Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Towards an Epistemology of 'Global Warming' Skepticism

In a previous weblog post, I raised what I called an “epistemic concern” for global warming alarmists who intone “hottest [month / year] on record” mantras.[1]

Briefly summarized, the worry was this. Careful temperature measurements have only been made since the late 19th century. However, given scientific estimates for the age of the earth, these 135 odd years of meteorological data-gathering represent a vanishingly small percentage of the age of the earth (or of the time during which humans have inhabited it).

Thus, when it comes to “directly measured” temperatures, we have a data set that is so deficient, to call it “incomplete” is a monumental understatement.[2]

Hence, climate cultists who expect or demand obeisance on this basis are not just short-circuiting rationality, they are arguably behaving positively irrationally. [3]

Predictably, I have caught flak from several true believers for having blasphemed against a tenet of the climate creed.

Let me take a step backward, therefore, and make a more general statement expressing – if not quite explaining – the genesis of my skepticism on this constellation of issues.

Are weather and climate different, or aren’t they?

In the first place, there seems to be a disparity between the treatment of data supporting “warming” and data supporting “cooling.” If warm-temperature trends are supposed to stand as evidence for “global warming,” then it seems reasonable to expect that cool-temperature trends be counted as evidence for global cooling.

It’s a fair question, I think. Would those who post links to “warmest year”-type articles, expecting readers to fall lockstep behind the current crop of scaremongers, themselves jump off of the “global warming” bandwagon if the headlines suggested that temperatures were going the other way?

It does not appear so. Routinely, when cold weather dominates the headlines, one reads grave warnings about how one must not think that cold and snowy weather militates against the dogma of “global warming.”

Take this, for instance: “For years, climate contrarians have pointed to snowfall and cold weather to question the scientific reality of human-induced climate change. Such misinformation obscures the work scientists are doing to figure out just how climate change is affecting weather patterns year-round.”[4]

Since my point, here, could be easily misunderstood, let me try to restate it.

I am not arguing or supposing that it is physically impossible (or anything relevantly similar) that cooling temperatures be compatible with the truth of “global warming” hypotheses. What I am objecting to is the treatment of “warming trends” as clear or obvious “proof” of global warming. Call this sort of thing a kind of naïve view about climate-temperature correlation.

To be sure, if “global warming” is happening – and more on the framing of this question, below starting with the subheading “Framing the question” – then temperatures are increasing globally. The consequent (temperatures are increasing globally) follows trivially from the antecedent (“global warming” is happening).

However, if “global warming” is a nuanced enough concept that record-cold temperatures do not count against it, then surely naïve views about climate-temperature correlation are being (or ought to be) rejected.

Indeed, one reads that “[n]orthern hemisphere winter weather patterns are a complex interplay between the upper atmosphere conditions over polar regions and mid-latitude conditions over the oceans and on land. Factors that come into play for regional weather (and indeed global weather) are Earth’s seasons, ocean patterns, upper winds, Arctic sea ice, and the shifting shape of the jet stream… .”[5]

But if this is so, then it seems to be a tad bit dishonest to flip-flop between being a “naïve correlationist” when the temperatures go up and “sophisticated correlationist” when they either don’t go up or when they actually go down.

To develop the point just a bit further, I note that the author of the relevant article thinks that the following is important enough to warrant its own breakout box. “Understanding the difference between climate and weather[:] Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a snowstorm or a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over decades.”[6]

So let me put the point this way.

A naïve correlationist is a person who thinks that there is a forced march from weather data (like temperature) to climate conclusions (like “global warming” or “global cooling”). A sophisticated correlationist is a person who thinks that there is not necessarily any such forced march. But we have seen that “global warming” believers deny that cooling (and even record-cold) temperatures impel us to believe in “global cooling.” Therefore, it appears that these sorts of “global warming” believers are – functionally, anyway – sophisticated correlationists. However, according to sophisticated correlationism, there is no forced march from weather data to climate conclusions.

From all of this it follows that “global warming” believers, at least insofar as they are sophisticated correlationists about weather and climate, should (on pain of inconsistency) forgo demanding that “global warming” skeptics affirm “global warming” (a climate conclusion) on the sole basis of weather data (like temperature readings).

Now, presumably, many “global warming” believers are springing to their feet to adumbrate all of the other, non-weather-data evidence for “global warming.” Well and good. I have no problem giving any candidate piece of evidence a fair hearing.

My initial criticism, you hopefully will recall, was directed against authors that expect readers to assent to their climate conclusions on the basis of weather (temperature) data alone.

40 years ago, the media was warning about an impending “ice age.”

In the second place, and relatedly, those who fret about and wring their hands over the prospect of melting polar ice caps – and since it’s nearly March, one can expect commentators to worm out of the woodwork prognosticating doomsday scenarios published coincidentally with the yearly spring melt – seldom give equal “warmest [such-and-so]” and “coldest [yakety yak]” headlines equal play.

For example, in 2008 “climate change” fear-mongers were set to propagandize bikers and strollers for Earth Day in Canada when, ironically, frigid temperatures rendered the “global warming” hype cooler than it had been in years. I am sure that quite a few Chicken Littles were chagrined. But a columnist for the Edmonton Sun seems to have seen the humor in it.

“So much for global warming. Earth Day festivities went ahead despite the blast of frigid weather yesterday. Vendors and presenters from various eco-friendly groups, including Bullfrog Power, CO2 Reduction Edmonton and the local solar energy society, crammed into a lone tent in Hawrelak Park after a blizzard forced them to abandon their original locations. Organizers crammed over 40 groups in a space that would normally be occupied by half that number. …A handful of visitors still took the time to inquire about several solar-powered products on display at the M.E.C. booth and browsed several others before running off toward the lone heater in the tent to warm up. A lemonade vendor towards the front might as well not have been there.”[7]

Or again, at the end of 2014 it was reported: “The contiguous United States is having its coldest year through November since 1997…”.[8]

And these sorts of decrease are not exclusively local events. Consider this report from 2008.

