori unknown scientific results.

I urge Dr Kirkby to ignore the shameful interventions into his scientific work and the bullying by his boss. But even if Dr Kirkby turned out to be an obedient puppet, I assure you that the people who are more relevant are undoubtedly going to think about the experiments and its broader implications because this experiment wasn't designed and paid by the European taxpayers including myself with the purpose to instantly throw the results to the trash bin.

As I have repeatedly emphasized, the CLOUD lab experiments are just the first step in the project to figure out whether the cosmic rays are actually relevant for the climate and how much. Further interpretations are critically important and they may make the lab experiments more important or less important. Many things remain unknown which is why interpretations - a further research of the consequences - have to be studied.

139 muons penetrate through your body each second.

And if the experiment and its subsequent interpretations happened to confirm the "cosmoclimatology" theory by Henrik Svensmark, which has had nothing to do with politics when published, by the way, Mr Heuer has no moral right to try to prevent Henrik Svensmark from enjoying all the credit that he would deserve in that case - credit for contributions to science that would exceed Mr Heuer's own contributions to science by orders of magnitude.

In reality, it is almost certainly true that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters. But so are water vapor and carbon dioxide and aerosols and oscillations of the ocean; except that in the case of the second item on the list, scientists are being similarly prevented from saying that this chemical compound is just one among many drivers.

I am pretty much sure that Mr Heuer has heard about some people who are claiming that CO2 is important in the climate and he must know that they're allowed - and, indeed, encouraged - to "interpret" those wild speculations that are, relatively to the CLOUD experiment, supported by nothing. But he still finds it appropriate to suppress the broader findings that may follow from the research done by his very lab. This is an utterly dishonest behavior reminding us of science in the 20th century totalitarian societies and Mr Heuer should be ashamed.

Much of Feynman's famous "Cargo Cult Science" commencement speech is dedicated exactly to these questions but let me quote this portion:
One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish BOTH kinds of results.

I say that's also important in giving certain types of government advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it would be better in some other state. If you don't publish such a result, it seems to me you're not giving scientific advice. You're being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don't publish at all. That's not giving scientific advice. [...]

So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.
I think it is totally obvious what "results of a certain kind" that are being published mean in the particular issue of the "global climate change". On behalf of the European taxpayers, I authoritatively urge Mr Heuer to retract his outrageous "ban" and to apologize for it. Indeed, such speech codes - that Mr Heuer has been so candid about - are among the top reasons why the scientists ceased to be trustworthy in recent years and it is unacceptable for this violation of the scientific integrity to propagate to particle physics.

And that's the memo.

Kirkby, you mustn't say what these experiments mean for the climate change.

If you agree with me that scientists behind the CLOUD experiment shouldn't be selectively prevented by a bureaucrat from interpreting their research and determining its implications for other questions in science, please send an e-mail complaint to the chief of CERN or his superiors.


  1. Dear Luboš,

    I was impressed by your analysis in this case. I fully agree with your conclusions belonging to the instructions of Rolf-Dieter Heuer.

    I therefore have translated essential parts of your article into German and have published it on my own blog:

    I'm no scientist but only a blogger, affected by the political implications of climate change.

    with best regards,

  2. 100 % agreement to your analysis - thanks for posting it !

  3. Thank you for your article! One comment... I'm pretty sure that it's the earth's magnetic field that regulates the penetration of those cosmic rays. And our magnetic field has decayed nearly 15% over the last 100 years. This is widely known, yet completely ignored by the alarmist community. The only force protecting the earth from the solar wind (cosmic rays) has decayed by 15% and yet that has nothing to do with the extremely mild fluctuation of our temperature? Please!