Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Degree is Bigger Than Your Degree

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science -- Gleick et al. 328 (5979): 689 -- Science

Degrees, IQ, numbers of scientists, polls, etc are all exceedingly interesting and the longer list you can get of the folks with the most credentials, the more impressive it seems. At least to many. Apparently, we have come to the point where disagreement can be called "McCarthy-like", a fairly odd designation, since given the opening of the USSR post Reagan, a lot of his assertions have been proven to be correct.

I suppose maybe "McCarthy-like" could be better termed to mean "pugnatiously standing up for what you believe to be true in the face of withering criticism, up to and including your name being smeared and becoming an insult decades after your death. The fact that it comes to light that the bulk of what you asserted turned out to be correct, and that is completely ignored is just another factor for standing up against the popular crowd in the modern world. The penalties for iconoclasm have always been high -- in the modern world, those that dare go against liberal dogma pay highest.

So HCGW is now on the same scientific standing as old earth dating and evolution? I'd argue there is at least a couple big differences:
1). The earth being 4.5 Billion or 10K years old doesn't really call for any difference in human activity today except for those that have confused the bible with a technical manual -- and not many of those are going go for the 4.5 Billion
2). Ditto on evolution -- if we and the monkey's share a common ancestor back a few million years, that has little effect on day to day governmental decisions.

Notice the difference with HCGW.
We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.
Age of the earth and evolution are descriptive, not predictive. Other cases in which science makes predictions need to be TESTED prior to be accepted as truth. Einstein's theory of relativity has been tested by bending of light during eclipses and other natural phenomenon for example. The Bernoulli principles of air motion that allow planes to fly and ships to tack into the wind are "tested" via common experience.

The old earth view would say that our measurements ... even those extrapolated from the oldest fossilized trees and ice cores only deal with the tiniest fraction of the 4.5 Billion years of earth history. We know that "Greenland" is called that because the Vikings inhabited it from like 800-1300 AD, and they could grow crops and pasture cattle. Then the climate cooled and they had to abandon their settlements.

The same scientists that tell us that the the current warming is human caused would also tell us that there have been numerous cold and warm cycles on the planet over it's history -- enough warmth to melt enough ice to cover vastly larger areas with ocean, and enough cooling to expose a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska. Certainly, they would not say that our ancestors -- chimp or proto-human caused those cycles.

We have indeed entered into a "new era", but it is NOT some new era where science faces hard questions when it formerly did not. No, this is an era where there are enough scientists of a certain political bent that they believe they successfully brand any opposition in negative political terms and use the patina of science to gain control of current human activity. It could be that we have started "de-evolution" -- the form of argument used by this list of folks has more in common with the common simian form of adjudication by comparison of testicle size  than it does of scientific inquiry.

I have a long list of impressive folks, and you are "McCarthy-like" ... So there.

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