“Global temperatures for 2008 will be slightly cooler than last year as a result of the cold La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said…”.[9]

Downplaying the dropping temperatures wasn’t always the way. Back in the 1970s, in fact, the situation was somewhat reversed. News dispatches about coldest years and record snowfalls received top billing.

At that time, there was something of a “scientific consensus” that the world was about to enter a new “ice age.” No kidding.

For example, in a Newsweek article of April 28, 1975, columnist Peter Gwynne informs readers:

“The evidence in support of these [cooling-world-related] predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. …The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.”[10]

Science-fiction author Isaac Asimov penned an article for TV Guide in which he explained: “Air-pollution particles tend to reflect sunlight back into outer space, thus cooling the planet. …Since 1940, perhaps airborne particles have taken the lead, thus cooling the Earth.”[11]

Hardly confined to popular-level publications, worries about a “new ice age” were considered matters of national security. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) compiled a report on the “disturbing …thesis that the weather …is …highly abnormal …While still unable to explain how or why climate changes, or to predict the extent and duration of change, a number of climatologists are in agreement that the northern hemisphere, at least is growing cooler. …According to Dr. Herbert Lamb – an outstanding British climatologist – 22 out of 27 forecasting methods he examined predicted a cooling trend… A change of 2°-3°F. in average temperature would have an enormous impact.”[12]

I can scarcely do better than an intrepid blogger named “Andrew,” who has compiled this helpful overview of the climate-reporting situation 1970-1979.[13]

From the 1980s onward, impending-”ice age” speculations have decreased dramatically. What is interesting – to me, anyway – is the extent to which these “global cooling” reports were bundled with alarmist rhetoric much like what we read in conjunction with today’s crop of “global warming” announcements.

In 1975, “…[Meteorologists were] almost unanimous in the view that the [cooling] trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.”[14]

Then, as now: “Climatologists [were] pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climactic change, or even to allay its effects.”[15]

Amongst the recommendations was “…melting the arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers…”.[16]

One can only imagine the potential catastrophe that might have resulted had such an extreme proposal been carried out. Had the weight of the then-current “scientific consensus” been sufficient to impel such heavy-handed (and socio-politically-tinged) interventions, we might all be a lot worse off now. I am assuming that this verdict is plausible since the relevant, past scientific consensus is (presumably) now believed to have been dead wrong.

In order to have full confidence in the current interventionist schemes for combating ”global warming” , it seems to me that I would need to believe that climate science has advanced to such a degree in the last 3-4 decades that a similar monumental miscalculation is no longer conceivable. In other words, I would have to think that, “ice-age” doom-saying be damned, this time, the alarmism is right.

Color me skeptical.

When did dogmatism get added to the scientist’s toolkit?

And, anyway, isn’t skepticism the supposed lifeblood of the scientist?

The celebrated Carl Sagan, an indefatigable cheer leader for science, once articulated the contents of what he termed a “baloney-detection kit.”

“What’s in the kit? Tools for skeptical thinking. …

“Among the tools: Whenever possible, there must be independent confirmation of the ‘facts.’ Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all the points of view.[17] Arguments from authority alone carry little weight – ‘authorities’ have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which systematically disprove each of the alternatives. …Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis… See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. …Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. …Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.”[18]

“Inveterate” or not, this (local) skeptic does not follow the “global warming” reasoning too well. I have already shared several reasons for this. The temperature data set is incomplete and, contra sophisticated correlationism, urges global, diachronic conclusions be drawn from local, synchronic data – thus conflating climate and weather. Moreover, weather reports are not treated equally. And so on. (For the details, see above.)

But enough about me. One reader complained as follows after reading (I presume) my previous blog post.

Objections and replies

“[S]cientists didn’t reach the conclusions they reached regarding a[n]thropogenic climate change simply by measuring temperature for the last 135 years. They reached these conclusions by comparing carbon dioxide fluctuations and temp[e]rature over a vast geological timescale.”

By way of reply let me just stake out a crude position in logical space.

I will tentatively argue from the standpoint that “global warming” alarmism[19] is based upon scientific guesswork that, informed as it may be, is not indubitable.

Although I disagree with them, my main problem is not that there are people who believe that the threat of “global warming” is genuine.[20] My problem is that there are people who will not permit anyone else to believe that it is not.

I am concerned about the “shaming” of people who cannot bring themselves to have faith in the climate cult. So in my previous post, I posed a question, occasioned by the proclamation that 2015 was the “hottest year” since 1880, which tried to unpack one of my concerns.

Of course I am aware that scientists didn’t reach the conclusions they reached regarding anthropogenic climate change simply by measuring temperature for the last 135 years.

I did register this awareness, albeit briefly and obviously inadequately, in footnote #4. Presently, let me say something more about this evidence – and this “vast geological timescale.”

I am not a climatologist. However, if I am supposed to believe in “global warming” then, as Sagan says, I “must be given the chance to follow [the] reasoning” of the “global warming” believers.

I have to stress, up front, that my remarks are merely rough-and-ready. This is not meant to be a final statement. Herein, I can nly hope to make salient (to receptive readers) some of the issues that currently block me, personally, from having faith in the “we’re gonna fry; we’re gonna die” storyline.

Let’s begin.

Not all “evidence” is equal.

On the continuum of empirical evidence[21] let us mark off a few relevant places – acknowledging that there are likely intermediate notches between them. On one pole, we have what I will for expedience call direct evidence, that is, evidence proceeding from “simple” observation.[22] What I have in mind is the sort of evidence that comes to us immediately by way of our five senses, when those sense are working properly and are activated in suitable contexts. To put it slightly differently, “direct evidence,” in this sense, is not filtered or mediated through instruments of any kind.[23] If I have reasonably functioning vision and I see an entity flying above me, at a not-too-distant height and in good lighting (and so on), then my visual observation of said entity counts as direct evidence of it.

