Science 101: No scales, balances in science

October 27, 2010

Thanks go out today to Reason.com science correspondent Ron Bailey for inspiring today’s Science 101 lesson. (Disclaimer: Ron is an acquaintance, fellow libertarian and nice guy. That said, he doesn’t always get his science corresponding correct, at least when it comes to climate.)

In Bailey’s recent column, “Will a Republican Congress Knock Science Back Into the Stone Age?” (Reason.com, Oct. 26), he writes:

The balance of the evidence is that the man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are increasing the average temperature of the globe.

Brimming with excitement upon reading this, I immediately went to Edmund Scientific’s to see if I could purchase such a scale or balance to weigh evidence. Unfortunately, I learned that I could only purchase equipment to weigh things like solids, liquids, powders and animals. The science equipment supply house had nothing for sale that could weigh evidence. No other purveyor of scientific equipment had any new or magical technology for weighing evidence either.

As it turns out, the notion of weighing evidence isn’t a scientific one at all. While courts of law have finders of fact (i.e., judges and juries) who weigh evidence and regulatory agencies employ a weight-of-evidence concept in risk assessment to help make often-politicized regulatory decisions, science is about determining objective facts and proofs, not about making hasty and subjective judgments. From Copernicus and Galileo to Brahe and Keppler to Newton and Einstein and all the other great scientists in between and since, science has always been about the search for truth about the natural world, not the search for a politically correct or viable consensus about the same.

And the way scientists determine truth is by formulating hypotheses, designing and conducting experiments to test the hypotheses, and then publicly reporting their methodologies and results so that others may verify any claimed results and conclusions. This process is then repeated as necessary to arrive at the point of objective knowledge.

That’s the theory anyway, so what about Bailey’s assertion?

We know objectively that human activity has increased the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases, perhaps by as much as 65 percent since the mid 19th century. We’re pretty sure that average global temperature has also increased since that time — but no one can be sure by precisely how much since we do not have a sufficient number of temperature readings from enough places covering a long enough period of time. Moreover, we also know that the available temperature data have either been significantly and artificially increased by the urban heat island effect, and/or have been extensively manipulated by collectors.

We also know that while atmospheric greenhouse gas levels have steadily risen, global temperatures have done everything but. Since 1995, for example, GHG gas levels have increased by around 10 percent, but average global temperatures have gone nowhere, perhaps even slightly down. Between 1940 and 1975, global temperatures markedly declined leading to alarm about a pending global cooling.

The question to be answered then is whether the known human GHG emissions are in any way causally related to the sort-of-observed temperature changes.

One valid way to answer the question might be to make some prediction about global temperature based on manmade greenhouse gas emissions and to see if it comes true. A similar process was used by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington to confirm Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity in 1919. Despite the billions and billions of dollars spent worldwide on climate science over the past 20 years, this has yet to be accomplished.

Invalid ways to answer the question include mere observations of changes in Arctic melting, frequency or severity of weather events, ocean pH, coral reefs or polar bear populations. Even if such events were tied to warming global temperatures, it would still need to be proven that human GHG emissions caused the warming in the first place. Also invalid are purported historical temperature reconstructions, like Michael Mann’s infamous hockey stick. Past any fraudulent aspects to them, they offer no information about the potential relationship between greenhouse gas levels and temperature.

It is noteworthy that global warming alarmist groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists have latched onto the weight-of-evidence notion in a national advertising campaign “to educate the public about the overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence for human-caused global warming.” But an illustrative case of how UCS employs weight-of-the evidence is provided by the web site ActivistCash.com:

In 1986 UCS asked 549 of the American Physical Society’s 37,000 members if Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was “a step in the wrong direction for America’s national security policy.” Despite the biased wording of the push-poll question, only 54 percent disapproved of SDI. Even so, UCS declared that the poll proved “profound and pervasive skepticism toward SDI in the scientific community.”

Fortunately for the rest of us, Reagan’s SDI helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite UCS’s dubious scientific consensus.

To date, Copernicus and Galileo are perhaps the most prominent victims of Bailey’s subjective method for determining objective reality. But watch out, the rest of us could be next.

10 Responses to “Science 101: No scales, balances in science”

  1. moleski Says:

    Love the blog. Appreciate what you’re doing. I must object to your portrait of Copernicus as a victim of the Church. He did GREAT work in calculating the relative size of orbits in terms of astronomical units as well as the periods of the orbits–without which, Kepler would have gone nowhere. But Copernicus published his findings on his deathbed. His work was dedicated to a pope and was not condemned.

