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Dr Mordrid
19th June 2006, 11:33
Climate consensus and the end of science

Terence Corcoran, Financial Post
Published: Friday, June 16, 2006

It is now firmly established, repeated ad nauseam in the media and elsewhere, that the debate over global warming has been settled by scientific consensus. The subject is closed. It seems unnecessary to labour the point, but here are a couple of typical statements: "The scientific consensus is clear: human-caused climate change is happening" (David Suzuki Foundation); "There is overwhelming scientific consensus" that greenhouse gases emitted by man cause global temperatures to rise (Mother Jones).

Back when modern science was born, the battle between consensus and new science worked the other way around. More often than not, the consensus of the time -- dictated by religion, prejudice, mysticism and wild speculation, false premises -- was wrong. The role of science, from Galileo to Newton and through the centuries, has been to debunk the consensus and move us forward. But now science has been stripped of its basis in experiment, knowledge, reason and the scientific method and made subject to the consensus created by politics and bureaucrats.
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Global warming science by consensus, with appeals to United Nations panels and other agencies as authorities, is the apotheosis of the century-long crusade to overthrow the foundations of modern science and replace them with collectivist social theories of science. "Where a specific body of knowledge is recognized and accepted by a body of scientists, there would seem to be a need to regard that acceptance as a matter of contingent fact," writes Barnes. This means that knowledge is "undetermined by experience." It takes us "away from an individualistic rationalist account of evaluation towards a collectivist conventionalist account."

In short, under the new authoritarian science based on consensus, science doesn't matter much any more. If one scientist's 1,000-year chart showing rising global temperatures is based on bad data, it doesn't matter because we still otherwise have a consensus. If a polar bear expert says polar bears appear to be thriving, thus disproving a popular climate theory, the expert and his numbers are dismissed as being outside the consensus. If studies show solar fluctuations rather than carbon emissions may be causing climate change, these are damned as relics of the old scientific method. If ice caps are not all melting, with some even getting larger, the evidence is ridiculed and condemned. We have a consensus, and this contradictory science is just noise from the skeptical fringe.

Jasper McKee, professor of physics at the University of Manitoba and editor of Physics in Canada, asked recently: "Is scientific fact no longer necessary?" Apparently it's not. "In the absence of hard scientific fact or causal relationships, a majority vote of scientists can determine scientific truth."

Perhaps, says Mr. McKee, the great scientific revolution begun in the Renaissance of the 17th century is over and the need for science is gone. "The prospects," he says, "are alarming." In the end, though, real science can only win. If real science produces truth that the consensus method cannot, any consensus will inevitably fail to hold. Until then, however, we will have to live with the likes of David Suzuki.Dr. Mordrid

Technoid
20th June 2006, 01:14
This is nothing new, its been going on since the dawn of science, its just more exposed now ;)

Brian Ellis
20th June 2006, 05:37
Science could never exist without consensus and never has done; neither could scientific advances be made. I cannot think of a single scientific advance since Archimedes jumped out of his bathtub that did not have its naysayers. Once you have a single naysayer, the others have to consent to disagree with him; this is the meaning of consensus.

The point is that scientific consensus of a theory is judged not only by the number of scientists who agree with it, but also by their qualifications and experience in the field, as well as by the data fitting. Let me give an example, in my own experience, of how a naysayer gathered an influential, but proven wrong, following:

In 1974, Molina and Sherwood expounded a hypothesis that large quantities of CFC gases in the atmosphere may cause undue depletion of the ozone layer round the earth. This caused a lot of hoo-hah amongst atmospheric scientists who were equally divided whether the hypotheses was tenable or not and it remained a hypothesis for a few years. Little by little, the hypothesis started to be confirmed. By the time that Joe Farman "discovered" the so-called ozone hole in 1979-1983, published in 1985, it had become a consensual theory and the Vienna Conference in 1985, leading to the Montreal Protocol in 1987, established that action was necessary to reduce the problem. I became officially involved with this after the London Amendment in 1988, by which time the theory had been proven by the analysis of air samples taken over the Antarctic with a U2 plane. The chemistry of these samples was exactly as Molina and Sherwood had predicted (for which they received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in, I think, 1996). Between 1988 and 1990, a very influential scientist, the late Haroun Tazieff said that the chemistry of ozone depletion was all wrong because, if the chlorine atoms from CFCs were responsible for the destructive ozone depletion, with a concentration in the parts-per-trillion range, then the chlorine atoms in atmospheric salt from the oceans in the parts-per-million range must be orders of magnitude more important as a causal factor of ozone depletion. He had a following of thousands from around the world, licking up his hypothesis and causing us a lot of grief, despite the fact that DuPont, ICI, Solvay, Atochem, and all the other makers of CFCs agreed that CFCs were responsible (along with a handful of other chemicals, such as halons and some other halocarbons - the list is still increasing). Now, Tazieff was, without doubt, the world's leading vulcanologist and was highly respected in his own field and much of what we know about volcanoes today is a result of his work. Unfortunately, he dabbled also in politics (François Mitterand named him Minister of Natural Disasters) and "popular science", having his own TV series. I have enormous respect for his work as a vulcanologist, but, as an atmospheric scientist, he was zero. a) he had no knowledge of the valency or ionic bond of the sodium chloride molecule, neither for the covalent bond between the carbon and the halogen in a CFC molecule, nor could he explain the difference; b) he did not understand that salt molecule ionised in the presence of atmospheric humidity and that the chlorine anion rained out, back to earth; c) even if a few salt molecules do reach the stratosphere (and a few do), they do not photolyse under the influence of solar radiation, as do CFCs, so they cannot release their chlorine atom to react with ozone, upsetting the natural equilibrium. However, even when scientists who did understand these facts explained them to Dr Tazieff, he would not accept them and he persisted in his errors right up to his death. Tazieff and his party were an influential body of naysayers, but the scientific consensus prevailed over his far-faluting hypothesis. Even today, nearly 20 years since the proof of anthropogenic ozone depletion was shown, based on data, I still meet naysayers to the consensus. I dare say there are still naysayers who claim the earth is not a rough oblate spheroid, but is flat, but the consensus opinion is that it is roughly round.