Somewhere else along the continuum, we have what I will term (somewhat opaquely, I admit) assisted evidence. Let this evidence be evidence that is obtained by the five senses working through various instruments that are designed to facilitate the observation of entities or supposed entities that could not be directly observed without assistance. If I have reasonably functioning vision and I look through a microscope (at something small) or through a telescope (at something distant), then what I observe counts as assisted evidence in my provisional lexicon.[24] Or if I have dysfunctional vision and I see an entity flying above me, at a not-too-distant height and in good lighting (and so on), then my assisted-visual observation of said entity (suppose that I am wearing properly-fitted glasses) counts as assisted evidence of it.

On the other end, we have what I will, again for convenience, label indirect evidence, that is, evidence that consists in inferences from direct evidence or from assisted evidence. So, for instance, seismograph reports are pieces of paper (for instance) taken to have recorded particular motions of the earth’s tectonic plates. If I look at a paper on which is represented seismograph data, I directly perceive various lines. From these lines, I may perhaps infer the past motions of several of the earth’s plates.

Of course, inferences from (or, if you like, interpretations of) evidence are plausibly best-construed as areas of expertise.

If I, not being a particle physicist, am handed a print out from a cloud chamber (say), I may successfully directly perceive squiggly lines on the pages. But I might have to be told, by various chemists or physicists perhaps, that – according to the rules of their respective disciplines – it is possible to infer from these lines the existence or movement of various entities (“subatomic particles,” etc.).

One question that emerges from this rough picture is this: Whence come our data on “carbon dioxide fluctuations” and temperature? Is the evidence “direct,”[25] “assisted” or “indirect”?

From the way that I have set up the definitions, it is pretty clear that temperature measurements are not the sorts of things that can be “direct.” We can see people shivering or wearing bathing suits (or both) but we cannot see “temperature” directly. To be sure, we can directly see mercury rise inside of glass cylinders. But to move from the mercury shows such-and-so to the “temperature” is such-and-such is something like an interpretation of or an inference from the behavior of the mercury in the device.

But let this pass. Let us assume that to see thermometer reading counts as “direct evidence” for the “temperature.” One way that the evidence for temperature and “carbon dioxide fluctuations” would be direct on this expanded view of “directness” would be if we had thermometer readings and carbon-dioxide-level measurements from people of earlier epochs.[26] In other words, and per impossibile, if our early human ancestors had taken direct, real-time readings of temperature and carbon dioxide levels using reliable temperature and carbon-dioxide-measuring devices, then we could refer to that data in our present “comparisons.”

Plainly, we do not have this. We only have “direct” evidence (in the revised and operative sense) of “carbon dioxide fluctuations” and temperatures – e.g., thermometric readings and CO2 tests – going back 135 years.

What we have instead are inferences about past temperatures and no-longer-obtaining carbon-dioxide levels that issue out of the interpretations of presently-existing paper records; earth, ice-core and tree-ring samples; and other such things.

In order to responsibly deal with this evidential “assistedness” or indirectness, we must rephrase the objector’s opening assertions. Suitably qualified, we get something like the following.

Some scientists reached their “climate change” conclusions by comparing educated conjectures about past carbon dioxide fluctuations with intelligent surmises about past temperatures.

This statement, with which I agree, captures the speculative – though defensible – nature of the conclusions.

However, my final question in the previous post was: Is it irrational for me to doubt these conclusions?

I do not see how it is irrational to doubt conjectures and surmises made about the interpretation of data.[27]

Continuing, the objector wrote:

>>They [climatologists] reached these [“global warming”] conclusions by employing the scientific method…<<

The myth of the “scientific method.”

The myth of a single procedure that answers to the definite description the “scientific method,” while it is perpetuated at the Science-101 level, has been nearly universally rejected by philosophers of science.

On one extreme, some philosophers of science deny that there is any such thing as a distinctly scientific methodology at all.[28] The most famous, although by no means the exclusive, denial of this probably owes to Thomas Kuhn,[29] the details of whose view need not detain us.[30]

One does not have to follow Kuhn very far, however, to appreciate the weight of his criticisms of the unsophisticated advocacy of one-and-only-one “scientific method.” For my rudimentary purposes, it will suffice for me to say that the largely legendary “view [that there is one, distinctly ‘scientific method’ of investigation] …met explicit challenges, …most fatally in Thomas Kuhn’s demonstration that the actual practice of science does not illustrate application of the scientific method.”[31]

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the notion that there is something called “the scientific method” – in which scientists, starting with presuppositionless observations, collect facts until they have a critical mass, at which point the facts can be enumerated inductively into general laws – is mostly a fairy tale.[32]

One Professor David Blitz says it well on his webpage ostensibly for an introductory course in philosophy of science. “It is easy – and almost any high school textbook does so – to invoke ‘the scientific method’ as a nearly infallible means by which scientists develop their theories. But this is …to oversimplify – much of philosophy of science is devoted to demystifying this simplification, by showing the complex and varying approaches which science has taken to natural phenomena.”[33]

This is emphatically not to say that scientists lack often rigorous methodological principles for their various enterprises. It is simply to say two things.

Number one, it is probably better to think of science as a loose collection of tools – both practical and theoretical – than as a discipline distinguished by some, one “method” that is unique to it.