    Galileo was not condemned for his theory of what science is nor for his studies of motion (the two elements of his work that contributed to Newton’s resolution of the problem of planetary motion). He was condemned for doing Scripture studies and for asserting as fact what his work did not prove as a fact. Galileo followed Copernicus in using perfect circles, uniform velocity, and cycles and epicycles to construct his model of the solar system; the big argument he offered in favor of heliocentrism was … the motion of the tides, which Newtonian science has thoroughly discredited as evidence for heliocentrism. Galileo refused to read or comment on Kepler’s work on elliptical orbits, the continually varying acceleration and deceleration from perihelion to aphelion, and the relationship between the size and period of planetary orbits. In other words, the version of heliocentrism that he defended is NOT the version that we accept as true today. If you assert that the Church ought to have taken his unsubstantiated word for heliocentrism, you are not recommending science but scientology.

  2. welder4 Says:

    These people are fantastic they go about like the knight of the holy grail with both arms chopped off and both legs saying its only a flesh wound come on and fight . they are so in denial it is strange. they have that kind of stupidity about them trying to claim that man is causing warming with Co2. They should know by know every one can see the emperor has no clothes.

  3. bobrgeologist Says:

    The above comments are in line with my thinking, contrived political hogwash. I feel it is the height of foolishness to peddle the idea of exaggerated global warming when our planet is in an interglacial phase of the Pleistocene Ice Ages. We just started warming up from the 5th (Wisconsin) 14,000 years ago and it took 6,000 yrs to complete, a mere moment of geologic time. Since that time our climate has has resembled a roller-coaster with about thousand years from one high to the next. We have been on a slight warming trend since the “Little Ice Age” bottomed out about 1300 AD. It has been estimated that since the Industrial Revolution and human use of fossil fuels accelerated, we have warmed all of 1 deg C. A piddling increase that has been egregiously hyped by a number
    of climate scientis. They have prostituted
    their high calling for $30+ billion Gov’t
    funded research. This has produced no empirical evidence supporting CO2′s role in human caused global warming. Meanwhile the Greens and politicians are eager to spend trillioms to implement climate controll by attacking greenhouse gases, which are our only means of preventing the likely return of another ice age as long as we have iced up polar regions. It is a “Catch 22″ situation and not good for mankind.

  4. adrianvance Says:

    The greenhouses of Germany have increased the CO2 concentration in their facilities for over 150 years by exhausting propane heaters into them. This is now done here and responsible for all the low-cost “Tomatoes on the vine(tm)” you can buy in grocery stores.

    “Better living through chemistry.”

  5. adrianvance Says:

    While I have heard you can make a Sartorious from an old jock strap, an enema bag and a meter stick I continue to have serious doubt it would measure this “science” as it more seance than not.

    Per Le Chatelea, average temperatures declined from 1940 through 1970 when CO2 increased most dramatically as we geared up for and fought WWII burning down much of Europe and Japan. After that it began to better correlate with the sun and the decline in our magnetosphere that prevents heating by gamma rays. Nothing can be done about that and there aren’t any grants given in it regardless the hundreds that have been filed with the Federal bureaus.

  6. jg6158 Says:

    I’ve got a Sartorius in the basement that could probably do it. I was on an FDA contract years ago and they simply weighed the amount of correspondence from the contractees.(Good science, Huh?)The U of AZ did a study down in Rocky Point, Mexico that showed tomatoes doubled their production with high concentrations of C02. (1000 ppm)
    I have a feeling most of us are gonna die anyway sometime.


  7. [...] Steve Milloy does a good job in his column today addressing the question: “Are manmade greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming?” (emphasis ours) [...]

  8. adrianvance Says:

    CO2 is a trace gas in air and insignificant by definition. It is a poor absorber of IR energy from sunlight. Water vapor is seven times better and has 200 times as many molecules for 1400 times the heating effect.

    Petroleum is 84% carbon and coal even more. They make 80% of our energy. Control and taxing of carbon will give the elected class more power than anything since the Magna Carta in 1215 AD signed during the Medieval Warming when conditions are Earth were warmer, Europe awash with grain, Vikings had sheep in Greenland and were not pillaging Europe. It was a time of peace, but the elected classes had relatively little power.

    Anthropogenic global warming is corrupt political hoax promoted by lying scientists seeking grants, power and prestige by panic, “Oh God, we’re all gonna die!”

  9. dgrau Says:

    See a legal cross examination at http://tinyurl.com/32y92or


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