Dr Mordrid
20th June 2006, 20:21
-Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.

Nikola Tesla

-Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.

Henri Poincare

Brian Ellis
21st June 2006, 01:10
Anyone can apply platitudinous quotations to further their arguments. That does nothing to further the definition of science. To illustrate that, I offer the following, from eminent scientists in their respective fields, all of whom were implying that science is never exact.

- The essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer.
Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973) ch. 4

- In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.
Sir Francis Darwin, Eugenics Review April 1914 Francis Galton

- Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium (1941) ch. 13

- In effect, we have redefined the task of science to be the discovery of laws that will enable us to predict events up to the limits set by the uncertainty principle.
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988) ch. 11

- If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?
T.H. Huxley, Collected Essays vol. 3 (1895) On Elementary Instruction in Physiology (written 1877)

- Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.
Sir Karl Popper, The Philosophy of Science in C. A. Mace (ed.) British Philosophy in the Mid-Century (1957)

- We haven’t got the money, so we’ve got to think!
Ernest Rutherford, In Bulletin of the Institute of Physics (1962) vol. 13, p. 102 (as recalled by R. V. Jones)

- Man is the interpreter of nature, science the right interpretation.
William Whewell, Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840) Aphorism 17

From my own experience again. From about 1965 onwards, I studied the applied science of the effects of contamination on electronics assemblies, its measurement and decontamination. I presented many papers on the subject and, in the early 1980s, I wrote 4 books on the subject (2 still in print), one of which is, even now, considered as the "bible" of the subject, even though the scientific knowledge of the subject has advanced in the last 20 years. I developed equipment for the measurement of infinitismally small quantities of contaminations and to study its effects. I knew then that, even though I was considered by my global peers as the "guru", if the total knowledge of the subject could be contained in a one litre milk bottle, my knowledge was just as a film of milk that barely covered the bottom. I don't say this to blow my own trumpet but as an illustration that science, whether applied or pure, is neither exact nor complete but a very slow process of evolution. It is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. We may hold a tiny piece of knowledge that seems to fit into the giant scheme of things and we call that a hypothesis. When a couple of other pieces fit to it, we call it a theory, but the puzzle is so great, we can never fit in all the pieces, making it scientific fact. The existence of scientific fact is, in itself, only a hypothesis.

We should do well to remember that phlogiston was consensually considered as scientific fact for a century, until refuted by Lavoisier. Such eminent scientists as Cavendish and Priestley naysayed Lavoisier's work. Even today, the opposing views are called the phlogiston theory and the oxygen theory, although the latter is, I believe, accepted unanimously, rather than by consensus; however, oxygen as being the supporter of ordinary combustion, is still a theory.

KvHagedorn
21st June 2006, 06:39
I knew then that, even though I was considered by my global peers as the "guru", if the total knowledge of the subject could be contained in a one litre milk bottle, my knowledge was just as a film of milk that barely covered the bottom. I don't say this to blow my own trumpet but as an illustration that science, whether applied or pure, is neither exact nor complete but a very slow process of evolution. It is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. We may hold a tiny piece of knowledge that seems to fit into the giant scheme of things and we call that a hypothesis. When a couple of other pieces fit to it, we call it a theory, but the puzzle is so great, we can never fit in all the pieces, making it scientific fact. The existence of scientific fact is, in itself, only a hypothesis.

So you and DM basically agree, then, that concensus is mutable and should not be defined as "fact."

Brian Ellis
21st June 2006, 07:39
What I was trying to say is that there is no such thing as scientific fact, only theories. When I was at school, in the early war years, the scientific "fact" was that an atom was the smallest indivisible part of an element and consisted of electrons orbiting round a nucleus of protons and neutrons. "Splitting the atom" became known to the public only years later. Mesons, quarks and all the other particles were still unheard of. So the "fact" I was taught should have been qualified by "as far as we know at this time". So it is today, we may think we know what happens when we let an apple fall to the ground or we apply a keeper to a metal magnet and we may qualify the observed phenomena as fact but we cannot qualify what we believe the reason to be for their behaviour as "fact", any more than we can say why a roast chicken is more palatable than a raw one.

In other words, science is in a state of constant cyclic evolution of observation, hypothesising and theorising; each iteration of the cycle may give us a speck more knowledge, but we shall never reach perfect knowledge, because it is asymptotic to infinity, perhaps to Infinity.

Because we cannot have perfect knowledge, each theory, whether it be labelled as "fact" or not, is capable of being challenged - and usually is, so you nearly always have two or more schools of thought. One usually prevails after a period of time. This is called science by consensus. The consensus is the "fact of the moment" if you like. And yes, consensus can change as more facts can be observed.

So, no, if I understand what he says correctly, Dr M believes that science is absolute, black or white. His famous quotation of Henri Poincaré is how I interpret this: "Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science". I do not agree with this; for me, science is made of theories developed to fit into what are believed to be observed facts and is therefore in constant mutation. However, we cannot necessarily rely on our observation of facts as the very fact of observation may change the condition of what we purport to observe. Science is never black or white.