And relatedly, number two, the line between science and non-science is a bit fuzzier around the edges than cheer leaders like William S. “Bill” Nye, the late Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson would have their legions of fawning admirers believe.[34]

Let me try to be just a bit clearer.[35]

Instead of beginning without presuppositions, scientists usually begin with a problem to be solved[36] and a fairly robust set of ideas about where to begin looking for solutions. Additionally, scientists operate on the basis of definite presuppositions – for instance, about what is probably relevant (and irrelevant) to observe for their specific problem-solving purposes.[37]

Instead of “direct observation,” scientists are “often interpreting data in light of a large number of theoretical background assumptions about the thing being observed and the instruments used to observe it.”[38]

W. V. O. Quine called something in this vicinity the theory-ladenness ofobservation,[39] that is, the notion that all of our observations are embedded in a fabric of background assumptions and socio-cultural factors, and expressed in terms of linguistic constructions, that are complex, impinge upon the observation and were they removed would render the observation, if not incomprehensible, then certainly unevaluable.

Instead of restricting themselves to generalizing from these sets of observational data (however indirect or theory-laden they may be) scientists avail themselves of all manner of inference. By turns, science involves adduction, deduction and induction.[40]

There is no such thing as the “scientific method.”

>>…where doubt and alternative possibilities are strenuously examined.[41] Some of the scientific methods they employed include studying the heat-absorbing properties of greenhouse gases as well as sampling ancient air bubbles from sheets of ice drilled from arctic ice and measuring the concentration of C02 from these ice samples, and comparing it with geological epochs (such as ice ages.) What climate change “alarmists” are most concerned about is something called “the greenhouse effect.” This is simple to understand. The sun rays heats up the surface of the planet, but this heating is mitigated by some of the heat radiating out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, however, with enough concentration begin to block the radiation of heat energy from out of our atmosphere. This is a scientifically proven fact, and it doesn’t require much C02 to disrupt heat radiation (we’re talking parts per million.) To cast doubt upon this fact is to be ignorant of two centuries of scientific inquiry. It’s tantamount to saying that the “germ theory of disease” isn’t settled science.<<

I have (no fewer than) three problems with this.[42]

Framing the question.

First, “global warming” (or the Newspeak phrase “Climate Change”[43]) is really an abbreviation for a complex tissue of theses. By my own rough enumeration, I get these.

Number one, there is some thesis floating around, in the vicinity of one of the following, about increasing temperatures. This is a what-thesis, that is, it purports to tell us what is the case.

1a) The earth is (getting) warmer than it has ever been.

1b) The earth is (getting) warmer than it has been since humans have inhabited the earth. (Thus I mean 1b) to mark out a subset of the times covered by 1a).)

1c) The earth is (getting) warmer than it has been since x years ago. (Thus I mean 1c) to mark out a subset of the times covered by 1b).)

Number two, there is a thesis, something like one of the following, about rising CO2 levels. This also seems like a what-thesis.

2a) The earth presently displays higher levels of CO2 than there has ever been.

2b) The earth presently displays higher levels of CO2 than there has been since humans have inhabited the earth. (Thus I mean 2b) to mark out a subset of the times covered by 2a).)

2c) The earth presently displays higher levels of CO2 than there has been since y years ago. (Thus I mean 2c) to mark out a subset of the times covered by 2b).)

Number three, there is a thesis about the classification of CO2. Let’s say that this includes what-theses that are something like these:

3a) CO2 is a “greenhouse gas.”

3b) CO2 has propensities p1, p2, p2, …pn.

Number four, there is a thesis filling in the details about what a “greenhouse gas” is.

4) A greenhouse gas is a gas that contributes to the “greenhouse effect.”

Number five, there is a thesis filling in the details about what the “greenhouse effect” is.

5) The greenhouse effect is “the trapping of the sun’s warmth in a planet’s lower atmosphere due to the greater transparency of the atmosphere to visible radiation from the sun than to infrared radiation emitted from the planet’s surface.”

We have another what-thesis reporting on a correlation between temperature and CO2.

6) Temperature and CO2 are correlated.

Then we will have why-theses, something like these.

7a) Temperature rises because CO2 rises.

7b) CO2 rises because temperature rises.

7c) Temperature and CO2 rise because of some third factor, z.

7d) Temperature rises because of some third factor, a; CO2 rises because of some fourth factor, b.

Why are these various theses worth noting?

Firstly, it seems obvious to me that the number of discrete theses leaves open the possibility of accepting some while rejecting others. I have never understood why these discrete propositions are routinely conflated. “Global warming” is far too often distilled down to an epistemological “package deal” that one either “affirms” – in toto – or “denies” – tout court.

To put it slightly differently, one is given the impression that one must answer “yes” to all of the following “is there ‘global warming’?; is it due to greenhouse gases?; and are those gases due to human activities?” Or one has to be consigned to the flames of “denier” hell.

There are an awful lot of distinct theses, here. I think it’s irresponsibly to package them together in that way.

Secondly, the “germ theory” may very well be, at the level of epistemology, analogous to the greenhouse effect. However, “climate change” skeptics are not “denying” that there is a greenhouse effect.

Instead, skeptics are denying things like this: that the greenhouse effect tells the entire story about “global warming”; that the byproducts of human activity are definitely and wholly responsible for “global warming”; etc.

It’s simply contemptible to place these specific denials on the level of a sweeping and general denial of germ theory! As my grandma used to say: “Oh, come off it!”

What seems to me to be a more apt comparison is to say that those who make such grandiose claims are themselves rather like people who believed that pellagra and scurvy were bacterial or viral illnesses. I suppose that there were those who believed so firmly that scurvy (say) was bacterial that they might have been willing to exclaim: “Why, to deny that scurvy is bacterial is tantamount to denying the germ theory of disease!”

Of course, were there any such people, we now know that they were wrong on both counts. Scurvy (and pellagra) is caused by dietary deficiencies. Thus denying that scurvy (for instance) is bacterial does not – and never did – necessitate a denial of the germ theory of disease.

