The cold truth about climate change

Last December, I wrote about Johnny Ball. I was outraged that he ended a lecture that was supposed to educate children about science with a rant denying climate change. That post has eighteen comments to date, more than any other blog entry.

I wrote: "The danger in this is that he may leave youngsters feeling that scientific disputes are similar to political disputes, with no understanding of how the scientific method can establish truth independent of popular opinion."

Most of those commenting took umbrage with my claim that there is a scientific consensus that man-made climate change is occuring, and they counter-claimed that the IPCC is politically biased. The article linked to above, by Joseph Romm on Salon, sets out the case very well. He points out that the word 'consensus' is indeed inappropriate in the scientific context, and that the IPCC is indeed biased: political influences have caused it to water down its conclusions enormously.

My favorite lines from the article: "One reason science works is that a lot of scientists devote their whole lives to overturning whatever is the current hypothesis -- if it can be overturned. That's how you become famous and remembered by history, like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

"In fact, science doesn't work by consensus of opinion. Science is in many respects the exact opposite of decision by consensus. General opinion at one point might have been that the sun goes around the Earth, or that time was an absolute quantity, but scientific theory supported by observations overturned that flawed worldview."

Thanks to Maurice Naftalin for pointing me at the article. (And now I await a new cascade of critical comments.)

I was too young to be the generation who grew up with Johnny Ball, and I'm not sure what the equivalent for my age bracket would be. Probably Carol Vorderman and the other presenters of "How 2". I don't know what the "kids these days" watch for fun science learnin'. I just hope it's good.

Climate change always seems to bring out the hecklers and the reactionaries. (The Edinburgh meeting of Cafe Scientifique with one of the biggest turn-outs was about climate change.) I find it fascinating that the "liberal conspiracy" argument still holds water. I've yet to see anyone explain why this conspiracy would exist and who all these people are that are getting rich off the "propaganda".

I've seen endless arguments on the effectiveness of terms like scientific consensus (especially on the Bad Science forums). I suppose it's like the biological "X is designed for Y" statement --- it's a useful shorthand if you know what the person really means. But if one of you is a creationist, or a climate change denier, it's no longer effective. The ability to communicate ideas is forever hampered by imprecise language.
Of course science works by consensus; it's called peer review. The people who criticize you for asserting this are confusing the work of science with scientific truth. Scientific consensus drives investment, but it doesn't establish truth. Furthermore I'll wager that almost nobody sets out to overturn established theory; that's not how you get tenure. Instead you attack unsolved problems, almost all of which are defined in terms of the current consensus.
Putting together Darwin, Newton, Copernicus etc. really undermine the whole argument. This can't be serious.

Just as everyone who is lucky enough, scientists are driven by the pleasure resulting of their inquisitive work. Not because they are trying to prove others wrong.

On a similarly mythical portrait of the Scientist, see

Dr. Walder,

Thank you for the follow up on this issue.

I think that whenever the scientific process confronts the Great Cultural Myths that drive civilization it ends up encountering severe backlash. Labeling each of the larger controversies under the cultural myths that drive the opposition can be illustrative.

Myth: Humans are the Most Special and Precious of Lifeforms on the Planet

. Darwin's Theory of Evolution (vs Humans were created by God)

. Research on Homosexuality (vs Homosexuality is a uniquely human moral abomination)

. Research on Stem cells (vs Even Human Cell cultures are special)

. Heliocentric Theory (vs Humans occupy a special place)

Myth: Humans were meant to Rule the Earth

. Climate Change (vs Humans were meant to burn the oil, that's why it is there)

. Environmental Crisis/ Species Die-off (vs Human action can never hurt the environment as we were meant to rule it)

. Overpopulation Concerns (vs Humans were meant to multiply on to infinity)

These cultural myths are etched in all of the large religions across the planet so it isn't much of a surprise to find religious fanatics spouting off against them. More surprising is the secular people who also make the same claims. I think this gives evidence that the aforementioned myths are deeply embedded in the culture. Any science coming up against either one will likely meet resistance.

Whenever I see one of these "controversies", I always try to identify which large cultural myth the science shatters. That makes the reactions of the opposition much more understandable, if not less sad.
Ah, so peer review saves science from making mistakes?

Except that it didn't:




And here is the blog of the man who caught onto this deception:


As for "dougal", I think you're being dishonest here. You've never heard why someone would want people to believe that humans are responsible for the change? Jerry Ball (the person who started the whole thread on this site!!!) stated a likely reason.

Wadler is upset that Ball will make children doubt science. It isn't people like Ball who do this, it's people like Mann who lie to gain support for their ideas in the name of science. These are the people you should be outraged by.

But I'm sure my post will be deleted so this site can go on presenting a unified, but false, concsensus.

You psychoanalysis is pretty implausible (as you yourself admit, since many people without the alleged motivational beliefs still hold the alleged product beliefs); not to mention it is completely reversable (e.g., it is because of the belief that man is the most powerful being in the world and rules the cosmos that he is able to change the very climate of an entire planet by his terrifying and heroic feats! &c). More fact, less mind-reading please.
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