May 11, 2005

Global Warming Sham
#2 The Siren Call of Popular Consensus-Science

Here's the long-delayed Part 2 of the Global Warming Sham series. Part 3 will be posted in a few minutes, and shortly thereafter all 3 parts will be published to the site.

Karl Popper contributed greatly to philosophy and science with the theory of falsification. For any theory or hypothesis to be of any value, there must exist some piece of evidence that could prove it false. If it cannot be proven false then your theory is not providing any useful new information or insight. This is in contrast to the idea of consensus-based science, wherein the preponderance of scientists' opinion is all that's required to show something is both right and valuable.

Michael Crichton (link) gave a very interesting and compelling speech about the pitfalls and shortcomings of consensus science. He got into this in the end of his latest book State of Fear (which, by the way, was a great and easy read despite being something like 500 pages). I highly recommend reading the entirety of the linked speech. He offers some great arguments and examples to illustrate his point.

All I want to do is point out the real problem with 'climate change' arguments in the main. The problem is revealed immediately by the term 'climate change.' It's a BS term. Everybody knows it was formerly called global warming, but after a few seasons of extra-cold weather and a global warming conference attended by Al Gore during a record-breaking cold spell, it was simpler and simpler to make it about ANY change in climate. In this way, environmental alarmists can claim any extreme weather incident - record highs, record lows, glaciers melting, glaciers advancing, and more or fewer: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, deforestation, etc. That is the ultimate point: if you devalue the terminology then you can claim anything proves your point.

A good scientist should be able to do his hypothesis, research, studies and tests and then predict whether, under his proposed theory, the temperature should have risen or fallen (and by approximately how much). Obviously climate is a huge issue with an inordinate amount of facts to be collected and a wealth of factors with under-explained relations and that makes it hard to predict if the average temperature will drop by 0.5 degrees Celsius or rise by .75 degrees Celsius. But if the test is so unreliable that reproducible results and defensible theories elude us, then obviously the entire concept of climate change comes into question.

To drive home the point, here's a simulated debate. I'm not trying to show a good debate or a typical debate, only the obvious problems with non-falsifiable theories.

environmentalist: There's a catastrophic, looming problem with the climate.
scientist: How do you know?
environmentalist: Because temperatures are up and glaciers are receding. Soon the ice caps will melt and bring on catastrophe.
scientist: What if I offer this good evidence that temperatures are dropping and glaciers are advancing?
environmentalist: Pollution is throwing soot and particles into the air that block the sun's rays. Soon the world will be bitterly cold, farmland will be inhospitable, thus bringing on catastrophe.
scientist: So both heating and cooling are problems concurrently? Which is it, too hot or too cold?
environmentalist: The consensus of scientists is that climate change is a problem.
scientist: Climate change? Too much heat or not enough? How does a consensus matter if you can't even pick one of two mutually exclusive trends?
environmentalist: You're just a reactionary stooge of industry. Oppressor.

Now, do I think this is a typical argument? Not likely. Do I find it mildly amusing? Yes. Mostly I offer it only because it is simply a farce to believe that a non-falsifiable theory can pass for useful, credible science. Although you will probably not see a conversation quite like this (since environemtnalists are prone to using rhetoric, facts or emotions before getting cornered) it is appropriate to concoct this dialogue to show the fallacious theory of 'cimate change.'

Either the planet is getting hotter or the planet is getting colder.

'Global Warming' should not mutate into 'Climate Change' so that literally any fluctuation in weather and climate patterns can be claimed as a portend of a larger issue. That's absurd. A good theory needs to have a way to disprove it, otherwise it's either fraudluent or irrelevant.

The reason why there's no need to have good science backing this up is because it's an easy sell on a few points – mostly on people’s feelings toward and on bandwagon pressure.

Liking nature is an emotional thing, one most people share to one degree or another. Nature can be visually appealing, emtoionally stirring, nostalgic and rugged, promising and hopeful, or just plain fun to look at. Although I happen to love the nature shots in animal documentaries and I love good landscape wide-angle shots, I'm not so blind as to not realize that this is an emotion. It's enjoying something for itself, enjoying it inherently as a good - the way some people like books or Chinese food or old films or religious worship. People tend to like nature (even if we don't enjoy the bugs, the humidity, the heat, the cold or the slimy, gooey wet stuff that comes with it) and so we're pre-disposed to arguments aimed at its protection.

But are we going to coerce activities, restrict investments and spend millions or billions because nature is nice to look at? I doubt it. That's no more sensible than forcing the protection of good books, Humphrey Bogart films, Chinese cuisine, vintage hot-rods or any of the other subjective tastes people enjoy. Just because a lot of people like nature doesn't mean it deserves special treatment, or that it should be valued above people's rights and employment opportunities.

The bandwagon problem reveals much of the environmental movement to ultimately be a sort of culture war. Those who doubt or criticize climate change excessively are cast as morons, mercantilists or paid shills. Those who believe are right-thinking, intelligent and considerate. That’s an extreme form of consensus-science, and that’s where many environmentalists are headed. The problem in running scientific theories as self-evident signals of the intelligence or stupidity of a person is that science is never written in stone. Theories are revised, scrapped or altered to match with the truth. They do not conform to cultural or social expectations. Theories are supposed to reflect the way things are; we’re not supposed to conform to theories.

By using consensus-science to bash opponents as liars, crooks and idiots, some environmentalists are ruining the very idea of truth in science. Theories are not infallible. Global Warming theory is not the climatological version of the Pope. It can be wrong, and in fact everyone should try to prove it wrong. By attempting to build a special social barrier around climate change science, environmentalists are removing the elements of science from it.

Science and logic must include processes that obey the rules of falsifiability. All theories that want to be taken seriously should be submitted for review, observation, criticism and so forth. In this way, it becomes more obvious whether the theory can stand up in the face of facts. It might take a while and it might be unfairly disbelieved because of social conventions, but ultimately science prevails in the light of open discussion.

Consensus-science defeats the machinery of scientific discovery when it abuses all who dare criticize a proposal. It makes no difference to the environmentalists lobbies, however, who are infinitely more concerned with political and societal effects than with the science they pretend to advance.

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