The germ theory is true. And it’s true that scurvy is not caused by a germ at all.

Similarly, some who contend that “global warming” is a genuine phenomenon, believe that the cause is something other than “anthropogenic” gases. If this is the case, then it will turn out that “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect” are both real phenomena, but that even so “global warming” is cause by something other than SUVs. Maybe it’s solar activity.[44]

Second, while the objector seem to be recommending another sort of naïve view where various “scientific” propositions can be “proven,” count as “facts” and finally graduate into something called “settled science,” I just do not share this framework.

This is not because I lack an elementary grasp of such things as the high school-level, natural-science definition of “greenhouse effect.”[45] Rather, it’s because I have self-consciously, and after reflection on at least some of the relevant philosophical issues, embraced a view of what science is that precludes the sort of certainty that the objector appears to think that I should have.

Simply stated, I hold that “proof” (and its mirror-image, refutation) only exists in (certain branches of) mathematics and logic. All other areas of human inquiry traffic in evidence, rather than proof.

It is also worth mentioning, in passing, that there is an intuitive difference between what we might call “ideal science” and “politicized science.” Ideal science might well move along scrupulously running alternatives up the flagpole. But politicized science is what we seem to be stuck with in the U.S. in 2016.

Let me just give a few considerations in favor of this admittedly pessimistic appraisal.

“In the United States we take science as gospel. …The public perception is that faking science is rare. The truth is it happens all the time.”[46]

“A wide-ranging study of the incidence of scientific fraud in the United States has just been published, and the results are alarming: Scientists resort to fraud more commonly than we think. Scientists enjoy a broad level of trust in their public statements – from global warming to cloning to finding evidence of new extraterrestrial worlds. But this study implies that such trust may be misplaced.”[47]

“The grandees of the scientific establishment regularly proclaim that scientific fraud is vanishingly rare and that perpetrators are isolated individuals who act out of a twisted psychopathology. As a corollary, they insist that science is self-correcting. Typical is the lofty assertion by Roald Hoffman, a professor of chemistry at Cornell University, at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in 1996. Fraud in science ‘is no a real problem,’ he said. ‘This is because of the psychology of the perpetrators of fraud ...the psychopathology of fraud.’ And, he said, ‘there are extraordinarily efficient self-corrective features in the system of science.’

“The grandees make these claims as a matter of faith. They could not be so dogmatic if they had considered what evidence there is that might back up general conclusions, positive or negative, about the nature and incidence of scientific fraud. Their claims about science are unscientific.”[48]

“A rough base line can be set for fraud sensu stricto, or fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. The Public Health Service and the National Science Foundation account for the vast bulk of federal fundnig of research, leaving out military research and development. In the decade to 2002 the two agencies dealt with somewhat more than two hundred cases, twenty to thirty per year. These, of course, are the most serious ones, and not resolved, or suppressed, by the research institutions. With an estimate of, say, two to three hundred thousand scientists enjoying grant money, that suggests and incidence of one in one hundred thousand. Nobody close to the problem believes that the figure is that low. Surveys of conduct that respondents say they have observed come up consistently with rates on the order of one in one hundred. What evidence exists suggests that a high proportion of instances are not reported.”[49]

“...Elizabeth Knoll, then science editor at the University of California Press ...spoke tartly of ‘a remarkably uncritical faith in the peer-review system.’ She went on: ‘In only a generation [peer review and refereeing became dominant only after the second world war], editorial peer review has become a powerful social system. In the process, formal peer review has taken on some of the supposed objectivity of research that the peer review process is meant to judge. Insitutionally and individually, we tend to forget that just because peer review reviews scientific work does not mean that it is itself a scientific process.’ ...Though she was speaking of refereeing of journal articles, what she said applies with equal force to the review of grant applications. ...Faith [in the peer review process] is strong and eloquent, trustworthy evidence for or against the efficacy of peer review is vanishingly rare.”[50]

Derailment of the “ideal scientific process” does not always occur through conscious deception – though, as we have seen, it sometimes does. It can occur simply as an outworking of the dog-eat-dog world of government grant financing.

When “President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer[, b]iologists grumbled that money was being allocated to targeted research when fundamental, pure research was needed.”[51]

“For funding to be maintained and regularly increased, scientists must court, placate, never upset the sources. Thus funding of science has an inescapable political aspect – which means that the independence and self-government of the sciences are always potentially at risk, sometimes actually. (One small sign of this is the use of earmarks, that is, allocations within research appropriations of support to projects specified by the legislators rather than by the normal scientific granting agency…)”[52]

In the case of “global warming,” who controls the grant dollars? Despite vague whispers about “oil company” money, it does not appear to me to be the “global warming” skeptics who are getting their research projects funded.

>>…And here is a link which details the vast history of scientific inquiry regarding the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas effect. If, upon fully reading this history of the study of C02 concentrations and temperature, you still doubt climate change is happening and is being exacerbated by human greenhouse gas emissions, then you’re just being pretentious and assuming you know more than what over a century of scientific inquiry have concluded and what 97% of climate scientists agree is happening: https://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm<<

I find the tenor of this passage disturbing.

Imagine rolling the clock back to the “High” Middle Ages, say the 1200s. Consider (again, per impossible) that an Incarnation- or Trinity-skeptic is told the following.[53]

“And here is a book which details the vast history of philosophic and theological inquiry regarding the Incarnation or Trinity. If, upon fully reading this history of that study, you still doubt the Incarnation or Trinity, then you’re just being pretentious and assuming you know more than what over thirteen centuries learned inquiry have concluded and what 97% [or thereabouts] of church doctors agree is true.”

I am not interested, here, in pursuing sidelights about the demarcation between “science” and “non-science,” on which to some degree I have already written about elsewhere.[54] Or, if that example is too religiously-tinged for your tastes, consider another one. Let’s transport ourselves to the dawn of the 16th century. Consider a young Copernicus being derided for misplaced skepticism by a true believer in geo-centrism.

