Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Science certitude is oxymoronic

In spite of its political overtones, the commentary here is being posted as an example of the scientific divide between climate-change "true believers" who are committed to "the science is settled" stance, and skeptics who are not convinced all the science is in, and that some facts have been intentionally obscured.  Is the world hurtling toward certain doom?  Will changing human behavior change our fate?  Do we even know if, to what extent, and why climate change is occurring?  

Knowing the truth - the science of climate change - will impact the amount of government control we will have - or allow - over our private lives.  Is this control even necessary?  We had better know for certain before we lose our freedoms, and it doesn't seem that we do.  

Wall Street Journal: Commentary (Excerpts)
By John Steele Gordon.  July 31, 2015

The Unsettling, Anti-Science Certitude on Global Warming
Climate-change 'deniers' are accused of heresy by true believers.  That doesn't sound like science to me.

Are there any phrases in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal lex­i­con more ob­nox­ious than “the sci­ence is set­tled” and “climate-change de­niers”?

The first is an oxy­moron. By de­f­i­n­ition, sic­ence is never set­tled. It is al­ways sub­ject to change in the light of new ev­i­dence. The sec­ond phrase is noth­ing but an ad hominem at­tack, meant to evoke “Holo­caust de­niers,” those peo­ple who main­tain that the Nazi Holo­caust is a fic­tion, ig­nor­ing the over­whelm­ing, in­con­testable ev­idence that it is a his­tor­i­cal fact. Hillary Clin­ton’s speech about climate change on Mon­day in Des Moines, Iowa, in­cluded an at­tack on “de­niers.”

The phrases are in no way ap­plic­able to the sci­ence of Earth’s cli­mate. The cli­mate is an enor­mously com­plex sys­tem, with a very large num­ber of in­puts and out­puts, many of which we don’t fully under­stand—and some we may well not even know about yet. To note this, and to ob­serve that there is much con­tra­dic­tory ev­i­dence for as­ser­tions of a com­ing global-warm­ing cat­a­stro­phe, isn’t to “deny” any­thing; it is to state a fact. In other words, the sci­ence is un­set­tled—to say that we have it all wrapped up is it­self a form of de­nial. The es­sence of sci­en­tific in­quiry is the as­sump­tion that there is al­ways more to learn.

Sci­ence takes time, and cli­ma­tol­ogy is only about 170 years old. Con­sider some­thing as sim­ple as the ques­tion of whether the sun re­volves around the Earth or vice versa.

The Greek philoso­pher Aristarchus sug­gested a he­lio­cen­tric model of the so­lar sys­tem as early as the third cen­tury B.C. But it was Ptole­my’s geo-cen­tric model from the sec­ond century A.D. that predominated. It took un­til the mid-19th cen­tury to solve the puz­zle de­fin­i­tively.

As­sum­ing that “the sci­ence is settled” can only im­pede sci­ence. For ex­am­ple, there has never been so settled a branch of sci­ence as New­ton­ian physics. But in the 1840s, as telescopes im­proved, it was no­ticed that Mer­cury’s or­bit stub­bornly failed to be­have as New­ton­ian equa­tions said that it should.

It seems not to have oc­curred to any­one to ques­tion New­ton, so the only ex­pla­na­tion was that Mercury must be be­ing per­turbed by a planet still closer to the sun. The French math­ematician Ur­bain Le Ver­rier had tri­umphed in 1846 when he had predicted, within one de­gree, the lo­ca­tion of a planet (later named Nep­tune) that was per­turb­ing Uranus’s or­bit.

Cli­mate sci­ence to­day is a ver­i­ta­ble cor­nu­copia of unan­swered ques­tions. Why did the warm­ing trend be­tween 1978 and 1998 cease, al­though computer cli­mate mod­els pre­dict steady warm­ing? How sensi­tive is the cli­mate to in­creased car­bon-diox­ide lev­els? What feed­back mech­a­nisms are there that would in­crease or de­crease that sen­si­tiv­ity? Why did episodes of high car­bon-diox­ide lev­els in the atmosphere ear­lier in Earth’s his­tory have tem­per­a­ture lev­els both above and be­low the av­er­age?

With so many ques­tions still unan­swered, why are many cli­mate sci­en­tists, politi­cians—and the left gen­er­ally—so anx­ious to lock down the sci­ence of cli­ma­tol­ogy and engage in pro­tracted name-calling? Well, one pow­er­ful ex­pla­na­tion for the politi­cians is ob­vi­ous: self-in­terest.

If an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change is a re­al­ity, then that would be a huge prob­lem only government could deal with. It would be a heaven-sent op­por­tu­nity for the left to vastly increase govern­ment con­trol over the econ­omy and the per­sonal lives of cit­i­zens.

More­over, the re­lease of thou­sands of emails from the Uni­ver­sity of East An­glia’s Cli­mate Re­search Unit in 2009 showed cli­mate sci­en­tists con-cerned with the lack of re­cent warm-ing and how to “hide the de­cline.” The com­mu­ni­ca­tions showed that what­ever the email­ers were en­gaged in, it was not the dis­in­ter­ested pur­suit of sci­ence.

An­other batch of 5,000 emails writ-ten by top cli­mate sci­en­tists came out in 2011, dis­cussing, among other pub­lic-re­la­tions mat­ters, how to deal with skep­ti­cal ed­i­tors and how to sup­press un­fa­vor­able data. It is a mea­sure of the in­tel­lec­tual cor­rup­tion of the main­stream me­dia that this wasn’t the scan­dal of the cen­tury. But then again I for­get, “the sci­ence is set­tled.”

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