Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Climate change: Menace or myth? - Features

/ climate / science / not punditry /

The New Scientist has a rather readable and comprehensive view of the situation in climate science - a must read really, discussing the evidence and arguments supporting the prediction of climate change and finding them more or less convincing. Excerpt:

"Where does this leave us? Actually, with a surprising degree of consensus about the basic science of global warming - at least among scientists. As science historian Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego, wrote in Science late last year (vol 306, p 1686): 'Politicians, economists, journalists and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.'

Her review of all 928 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 showed the consensus to be real and near universal. Even sceptical scientists now accept that we can expect some warming. They differ from the rest only in that they believe most climate models overestimate the positive feedback and underestimate the negative, and they predict that warming will be at the bottom end of the IPCC's scale"

I must also add the following excerpt from the article demonstrating the paucity of reasonable arguments on the "no climate change at all" camp:

For the true hard-liners, of course, the scientific consensus must, by definition, be wrong. As far as they are concerned the thousands of scientists behind the IPCC models have either been seduced by their own doom-laden narrative or are engaged in a gigantic conspiracy. They say we are faced with what the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called a "paradigm problem".

"Most scientists spend their lives working to shore up the reigning world view - the dominant paradigm - and those who disagree are always much fewer in number," says climatologist Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, a leading proponent of this view. The drive to conformity is accentuated by peer review, which ensures that only papers in support of the paradigm appear in the literature, Michaels says, and by public funding that gives money to research into the prevailing "paradigm of doom". Rebels who challenge prevailing orthodoxies are often proved right, he adds.

This is pseudotheoretical bullshit, coming from a person who should know better than to use a standard erroneous creationist cliché: most "rebels" who challenge prevailing orthodoxies in modern science are wrong. As Michael Shermer has noted:

"History is replete with tales of the lone scientist working in spite of his peers and flying in the face of the doctrines of his or her own field of study. Most of them turned out to be wrong and we do not remember their names. For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating a scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose "truths" never pass muster with other scientists."

To see the falaciousness of the argument (often repeated by the non-scientists who comprise the overwhelming majority of the climate "skeptics" BTW), one simply has to think of any number of cranks "refuting the second law of thermodynamics" (and there are hundreds out there) using the exact same argument against the "consensus view".


DoDo said...

Moreover: what that guy says is self-contradictory.

He says "rebels often prove to be right", but that 'proven' means the acceptance gained from the majority of fellow scientists - there goes his "paradigm problem"...

na said...

" A way out is to use a concept developed by one of the most important 20th century philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), that of family resemblance. There are many groups of human activities that are impossible to define exactly. For example, it's hard to say what a game is, but when we see a new game we have no trouble deciding that that's what it is, because of the things it shares with other members of the games family. Likewise with science: all we can say about good science is it has most of the qualities of other activities we call good science, including empiricism, peer review and openness to refutation.

Those who work in this family believe that truth is out there. Perhaps not always in the strictest philosophical sense, but enough for practical purposes and definitely enough to distinguish science from propaganda and muddled thinking. Scientists do not need to be shy of admitting that its laws are always provisional. That's is not a weakness, but science's greatest strength."

Michael Cross, The truth is out there, New Scientist, 2000; issue 2226