“And here is a book which details the vast history of natural philosophic/scientific inquiry regarding the geo-centrism. If, upon fully reading this history of that study, you still doubt geo-centrism, then you’re just being pretentious and assuming you know more than what over fourteen centuries (since Ptolemy) to eighteen centuries (since Aristotle) of learned inquiry have concluded and what 97% [or thereabouts] of academics agree is true.”

One might complain that Copernicus was a bona fide scientist and that he was opposing an “unscientific view” about the relative arrangement of the earth and the other planets. But this first of all does an injustice to the history of geo-centrism. Numerous, complicated mathematical and physical models had been devised trying to secure solid rational foundations for that theory.

Secondly, and more importantly, my point is that nothing better would have been able to succeed geo-centrism if each and every skeptic had been bullied into believing it on the basis of then-current “consensuses” of authorities to the contrary.

Or again, and to piggyback off of a previous exchange, let’s assume the received view of the Civil War, where the South takes all of the blame and the North was led into a heroic victory by Saint Lincoln.

Suppose we run a Philip K. Dick-esque, Man-in-the-High-Castle-like scenario in which the dastardly (on the standard view) South wins and (contrary to what I believe the South’s aims even were) runs roughshod over the entire nation, turning previously free Northern blacks into slaves. Suppose, further, that an anti-slavery reformer is put in his place as follows.

“And here is a book which details the history of the well-nigh universal human experience of slavery – present in virtually every society since the dawn of time. If, upon fully reading this history, you still doubt moral acceptability of slavery, then you’re just being pretentious and assuming you know otherwise than what the entire course of human civilization has demonstrated.”

The point?

Consensus views can be wrong. Furthermore, rank-and-file believers do not change the course of the history of ideas. Skeptics tend to do that. And in science, skepticism is held aloft as a virtue.

The rebuke is supposed to be: Either fall in line with “the consensus” or take a hike. So much for Carl Sagan’s warning that science should have no “authorities.”

True, Sagan did admit scientific “experts.” But what qualifies someone as a “climate expert”?

It is disturbingly easy to cook up definitions to suit our pet hypotheses. For instance, if we say that a prerequisite for climatological “expertise” is belief in the truth of “global warming, then it will come out that only those who believe in the truth of “global warming” could possibly count as climate experts. That’s a pretty good trick![55]

There all sorts of learned and scientifically-degreed academics who voice doubts on at least some facet of the “global warming” story.[56]

And why must my doubts be a product of “pretension”?

Consider the (naïve) conception of what I earlier termed “idealized science.” It is this science that is plausibly the sort wherein one finds “doubt and alternative possibilities [being] strenuously examined.”

Apart from my worries that actual, politicized science has not responsibly examined – either strenuously or in any other principled way – “alternative possibilities” to the man-made global warming story, what I want to know is, if it is proper for scientists to display methodological doubt and to entertain alternative possibilities before affirming a particular hypothesis to be true, then why can I not adopt this sort of scientific spirit to my acceptance of “scientific” claims?

To put it another way, why can I not be “scientific” – in Sagan’s sense – about my own beliefs?

Specifically, “[w]henever possible,” may I be allowed to “independent[ly confirm] …the ‘facts’[?] [May I [e]ncourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all the points of view[?] [May I be mindful that] …‘authorities’ have made mistakes in the past …[and that t]hey will do so again in the future[?] …[May I entertain] more than one hypothesis[?] If there’s something to be explained, [may I] think of all the different ways in which it could be explained[?] …[Is it okay for me] to [not] get overly attached to a hypothesis[?] …[May I s]ee if [I] can find reasons for rejecting it? …[May I ask] whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified[?] …[May I put on my i]nveterate [skeptic] hat …[and] be given the chance to follow [the] reasoning …[of any who are trying to convince me to accept their favored hypotheses?]”

[1] Note well, dear reader, I do not profess to have raised an epistemic concern for people whose belief in “global warming” is held on grounds other than journalistic pronouncements of “hottest” this or that’s. Nor, I should add, have any persons – if there are any – whose affirmations of “climate change” are humble or tentative. The worry that I have identified attends to dogmatic varieties of climate change alarmism.

[2] I.e., considered statistically, what we do have is a paltry subset of what we would have if the data set were anywhere near complete.

[3] I am not going to get bogged down with a lot of detail for several reasons. Firstly, I have a couple of major deadlines to meet and just do not have the time to spend on this, stimulating though it may be. Secondly, I am incompetent to traffic in the finer points of climatology and meteorology. However, the issues that I am keen to raise are not meteorological, they are epistemic. So, thirdly, I will forebear from entangling myself in the technicalities of “climate science” because my criticisms display a greater degree of generality.

[4] “It’s Cold and My Car is Buried in Snow. Is Global Warming Really Happening?” Union of Concerned Scientists, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/cold-snow-climate-change.html.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Brookes Merritt, “No heaven on Earth Day: Wintry Blast Cools Global Warming Fervor,” Edmonton Sun, Apr. 21, 2008, http://www.edmontonsun.com/News/Edmonton/2008/04/21/5343616-sun.html.

[8] “Brrr: Contiguous U.S. Is in Coldest Year Since 1997,” NBC News, Dec. 8 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/brrr-contiguous-u-s-coldest-year-1997-n264021.

[9] Roger Harrabin, “Global Temperatures ‘To Decrease’,” BBC News, Apr. 4, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7329799.stm.

[10] Peter Gwynne, “The Cooling World,” Newsweek, Apr. 28, 1975, p. 64.

[11] Isaac Asimov, “‘The Weather Machine’: Is It Grinding Slowly But Inexorably Toward a New Ice Age?” TV Guide, Feb. 22, 1975, p. 10.

