Tuesday, 25 January 2011

100 Authors Against Einstein - Scientific 'Consensus' and Scepticism

Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough! - Albert Einstein

Consensus is utterly irrelevant to science. The philosophy of science is devoid of consensus. What concerns science is not weight of numbers on the side of an argument, but what the facts are. What the evidence is.

I have just watched the BBC's latest Horizon program "Science Under Attack". In the program he goes on about overwhelming evidence of AGW, but offers only one tiny piece (tree rings used in spliced data), he talks about consensus (without understanding that consensus is meaningless in science and denying that there are enough professionals who are sceptical of AGW to make such an assertion plainly false), and he mocks 'extreme' scepticism.

Scepticism is the foundation of scientific principles - there is no 'fine line' as Nurse puts it between acceptable levels of scepticism and unacceptable levels. All scepticism is acceptable. When Einstein was in the minority of people against Newton's theory of relativity he would have been seen as going too far, questioning where it was not welcome. The facts were decided, there was 'consensus'. Before Einstein published his work, no contemporary scientist apparently disagreed with Newton's (now disproved) theory. Newton himself was working against the orthodoxy of his peers. Being in a minority dues not mean one is incorrect. Argumentum ad populum (or as used in this case, consensus gentium) is still a logical fallacy whether in the scientific community or within any other group (as is an appeal to authority, for those who keep going 'scientists say...').

Attempting to defend a purely scientific position using non-scientific methods such as attacks on 'sceptics' or 'deniers' (rather politicised language, something Nurse is apparently against) or appealing to logical fallacies is wrong. When debating science, only the science should be under scrutiny - not where money comes from nor what the political position of various groups are. Science and science alone.

I myself, fall into what is often caricatured as a 'climate-sceptic', I do not believe that human greenhouse gases are driving the Earth's climate upwards. Ignoring, for the time-being, all of the other, easily disproved nonsense about other things tacked to the side of the AGW debate (such as the spread of malaria), my belief bases itself on a few well known scientific principles.

1. Historically, CO2 has not driven climate, it has responded to warming centuries later. The greenhouse effect is real, but it is not a climate driver, just part of the conditions of climate. Every study done to date has confirmed this (as far as I am aware).
2. If the theory of Anthropomorphic Global Warming were true, the warming in the stratosphere would be warming at a much faster rate than the surface temperature rise (it is from here that the infra-red radiation is absorbed and transferred to heat energy to be conducted away). Both weather balloon data and satellite data show that this warming is not occurring.
3. The surface temperature record has become inaccurate due to the heat-island effect and other problems, meaning that it should be used with this in mind - it may paint a picture of warming faster than is happening.

I may not be a scientist, but I have read enough to be in an informed opinion, rather more than a large segment of the population.

To return the the BBC program, during the regular attacks on the position of sceptics, Nurse portrays the fight to be between science and sceptics. But he doesn't talk about the green lobby in any capacity, surely they are arguing against the 'sceptics' from an equally unscientific position, are they not? It was the green lobby which took the 'science' out of the labs and into governmental budgets - it was they who politicised the subject. Yet, when Nurse brings up the very same groups (not referred to as green lobby groups but anti-GM groups), he portrays them as in the same camp as the sceptics. Every mainstream book sceptical of global warming that I know of is also supportive of Genetically Modified crops; on this, sceptics are on the side of science, whilst the pro-AGW green lobby groups are against it. Yet it is not portrayed this way. Sceptics are regularly referred to as being anti-science, but in all cases, the majority look at the science, or at least what they can observe (such as the weather). Regularly we are told we are 'flat-earth' believers and that we disagree with everything. But when questioned, we turn to science, not flat-out denial. The opposite is true of believers of AGW and the green groups. They tend to not turn to evidence, but to assert bluntly that there is a consensus, that we should believe it. The data is not important, what matters is what they say scientists believe. It is deeply concerning that people who hold such opinions are listened to in public debates (see the Channel 4 program 'What the Green Movement Got Wrong' and the following televised debate if you wish to see such blunt assertions).

What have we learned from this, well, Nurse isn't a climate scientist, he has no specialism in the subject, he is no better placed to make such a documentary than I. He is an outsider to the science, trying to make sense of it. We have learned that the BBC is still strongly in support of AGW (but we were already aware of their bias here). We have learned that Paul Nurse has a poor understanding of the philosophy of science - he is rationalising his scientific beliefs with his assertion that the globe is warming and that it is caused by man. The only piece of the 'huge weight of evidence' offered up by the program is the widely discredited work on tree ring data. Where's the rest of it? Ice core surveys? Bog plant surveys? The evidence is not present, if the overwhelming weight of evidence does exist, it is yet to be seen.

It is surely time that we gave up with the blank assertions in the debate, I was able to see through them at fourteen, I can see through them now. If there was a consensus, it would be irrelevant. Scepticism is good and the only position a scientist should ever take. Scientists are not always right, especially when they are in a separate field to what is being discussed. Anyone who denies any of those points should not partake in such a debate, their view is surely clouded. The BBC would do well to take these points up, in the name of public service, however, it seems their collective [hive-]mind has already decided that we are guilty and must let the state take over. They have been waiting for the age of planners to come to Britain for far too long.

