Friday, May 3, 2013

Science is not a Political Debate, The Science

Since my last post talked mostly about the climate science debate, I thought I would take time in this post to discuss the science itself. As mentioned earlier I have spent some time researching and found a video that provides an excellent summary of skeptic arguments and the science debunking them. I will only be discussing a few of the more commonly presented arguments (as the total video runs over 2 hours.)

Disclaimer: The majority of the following posts will be an analysis of Mr. Collin Maessen's work in Climate Changes, But Facts Don't: Debunking Monckato. All credit for the arguments presented belongs to Mr. Maessen. I will merely expand, and analyze on a few parts. The full video, transcript, and citations are available at Mr. Maessen's own site here.

When initially investigating the climate change debate I found myself extremely disappointed and unconvinced by the most touted popular work on the subject, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I felt his repeated use of emotional pleas (pathos) severely undermined his argument. Instead of sticking to the science he generally referenced it in passing between anecdotes. This blog post will be a review and analysis of the first part of the video Climate Changes, But Facts Don't: Debunking Monckato (YouTube link) by Collin Maessen. I found it to be extremely compelling because in contrast to An Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Maessen immediately supports all his assertions with demonstrated evidence from scientific studies (and references those studies with quotations from them.) This video is based on a debate over climate change at the National Press Club of Australia (19 July 2011) between Richard Denniss (supporting man-made climate change) and Lord Christopher Monckton (his opposition.) Lord Monckton claims as his credentials to have published peer reviewed literature on the subject (the newsletter itself has a disclaimer over the article stating it is not peer-reviewed.) As he repeatedly admonishes people to "do their homework" before debating, Mr. Maessen has taken up his challenge. The video specifically shows Lord Monckton's arguments during the debate with a pause for analysis (and thorough debunking) of each one. I found the video extremely compelling as Lord Monckton uses the most common arguments against anthropogenic (human caused) climate change and is demonstrated to be, after analysis, thoroughly unsupported by the evidence. I will only be addressing the subjects of scientific consensus and the proof that climate change is, in fact, man made (as these are the two most common arguments I hear.)

The initial argument made by Lord Monckton was that simply supporting anthropogenic climate change based on the scientific consensus was both an argument ad populum (appeal to the majority) and ad verecundiam (appeal to authority.) These are what is know as logical fallacies or arguments which are logically inconsistent (see here or Wikipedia for a more thorough explanation.) Briefly explained, believing something is true because it is the popular opinion or because some authority says it is true. These can be demonstrated as logically fallacious by observing the popular opinion on slavery in the 18th century, or the beliefs of medical "experts" prior to the Germ Theory of Disease. Of course, Lord Monckton himself is coming perilously close to the fallacy fallacy. However, as he uses this point to debunk a specific argument and not the claim itself I think we can clear him of that accusation. This is still a gross misrepresentation of scientific consensus.

Scientific consensus is based on evidence. When a hypothesis is supported by observation, repeatability, and is predictive there is generally a consensus that the hypothesis is a valid scientific theory. Mr. Maessen points out there is scientific consensus on many theories (e.g. germ theory, evolutionary theory.) The point being, scientific consensus does not justify itself through what is popular but what it is demonstrably observable through experimentation and peer-review. Science is constantly evolving, as emerging technology expands what is observable. While science has often been proven wrong and updated, its method demands these revisions. The quickest and easiest way to true fame and adoration in a scientific field is to provide compelling evidence overturning accepted theory (see: every major scientific breakthrough in recent human history.) The most well known scientists are those who provided new insights through novel techniques or those who overturned popular theory. One can't help but draw the comparison to evolution. Compelling evidence disproving either would be a resounding victory for the extremely well funded international "right wing" and would simply require a single, factual, paper displaying demonstrable (observable,) evidence that disproved the currently accepted theory. They wouldn't even have to posit a replacement theory. Popularly stated online (with an anonymous or apocryphal source) "You can disprove evolution? Then write it down, have it peer-reviewed and collect your Nobel Prize." This is a fundamental tenant of science, it isn't determined by committee but by observing the evidence. The famous biologist Richard Dawkins was once questioned on how we could justify faith in science giving us the truth in light of its many mistakes. He responded with the pithy quote "if you base medicine on science it cures people, if you base the design of planes on science they fly, if you base the design of a rocket on science it reaches the moon, it works." While science has, of course, been wrong in the past its assertions are based on models that not only explain the evidence but predict future evidence. Interestingly no one is challenge the scientific consensus on the theories of plate tectonics, gravity, or the germ theory of disease (see previous post on politicization.)

We can see the predictive nature of current climate models in the hearing Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity Hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation February 7, 2007. When asked by Hon. Ted Stevens about the impacts of natural factors vs. human ones Dr. Richard Anthes replies, "we know enough already to conclude that the human effects on climate change are now outweighing natural (non-human) effects" and that,

     "Uncertainties arise from shortcomings in our understanding of climate processes
      operating in the atmosphere, ocean, land and cryosphere, and how to best represent
      those processes in models. Yet, in spite of these uncertainties, today's best climate models are
      now able to reproduce the climate of the past century, and simulations of the evolution of
      global surface temperature over the past millennium are consistent with
      paleoclimate reconstructions."

These models not only explains observable data but can accurately predict future discoveries. That the developed computer model can accurately model all previously observed climate states is a compelling argument toward its validity.

Many accuse climate scientists of ignoring countervailing theories. That the evidence is in fact there, but those presenting are shunned for going against consensus. Mr. Maessen's video shows testimony delivered during the 2010 Subcommittee on Energy & Environment hearing, A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response. When questioned by Rep. Brain Baird on we can know the actual cause (human vs. nature) of global climate change Dr. Richard Alley President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research first mentions that the physical properties of CO2 are well know and non-controversial. The he goes on to describe the millions of dollar that have gone into isolating and testing other potential factors. For each potential alternative explanation they carefully measured its impacts. With all possible factors accounted for human action is still the overwhelmingly prevalent factor in CO2 levels. In short, climate science has accepted challenges and has completely disproved each one.

My previous post tries to explain why there is such a strong, persist, effort to deny climate science at all. While as mentioned earlier certain special interest groups (like petroleum companies) have invested huge sums of money in attacking climate science. Additionally, the issue has been politicized (the video goes into additional depth on free trade and national sovereignty.) This necessitates right-wing politicians to loudly denounce the science (because saying they don't care because it would cost money would sound woefully shortsighted.) A study I have found since my previous post is this article in an actual peer reviewed journal regarding the connection between climate change denial and conservative think tanks (which just so happen to receive huge contributions from, when not outright owned by, companies with vested interested in oil and coal.)

In summary climate science has been proven, repeatedly, to be the most conclusive and accurate model of our world and that conclusive and accurate science demonstrates overwhelming evidence that climate change is man-caused and will most likely have serious consequences. It is not accurate by majority rule but by the principles of science. It has peer-reviewed consensus, it is predictive, and it has accepted and withstood all challengers. The only controversy is political, not scientific.

1 comment:

  1. Just to give you a heads up, I mentioned your blog post on my own website: