Friday, October 26, 2007

The Climate Consensus, Part I: Irrelevance [UPDATED]

Claim: The majority of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles about Global Climate Change explicitly accept the "consensus" view, that the earth has been warming at an unnaturally rapid pace, that human activity is a significant contributor to this, and that it will have devastating effects on mankind and the environment if not stopped.

Status: Irrelevant (but false).

Origin: The first empirical evidence in support of a unanimous consensus on the major claims of Global Warming is discussed in Part II of this discussion. But it's propagated by the general public, as well as many Global Warming theorists themselves.

In a comment at the bottom of the above linked article, a Global Warming theorist named Eric himself says
...I would emphasize the general point that it is important to separate the question of the existence of a consensus from the question of the correctness of that consensus...
Then why do Global Warming theorists continually bring up the "consensus"? The scientific consensus used to be that the world was flat until the correctness of that consensus was challenged. Plate Tectonics and the Continental Drift theory were revolutionary at the time they were proposed. Darwin's theory of the origin of species by the means of Natural Selection rebutted the general scientific consensus of Spontaneous Generation at the time. Ptolemaic Astronomy was supplanted by Copernican Astronomy, as Newtonian Gravity was by Einsteinian Relativity. Somehow it turned out that Euclid was wrong.

We should be about examining the correctness of each scientific consensus. This is exactly what scientists do, and they love it when they're proved wrong, because their lives are committed to the evidence and they go where it leads.

I will answer my own question: The reason people keep citing the "consensus" is because the majority of people trust that the scientific zeitgeist is basically trustworthy.

And that's pretty much as it should be.

I don't expect every man to be a scientist for a living. Division of labor and specialization build efficient societies.

But the trust of the general public is easy to exploit, whether intentionally. Scientists aren't always unbiased. Politicians are rarely unbiased. Logically possible explanations of data sets aren't all always thoroughly analyzed. Findings aren't always presented in a straightforward manner. And overarching paradigms often govern research unchecked for years, decades, or sometimes centuries before being overturned. And that's just how life and science go.

I am not trying to cast doubt on the scientific method. Absolutely nothing could be any further from the truth. It's just the opposite:

Science is about testing hypotheses and eventually tentatively accepting a theory as an explanation and description of a wide class of phenomena and using it to make falsifiable predictions about the future. But, as one of 20th century's greatest astrophysicists, Stephen Hawking says
...any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation which disagrees with the predictions of the theory...

- Stephen Hawing, A Brief History of Time
It's perfectly acceptable to basically trust the overarching scientific paradigm of the day. But we should never, ever, censor the revolutionaries.

Revolution is built-in to the very heart of science.

It's helpful to investigate highly politicized and lucrative issues such as Global Warming.

Like smoking:
THE largest ever cardiology study has failed to find a link between heart attacks and the classic risk factors, such as smoking...

- Aisling Irwin, Science Correspondent, Study casts doubt on heart 'risk factors'
Of course smoking damages your health. Everyone knows that.

And yet, this 501(c)3 organization, to whom your donations are tax deductible, is committed to unbiased scientific research:
...FORCES is an organization in support of scientific integrity and the use of appropriate scientific methodology in the science which is claimed to be at the foundation of public policy.
But there is a reason why this organization exists:
FORCES International is an organisation in support of... the defence of those who expect... to smoke, eat, drink and, in general, to enjoy personal lifestyle choices without restrictions and state interference.

- FORCES International, Who We Are
Everybody has an agenda.

Our Global Warming theorist Eric goes on in his comment to say:
Those who wish to argue the consensus is wrong would do better to find convincing ways to disprove the consensus view (which will be very hard to do, but we will all praise you as a great scientist if you succeed), rather than fruitless attempts to disprove the existence of the consensus itself (which will be impossible).
And I agree. But the reverse holds true as well. Those who wish to argue the "consensus" is correct would do better to demonstrate that the "consensus" is in fact correct, rather than repeatedly insisting that it exists.

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