Climate Change Denial

Climate Change

Have you noticed that when the potties attack climate change they never engage with the actual science. I don’t know whether it is because they know that the scientific evidence supporting climate change is virtually unassailable and that they are deliberately misrepresenting the evidence or that they actually don’t understand the science.

Take a typical attack by James Delingpole published on the breitbart web site in response to the recent Obama speech on climate change.

The President correctly stated that: “the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put that debate [the fact of anthropological climate change] to rest.”

Delingpole responded with: “scientific knowledge is not a numbers game. If it were, we would still be going with the majority view that tectonic plates are a myth, that stomach ulcers are caused by stress, that combustion is caused by phlogiston, that leeches can relieve fever, that malaria comes from the bad air in swamps, etc.”

Delingpole’s response completely misunderstands (or misrepresents); the scientific process, the evolutionary nature of science and the meaning of scientific consensus. A consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer.

Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other’s work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work underlying climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted and relied upon.

Since 1991, around 14,000 papers have supported the theory that human causes are behind global warming (chiefly from burning fossil fuels over the past century), and just 24 papers rejected human causes. No scientific papers have taken the position that climate change is not happening.

Phlogiston was hypothesized in the 17th century as a fire-like element contained within combustible bodies that was released during combustion. Subsequent quantitative experiments revealed problems with the phlogiston hypothesis because some metals gained mass when they burned, even though they were supposed to have lost phlogiston. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier showed in the 18th century that combustion requires a gas that has mass (oxygen) and could be measured by means of weighing closed vessels. The use of closed vessels also negated the buoyancy that had disguised the mass of the gases of combustion. These observations solved the mass paradox and set the stage for the new caloric theory of combustion. Other scientists repeated Lavoisier’s work and built on it until a consensus was reached and the phlogiston hypothesis was abandoned.

The German meteorologist Alfred Wegener suggested that the relative positions of the continents are not rigidly fixed but are slowly moving. His ideas of “continental drift” were not accepted by the scientific community because there was no hard evidence for a mechanism to support the hypothesis. It wasn’t until 1968 that Geophysicist Jack Oliver published seismological evidence supporting the modern theory of plate tectonics which encompassed and superseded Wegener’s continental drift theory. The tectonic plate theory has been extensively tested and has now achieved a scientific consensus on the basis of overwhelming evidence.

The supposed beneficial effects of leeches based on the humors hypothesis was the first victims of evidence based medicine. In 1809, just a decade after Washington had undergone bloodletting on his deathbed, a Scottish military surgeon called Alexander Hamilton set out to determine whether or not it was advisable to bleed patients. Hamilton succeeded in conducting the first randomized clinical trial on the effects of bloodletting. French doctor Pierre Louis, conduct his own trials and confirm Hamilton’s conclusions. These results repeatedly showed that bloodletting was not a lifesaver, but rather it was a potential killer.

That is essentially the story of all scientific theories, they are first postulated as an explanation of one or more observations. The hypothesis is tested against further experimental observations and as evidence supporting the hypothesis accumulates the hypothesis becomes widely accepted and eventually gets promoted to the status of a theory and achieves a scientific consensus. On the other hand if the accumulating evidence weighs against the hypothesis, the hypothesis falls by the wayside and is eventually abandoned in favor of a better idea. The scientific method is self correcting, bad ideas may persist for a while but sooner or later they will be destroyed by the self correcting process called the scientific method.

All Delingpole’s examples were failed hypotheses, unsupported by any scientific observation or analysis. The exact opposite of the current state of climate change science.

Some comments after I posted this on Facebook:

Mick Stormonth Nicely argued Eric

After all, when it comes to bullsh*t, your a recognised master.

Many organisms have changed the earth’s climate over time, why should we be any different?

James L Acker…/climate-cultists_794401…

Eric Pickstone I have read the “”Climate Cultists” Link Jim. Just so that I understand the conservative position as stated by Steven F. Hayward. “Global warming by up to as much as 2 degrees would be no big deal, and possibly a net benefit”. Do I have it right ? Is that a fair statement of the Conservative position on Global Warming?

James L Acker Much more than that in the article. You’re a cultist, however

Eric Pickstone The article itself is quite emphatic in stating that ” If you strip away all of the noise from smaller scientific controversies that clutter the debate—arctic ice, extreme weather events, droughts, and so forth—the central issue is climate sensitivity: How much will average global temperature increase from adding a given level of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere?” and that ” Global warming by up to as much as 2 degrees would be no big deal, and possibly a net benefit”.

Eric Pickstone I am not sure what a cultist is beyond being a member of a small religious group following some sort of charismatic leader.

James L Acker Climate Cultists