The unscientific basis of human-caused global warming hypotheses--an update

Wednesday 25 July 2012 at 7:11 pm. Used tags: , , , , , , ,

good discussion and excellent links to 50 top scientists.

It is in the nature of mankind to search for certainty.

We need to feel secure about our relationships, health, safety and more. Absent certainty, there is the unknown. We fear the unknown. For some, it drives them to find certainty in a religion.

And it drives others into an equally passionate search for scientific assurances that not only can we know the future, but we can also control it. As in: "Human-caused global warming is an irrefutable disaster awaiting us, and we know how to fix it."

Their zeal can be measured in the quantity, intensity and, in some cases, vitriol of the negative responses to my July 10 column in which I challenged the supposed certainty that human pollutants are causing the globe to heat up to irreversible, catastrophic levels. While some responses in the Voice of the People, on my blog and in direct emails were informed and intelligent, citing actual scientific research, others had a level of infallibility unsuited for such a complex subject.

For those left puzzled or outraged by my apostasy, I'm back.

Drawing the most criticism was my assertion that you can't reach a conclusion about the long-term direction of climate by regional events, such as our dreadfully hot summer (or the coincident wet and chilly European summer). That's not just my assertion; it's also the assertion of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a chief purveyor of the man-is-guilty hypothesis. Its website states: "… temperature anomaly in one place in one season has limited relevance to global trends. Unfortunately it is common for the public to take the most recent local seasonal temperature anomaly as indicative of long-term climate trends." (Read the entire link; NASA explains why regional anomalies can matter.)

Next, I (a non-scientist) was hammered for defying the "consensus" opinion, even though credentialed scientists populate both sides. Unfortunately, this has devolved into a debate overly focused on the legitimacy, integrity and competence of the contesting political, academic, ideological or scientific worlds. That's not how science is done. (For a critique of "Consensus Science and the Peer Review,"by Jorge R. Barrio go to this piece reprinted in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.)

Further, proponents have created the novel idea of "consensus science," which presumes that the rest of us are supposed to sit on the sidelines as coalitions of experts are summoned into existence to run our lives. (For a thoughtful discussion and commentary about "scientific consensus," read this Forbes piece.) Running through the global warming rhetoric is the premise that we cannot challenge "consensus science." As if scientists are supposed to hand down the tablets from Mount Wisdom.

This shoots a rather large hole in our idea of self-governance. It presumes that we are unable to comprehend and judge what we're being told. Yes, scientists convey valuable knowledge to the masses, but it is up to us to evaluate that knowledge, decide what it means for public policy, and yes, even debate its accuracy.

Few on either side doubt that human activity contributes to climate change, but whether it is the main or sole cause of catastrophic warming is the issue. A number of "natural" phenomena are alleged to cause climate change, including solar variation, cosmic rays, cloud formation, natural cycles and, possibly, influences not yet detected. Backers of the man-is-guilty camp hypothesize that man-made greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, have a greater impact on the climate than all other real or possible influences.

That is a gigantic leap in science and logic. It posits a unifying theory for one of the most complex natural systems on Earth — the climate. The hypothesis is woven from the aggregate of individual, narrow studies of such things as historic temperature variation, but leaves important missing elements of the equation ignored or unresolved. For example, if you don't have a full understanding of how clouds are formed — and scientists don't — you don't fully understand the mechanism(s) that change our climate. (An article in Nature discusses a CERN ((the European Organization for Nuclear Research)) experiment about how cosmic rays may have an role in cloud formation, that in turn would influence the climate.)

Grand unifying theories, such as the supposed "settled" question of man-made global warming, require caution, respect for the scientific method and, not the least, humility in the face of the complexity of the universe. Instead, some have elevated what is still hypothesis or, at best, theory into scientific law. (The differences between hypothesis, theory and law are explained here in Chemistry.) They have played upon the public and media's craving for certainty. They have turned what should be a careful scientific dialogue into a belief system.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune

Read an unpublished letter to the Tribune in support of my earlier column is here. 

Go here for the Heartland Institute's latest international conference on global warming. Heartland said of the conference: "The theme of the 7th International Conference on Climate Change was “Real Science, Real Choices.” We featured approximately 50 scientists and policy experts speaking at plenary sessions and panel discussions exploring what real climate science is telling us about the causes and consequences of climate change, and the real consequences of choices being made based on the current perceptions of the state of climate science." I know, I know, we're not supposed to believe anything that the Heartland Institute says, but just read or listen to these scientists, okay?

Below are responses as of this writing to today's column  ("Emotional fault lines on global warming") as published on (registration required.)

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