Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Midnight Train to the Middle Ages

[I'm bumping this back up to the top because of the worldwide interest it has received and because of Dr. Judy Curry's contribution to the conversation I have added at the end.]




Once we board the train of climate science, there is no alternative to taking it wherever it may go.
---- Dr. Gary Gutting, New York Times, July 12, 2011

I genuinely dislike writing so often about 'global warming.' It is a topic that has caused much dissention and distraction in meteorology from where we should focusing (i.e., more accurate forecasts and warnings and better ways to use both to save lives and dollars). It also distracts us from more urgent and solvable environmental problems.

However, as a genuine atmospheric scientist, I feel an obligation to speak out when I read something that is terribly wrong (and, especially, if it comes from an authoritative source).

One of those were called to my attention in yesterday's New York Times. In a piece called, "On Experts and Global Warming," by philosopher (not scientist) Gary Gutting. Below is his area of expertise from his online resume:

The single best course I took in my education at the University of Oklahoma was called "history of science" and it explained, in detail, the "scientific method." Briefly, in order to be "science," an idea must follow the following process,

  1. A person has a new idea about how something works and does some preliminary investigation. It seems to hold up and seems worth pursuing. This is called a hypothesis.
  2. The person (it doesn't matter if the person is a scientist, what matters is the process in this case) does some experimentation and the hypothesis holds up. 
  3. The person publishes the hypothesis so it can be reviewed by all interested parties. Other parties must be able replicate the experimental results.
  4. If the hypothesis passes muster (i.e., the results are accurate and reproducible) then it becomes a scientific theory. 
  5. A theory is considered to be "science" until someone can show it does not work in the real world. For example, primitive telescopes seemed to show the sun rotated around the earth. When new data showed otherwise, the theory of an earth-centric universe was discarded. 
Note there is no place in the scientific method for "consensus." Science is what can be demonstrated in the real world, nothing more and nothing less. Opinions matter in many areas of human endeavor, but they are not "science."


So, one would think a philosopher of science would be passionate on the subject of demanding reproducible evidence and adherence to the scientific method. Unfortunately, Dr. Gutting's piece is the exact opposite, the following are quotations:

To answer this question, we need to reflect on the logic of appeals to the authority of experts.  First of all, such appeals require a decision about who the experts on a given topic are.  Until there is agreement about this, expert opinion can have no persuasive role in our discussions.  Another requirement is that there be a consensus among the experts about points relevant to our discussion...


Finally, given a consensus on a claim among recognized experts, we nonexperts have no basis for rejecting the truth of the claim...


There is, moreover, no denying that there is a strong consensus among climate scientists on the existence of A.G.W. — in their view, human activities are warming the planet...

He uses the term "consensus" seven more times in the article but the above is enough to give you the idea. To Dr. Gutting, the mere fact that a "consensus" exists is conclusive! This isn't science, it is anti-science.

There was a consensus in science (and religion) that the earth was the center of the universe when Galileo argued the sun was the center of the solar system.

Much more recently, the consensus in medicine (for 100 years) was that ulcers were caused by stress and spicy food. In 1982, two Australian researchers hypothesized that a bacterium caused ulcers, but their work was poorly received by the "consensus" in medicine. So, one of the scientists, Barry Marshall, ingested bacteria harvested from a patient. Five days later, he developed an ulcer. The experiment was published in an Australian medical journal.

Finally, in 1997, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control started an education program that ulcers could be cured by antibiotics. In 2005, Marshall and his colleague, Robin Warren, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

You'll note on this blog that I frequently cite data that anyone can confirm (examples here, here, here and here  just to name a few) for themselves. That is scientific.

I compare the measurements of atmospheric temperatures (for example) against the forecasts issued by the "experts" of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, the "consensus"). Comparing the hypothesis to measurements is science. [If you are new to the blog, the IPCC's forecasts, when compared to measurements, are doing poorly.] I certainly invite people to check my work against the data and point out any errors I have made. That, too, is scientific.

But, Dr. Gutting's faith in global warming consensus isn't science, it is anti-science. If others board the "train" mentioned in Dr. Gutting's article, it will take them right back to the Middle Ages.

--- end original post ---


Judy Curry has a tremendous posting which incorporates a paper by Dr. Jean Goodwin on the subject of "manufacturing" consensus which is what the IPCC has done. I urge you to read it. 

After reading these, any fair-minded person will realize the IPCC's "consensus" is phony science. I have two comments:

  • It is time to go back to square one. Disband the IPCC. Create a new group equally comprised of leading scientists in the field regardless of their political views and their views, to date, regarding global warming.
  • Reduce the inordinate amount of money going to 'global warming' and start solving some of the very solvable environmental problems we face
Thanks, Judy for a great post.  

3 comments:

  1. This is the clearest, most readable and truthful presentation I've seen about the scientific method and why "consensus" science is not science at all. Thank You!

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  2. Great post, Mike. Looks like AGW is somewhere between #2 and #3 in the scientific method? If I understand correctly, the predictions of the computer models have not been supported by real world data. And the code for these computer models making these predictions have not been widely shared?

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  3. Correct on both counts: The models have not fared well against actual data and the code for the models (in some cases) is not widely shared. This is even true of models built with taxpayer dollars. Freedom of Information Act requests are made for the code the those requests are fought in court!

    Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. has a new post on how the models are compared to other models, rather than reality (actual temperature measurements), here: http://pielkeclimatesci.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/perpetuating-the-climate-science-communitys-inappropriate-model-centered-reality/

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