In the climate change arena, everybody's favorite tactic is to accuse the other guy of being unscientific, or even "anti-science." As one of many, here is Salon calling "climate deniers" an "anti-science movement." How do you tell who is following the methodology of science, and who (if anyone) is "anti-science"?
Actually, I think the answer to that one should be easy and not subject to much dispute. Let me lay it out.
Science is a method. Here are the fundamentals of the method:
- Someone puts forth a falsifiable hypothesis. Non-falsifiable hypotheses are not part of the scientific method.
- The falsifiable hypothesis is tested against data, either from observation or experiment.
- If data from observation or experiment are consistent with the falsifiable hypothesis, then the hypothesis survives to be tested by additional observation or experiment. However, there is no such thing as definitive and final proof of a scientific hypothesis. No matter how much consistent evidence may be accumulated, it is always possible that further evidence may emerge that may invalidate the hypothesis.
- If any data emerge that are inconsistent with the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is wrong and must be rejected. Period.
As far as I know, that's really all there is to it. I think I learned these things in junior high school, although it's so long ago that my memory is hazy. People who think I have any of the principles wrong should please point out my error, if any. I wonder: do they still teach these basics of the scientific method in junior high or high school?
Now, who is a scientist? I would say that a scientist is someone who works in accordance with the scientific method. That means that s/he (1) puts forth falsifiable hypotheses for testing, (2) is willing to take on any and all challengers to her/his hypothesis, and (3) is prepared to reject any hypothesis when data emerge that are inconsistent. Another approach is that a scientist is anyone who has a science degree from some institution and/or works in a lab. In my view, people fitting that definition may call themselves scientists, but they may or may not be actual scientists in the sense of practicing the scientific method. Or they may practice the scientific method sometimes and pontificate on things they know nothing about at other times.
I'm now going to apply these simple principles to my recent article titled "The Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time -- Part IX" and some of the comments. As you will see, I think the fundamental problem with much of the press and many of the critical commenters is that they have just lost track of what the scientific method is.
Start with the statement in the CNN article that "the Earth is warming." As discussed in my post, the truth of that statement entirely depends on who gets to pick the start point against which temperature change is measured. If the proponent of the statement gets to pick the start point, then the statement is non-falsifiable. It's classic non-science. But how about CNN's statement that "scientists who study climate are overwhelmingly in agreement"? So? The invocation of "scientists" doesn't make a non-falsifiable hypothesis into science. They may practice science in some respects in their life, but agreeing with this proposition has nothing to do with it.
So what is the falsifiable hypothesis of the climate alarmist movement? Funny thing is, I look hard to find it, and I can't. It's funny because I would think that if they want to claim the mantle of science that would know that you need to have a falsifiable hypothesis that is standing the test of time, or serious people are going to know that you are not dealing in science and are not going to take you seriously. But in the absence of such a hypothesis from those proclaiming the crisis, let me try to state one for them: CO2 in the atmosphere, via the greenhouse effect, is the main driver of global average surface temperature (GAST), and if atmospheric CO2 continues to increase at the rate implied by current level of fossil fuel consumption, that will drive GAST increases of 0.2 to 0.5 deg C per decade through the 21st century, irrespective of any countervailing climate forces such as ocean, sun, or clouds. I'm willing to accept any and all other statements of the falsifiable catastrophic global warming (CGW) hypothesis for purposes of what follows.
Now here is a comment yesterday from someone named bas:
You can't start at an outlier (1998) and then proclaim a trend.
Here's your problem bas: I'm not "proclaiming a trend." I'm asking if the evidence is consistent or inconsistent with the hypothesis. If you want it to be science, your hypothesis needs to be able to deal with all the data. This is not like the East German figure skating judge in the old days at the Olympics. If it's to be science, then you can't cherry-pick the data you like and ignore the data you don't like (by declaring them to be an "outliers", or otherwise). I would call that "anti-science." We have here a glaring data point in 1998, and another less glaring one in 2010, that are inconsistent with the hypothesis. If CO2 and its greenhouse effect drive global temperature over and above all other forces, and atmospheric CO2 went from about 360 ppm in 1998 to over 400 today, then how could GAST have gone down? The trend since 1979 is indeed consistent with your hypothesis. Great. But the fundamental principle of the scientific method is, all data consistent with the hypothesis just leave it to survive for another day, while any evidence inconsistent with the hypothesis invalidate the hypothesis.
Then there's this from a guy calling him/herself factsRfacts:
I love it when the Francis Menton writes about facts and then he cannot even read the chart he himself provided. Now if you would be looking at that chart from a business point of view, then I assure you every businessman would tell you that the overall development is going up.
Funny how it's now the "business point of view." OK, but how about the scientific method? If you want to keep the hypothesis alive, you're going to have to modify it to explain how CO2 could have gone up for 18 years while temperatures did not. Otherwise, it's dead. Science can be cruel. And the modifications to the hypothesis to make it explain the decline since 1998 are not going to be easy. You will have to admit that some force, somewhere, can overwhelm the effect of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2. OK, what is it? Is it anthropogenic or natural? If you can't say, how do you know that anthropogenic CO2 has any effect whatsoever on GAST?
And now you will understand why the guardians of the global thermometer temperature records are so desperate to alter those records to show warming. Altering data -- that's what I call "scientific fraud." But then we have the satellites, with data processed by two independent sources and showing virtually identical results for the past 36 years. They haven't figured out how to alter that -- yet.