Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Unsettled Science of Climate Change

In this blog’s early days I offered my opinion on global warming and climate change.

In those days everyone was declaring with utter certainty that global warming was: “settled science.” Only the most ignorant among us would ever have doubt it. If great scientists like Tom Friedman and Al Gore said that it was true, then it had to be true.

Doubts about global warming would get you shunned from polite society.

I did not, and still do not, know enough to evaluate the scientific evidence.

I took a more philosophical approach. After all, someone had to do it.

First, I pointed out that science runs on doubt. Scientists are always revising their data, redoing their experiments, and doubting their results.

Second, I followed Ludwig Wittgenstein in pointing out that there is no such thing as a scientific fact about what is going to happen in the future. Do you believe that tomorrow’s sunrise is a scientific fact? If you do, you have misunderstood the nature of fact. Tomorrow’s sunrise is a hypothesis, awaiting confirmation.

Third, if that is true, the state of the climate a century from now is, at best, a hypothesis, at worst, a prophecy.

Fourth, when anyone insists that you accept a belief as absolutely and incontrovertibly true, to the point where you dare not question it nor even reveal flaws in its production, they are promoting a dogma, not a scientific fact.

Fifth, I am sure that I was not alone, but I was decidedly unmoved by the apocalyptic rantings of that “crazed sex poodle,” Al Gore. All you had to do was listen to the tone of his voice to know that there was something wrong with his efforts to shut down debate on: “settled science.”

As I said, I have no scientific qualifications, so my contribution to the debate was geared toward the more philosophical.

One would not say the same of Professor Emeritus of physics, Hal Lewis of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In announcing his resignation from the distinguished and venerable American Physical Society last Friday, Prof. Lewis declared that his profession had become hopeless corrupted by the “global warming scam.”

In his words: “It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.”

The full text of Lewis's letter is linked here.

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