[12] Directorate of Intelligence, Potential Implications of Trends in World Population, Food Production, and Climate, Office of Political Research, CIA, doc. no. OPR-401, Aug., 1974, p. 215 and n. **.

[13] Andrew, “1970s Global Cooling Alarmism,” Popular Technology [dot] net [weblog], Feb. 28, 2013, http://www.populartechnology.net/2013/02/the-1970s-global-cooling-alarmism.html.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Of course, dogmatists posing as champions of science have a neat trick, here. If a dogmatist wishing to exclude a point-of-view, she can lean heavily on the word “knowledgeable,” such that she could “justify” the exclusion on the basis that the point-of-view does not issue from a “knowledgeable” source. This is transparent bluster.

[18] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, reprint ed., New York: Ballantine, 1996, pp. 210-211.

[19] I mean this to be functionally synonymous with “climate change cultism.”

[20] Nor I am necessarily disquieted by the fact that there are those who believe that catastrophe is imminent. More on this in a moment.

[21] Note that I am putting aside non-empirical (e.g., rational, non-rational and irrational) forms of evidence, at least for the time being.

[22] Even “immediate observation” depends upon a tissue of background assumptions (not least about what it is relevant to observe and what it is permissible to ignore) and certainly is never “presupposition-less” or independent of theoretical pre-commitments.

[23] On this account, even looking through a pair of eyeglasses would not be “direct.” I accept this liability and remind the reader that I am sketching a view only roughly.

[24] Of course, all of the senses can be thus assisted. Seismographs arguably assist our tactile apparatuses, hearing aids and amplifiers assist our auditory senses, various chemical tests may assist our gustatory and olfactory perception and so on.

[25] See the previous footnote.

[26] Of course, even if people of earlier epochs had taken thermometer readings, evidence that was direct to them would not be direct for us. Presumably, if we have records of their thermometer observations, then they would have written them down for us. What we would them have would be written records of past thermometer observations, not the direct observations themselves. Hence, we would might to infer the existence of past thermometer observations from a host of presently-available records that were not themselves thermometers. But let this pass too.

[27] My doubt is not a parlor game. I believe that I deal responsibly with the evidence that I have seen or with which I am presented.

[28] More extreme denials issued from the “epistemological anarchist,” Paul K. Feyerabend. (See Feyerabend, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, London: NLB; Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1975; Contre la méthode: esquisse d'une théorie anarchiste de la connaissance, Paris: Le Seuil, 1975.)

[29] See his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962.

[30] Similarly to Friedrich Nietzsche, it is perhaps fair to say that Kuhn had two projects, one negative and one positive. The negative project partially consisted in a critique of naïve views about “the scientific method.” There are many valuable and widely-accepted insights resulting from Kuhn’s negative project. His positive project was, as such projects usually are, more contentious. To give short shrift to lots of important details, Kuhn envision science proceeding in terms of what he called “paradigm shifts.” In his analysis, “reigning paradigms,” that is, presently accepted theoretical frameworks, are highly resistant to replacement – and are even kept in place by academic protection-rackets. However, unexplained (or anomalous) bits of data accumulate over time. Eventually, they reach a critical mass and force a revolutionary overthrow of the paradigm. The resultant "paradigm shift" sees the enthronement of a new theoretical framework, and the process starts all over again.

[31] Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method, Urban, Ill. and Chicago, Univ. of Ill. Press, 1994, p. 111; archived online at <https://books.google.com/books?id=NN7E3r_w09IC&pg=PA110>.

“Some long-running disputes among historians, philosophers, and sociologists will be resolved only by recognizing the distinction between frontier and textbook sorts of science. Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought about the historical development of science: the internalist and the externalist. According to internalists, since correct science reflects nature, it is unaffected by the human traits of ambition, ideology, prejudice, or dishonesty that individual scientists might have displayed or the particularities of the human societies in which they lived. Thus internalist history is purely intellectual history, tracing the development of scientific theories toward those now held to be true. According to externalists, by contrast, the science that people produce, just as everything else they do, reflects their biases and wishes and social environment; an so externalists are as much interested in dead ends and failures in science as in successes.

“Historians and philosophers of science were predominantly internalists until a few decades ago. Their focus was on the successes and growth of science – in other words, on the logic and power of textbook science. As earlier described, that focus led naturally to explanation in terms of the scientific method; and anything that did not fit with the notion of a logically impartial method was overlooked or brushed aside. Historians could hardly avoid noticing that some brilliant discoveries reflected passionately judicious choice of hypothesis; but the import of this was discounted as philosophers of science argued for a distinction between ‘the context of discovery’ and ‘the context of justification.’ The context of discovery included the human and social characteristics that were regarded as not amenable to logical analysis: genius, serendipity, and the like. Since those belonged, it was said, to the nonrational part of human experience, they were by definition irrelevant to science, which was the preeminently rational enterprise. Only the context of justification was supposed to bear on the nature and progress of science, in which the ideas that came mysteriously from somewhere or other were selected out logically and impartially by the scientific method. This argument is circular, of course, but that went unnoticed so long as the conclusion (that is, the assumption) was widely enough shared.

“This view soon met explicit challenges, however, most fatally in Thomas Kuhn’s demonstration that the actual practice of science does not illustrate application of the scientific method.” (Ibid., pp. 110-111.)

[32] Oh, sure, there are a handful of shopworn idols – like Gregor Mendel and his fabled peas – that come close to this. But this tidy “textbook” science just does not comport neatly with what most work-a-day scientists actually do.

[33] David Blitz, “Thomas Kuhn's Theory of Scientific Revolutions,” Phil. 135: Nature, Mind and Science, Central Connecticut State Univ., New Britain, Conn., <http://bertie.ccsu.edu/naturesci/PhilSci/Kuhn.html>.