12 comments:

  1. Excellent post! I have shared it on facebook

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  2. A very sensible comment on a topic which has become extraordinarily and irrationally emotive, to the point of being a religion: evidence contrary to the creed is dismissed or ignored, and “deniers” are the new heretics, to be ridiculed and anathematised.

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  3. You don't invoke consensus if you have proof; you only invoke consensus if you anticipate a challenge. You only anticipate a challenge because sufficient doubt exists in one's own argument to pursue the need for consensus to begin with.

    If the Science is so overwhelming and strong in itself, there should be no need for consensus. Think about it! Why defer to authority and resort to consensus if the theory of anthropogenic global warming is so strong? It fundamentally makes no sense.

    From a political perspective, I can fathom the need and desire for consensus - chiefly to reflect wide-ranging opinion on any given issue. It makes sense for consensus to exist on a political field because politicians are often confronted with issues dealing with matters that pertain to 'is it right or is it wrong?' and what is the general feeling about this or that?.

    However, Science is altogether different. It deals with FACTS, not opinions. By invoking consensus in a scientific discipline, one is essentially bringing a political philosophy into the domain of a subject that cannot function on its premise.

    As Einstein correctly pointed out, as stated above, 'why 100 authors; if I were wrong - then one would have been enough'. This is precisely the scientific truth! It does not matter if a million scientists around the world all agree with each other on any given theory; all it takes is ONE paper to disprove all the others. You won't need the million scientists.

    Science is not GROUPTHINK; it is factually determined by observation, measurement and experimentation.

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  4. This is a very valid claim by A. Birch and the situation is even worse at Wikipedia where biased outsiders often hijack wiki entries and play the role of the "100 authors against Einstein". At least the "100 authors" were supposed to be professionals even though they had no idea about relativity theory. But anybody can write on Wiki...

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  5. came across this accidentally, but well written. enjoyed it.

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  6. Everyone in the world thought the earth was flat, until they were proven wrong.

    Good article.

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  7. Thank you for writing this. I am part of a Leeds based climate group and would be happy to hear more from you especially if your are in Yorkshire

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  8. There are two reasons where somebody would challenge scientific consensus 1) if the consensus is wrong, or 2) if the person challenging the consensus is wrong. I note here that the author doesn't say one word about the second reason for challenging scientific consensus, I wonder why?

    I will tell you why, anthropogenic global warming is behind evolution alone in being the scientific theory with the greatest amount, and strongest nature of evidence to back it up. Not alone do we have evidence that CO2 drives global warming, that it has been produced in geometrically increasing quantities by human beings (especially since the Ind. Revolution) and that global warming is happening, this evidence is becoming increasingly more decisive in showing that global warming is happening on an almost unprecedented scale (you'd need a global cataclysm like the Deccan Traps opening up again to mirror it) an is being casued by human activities.

    There is an expression across all the sciences which runs something like, "just because Gallileo was persecuted for being right, doesn't make it that every crackpot who comes along with an untenable hypothesis is going to be the next Gallileo". As it is clear from the other blogs this poster links to (which are universally about making facts fit to theory, rather than the other way around {as is proper in sciences}) that Mr/Ms Birch is clearly a crackpot with an untenable hypothesis when it comes to global warming, there is no need to debate his lack of an idea further.

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  9. This guy is a prime example of being schooled by his own argument.

    > 1. Historically, CO2 has not driven climate, it has responded to warming centuries later. The greenhouse effect is real, but it is not a climate driver, just part of the conditions of climate. Every study done to date has confirmed this (as far as I am aware).

    This is a personal assumption not based on any evidence. Where are those "every study done to date"? Why is he not aware of any other studies? Perhaps, he is cherry-picking.

    > 2. If the theory of Anthropomorphic Global Warming were true, the warming in the stratosphere would be warming at a much faster rate than the surface temperature rise (it is from here that the infra-red radiation is absorbed and transferred to heat energy to be conducted away). Both weather balloon data and satellite data show that this warming is not occurring.

    Another assumption with no basis in scientific fact. He has presented a hypothesis that needs to be backed with analysis and experimentation. Does he have access to the weather balloon and satellite data, and does he have the expertise to interpret the data?

    > 3. The surface temperature record has become inaccurate due to the heat-island effect and other problems, meaning that it should be used with this in mind - it may paint a picture of warming faster than is happening.

    The surface temperature record is constantly being refined. Even if it were inexact, the interpretation would favour the pro argument, instead of the contrary.

    > "I may not be a scientist, but I have read enough to be in an informed opinion"
    That's all he has - an opinion. If you are not a scientist in the field you are arguing, your speculations have no weight.

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  10. Light speed is not Constant (to observer) !!

    All that we receive with our eyes are the facts of the past (unchangeable). Wavelength of incident light is coming from the past. On incident light, a formula c = λ f stands up. And λ is unchangeable (by our motion). Terms f and c change.

    Sorry, I can’t receive E-mail. I don’t have PC.

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  11. Light speed is not Constant (to observer) !!

    In outer space, a mirror is reflecting a star ray. On incident ray and reflected ray each, a formula c =λf will stand up (seen from the mirror). In this two formulae, term f is the same always. So, when λ is not the same (usually, it's not the same), c must not be the same.

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  12. I’m bilingual, speaking English and body language. I prefer the latter, because I can speak it silently and without listening and while my back is turned.
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