[34] I hasten to add that I am by no means anti-science. Although I am anti-Scientism. Additionally, I enjoyed the movie Contact (Warner Bros., 1997) and have shed more than a few tears thinking about our “pale blue dot.”

[35] For expedience, my presentation, here, is really a (very haphazard and selective) summary of material found in J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003, pp. 307ff.

[36] Some lines of investigation manifest in even less orthodox ways. Einstein was spurred along on the road toward his Theory of Special Relativity by a “daydream of racing a light beam” – or so the story goes. Michio Kaku, “The Theory Behind the Equation,” NOVA, Public Broadcasting Service, Oct. 11, 2005, <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/theory-behind-equation.html>.

[37] Take a case. Mendel did not bother to record tide levels or wind speed when he dealt with his plants. And he certainly felt himself justified in disregarding the color of his shirt. Of course, if one has absolutely no presuppositions – as the caricaturists of “scientific method” sometimes claim – then one would not rule out any of these factors, a priori, as irrelevant to the study of peas. That they – and much else besides – were ruled out shows that Mendel and like researchers were not presuppositionless.

[38] Moreland and Craig, op. cit., p. 321.

[39] “Theory-ladenness of observation holds that everything one observes is interpreted through a prior understanding of other theories and concepts. Whenever we describe observations, we are constantly utilizing terms and measurements that our society has adopted. Therefore, it would be impossible for someone else to understand these observations if they are unfamiliar with, or disagree with, the theories that these terms come from.

“An example of this could be given for determining an object's acceleration. If someone is to understand the measurement of 2 miles per second squared, he needs an understanding of the concepts of distance, time, and velocity. Our observation of how much something is increasing in speed depends on our previous knowledge of these theories. As a result, such an observation is said to be theory-laden.” Adam White, “Theory-Ladenness of Observation,” Evelyn Brister, ed., Rochester Inst. of Tech., Spring, 2004, <http://www.rit.edu/cla/philosophy/quine/theory_ladenness.html>.

[40] Mind you, there is nothing wrong with this! But all sorts of other fields utilize these inference schemas also; there is nothing distinctively “scientific” about this methodology.

[41] It’s not obvious to me how “doubt” could be “strenuously examined.” After all, “doubt” designates “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.” Perhaps a therapist could “strenuously examine” a person who is doubting this or that (or at least help the doubter to examine her own feelings). But this aside, what could it mean to “strenuously examine” doubt? Would the goal be to rule out all doubt?

It one has no doubt regarding some proposition, p, then it appears that one is in a psychological state of “certitude” with respect to p. But is certitude a character trait that a “scientist” has or should have? I submit that this would not be the case on a Sagan-esque construal of “science,” anyway.

[42] I should say openly that I am not altogether sure that I understand what the objector is getting at. But let me try to make a few guesses.

[43] I term this “Newspeak,” in a nod to George Orwell, since the earth’s “climate” changes continually. From seasonal changes to the great shifts that characterize past periods of geological time, it is not clear to me when “climate change” has not been true of the planet earth. It is thus either a trivially true proposition or it is virtually meaningless – or perhaps some combination thereof.

[44] Valentina Zharkova has recently explored some questions in this vicinity.

[45] Frankly, I was waiting for the objector to send me links on how plants convert sunlight to energy and how salt can be dissolved in water. I am fascinated to learn :P

[46] Ray Taylor, attorney and forensic pathologist, San Antonio, Texas; quoted by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne, “Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab,” New York Times, <https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/k/kelly-evidence.html>; John F. Kelly and Phillip Wearne, “Introduction,” Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab, New York: Free Press, 1998, p. 13.

[47] Saswato R. Dasjune, “There’s More of It Than You Think,” New York Times, Jun. 30, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/30/opinion/30iht-eddas.1.14098960.html.

[48] Horace Freeland Judson, The Great Betrayal: Fraud in Science, Orlando: Harcourt, 2004, pp. 26-27.

[49] Ibid., pp. 163-164.

[50] Ibid., pp. 248-249.

[51] Ibid., p. 3.

[52] Ibid., p. 27.

[53] I myself believe in both the Incarnation and the Trinity. And, if I may say so, I believe that I have a somewhat sophisticated appreciation of both. But I do not begrudge honest skeptics their doubts. I think that they are wrong – and that many of them are closed-minded, despites pretenses to the contrary – but I would not be entirely comfortable with a state-of-affairs in which people were bullied into being either doctrine (even in the Middle Ages, when it would have been easy to do – and, in fact, was done.)

[54] As I said earlier, there is no sharp distinction between “science” and “non-science,” when to comes to methodology. I will not rehearse this, presently, though you may certainly wish to revisit my previous remarks. But I will say, explicitly, that this lack of clear boundaries means that what “scientists” do is not best understood as different in kind – and certainly did radically different in kind – from what other sorts of researchers do. Partly on this basis, I would argue that, say, disciplines philosophy can be every bit as precise, progressive and even pragmatically useful as “science.”

Presently, I am setting aside “verificationist” or “confirmationist” epistemological orientations.

[55] We could define “reputability” similarly. It will turn out that “no reputable climatologist denies ‘global warming’” if we just require that “reputable climatologists” affirm “global warming.”

[56] Some noteworthy names include: Habibullo Ismailovich Abdussamatov, Syun-Ichi Akasofu, Timothy Francis Ball, John Raymond Christy, Ian D. Clark, Piers Richard Corbyn, Eigil Friis-Christensen, Freeman John Dyson, Richard Siegmund Lindzen, Patrick J. Michaels, Patrick Moore, Paul Reiter, Nicola Scafetta, Nir Joseph Shaviv, Siegfried Frederick Singer, Roy Warren Spencer, Philip Stott and Henrik Svensmark.