Over the last three centuries science has established a pretty robust technique for overturning consensus and examining the weirder areas of science. You have to publish in peer reviewed journals with something testable or observed so that other smart people will attempt to tear your specific ideas to pieces. Waving an untestable vague idea of cause and effect around based on wordplay is something that is better left to politicians and other con artists.
As astronomer Phil Plait said at Slate a few days ago…
Huh. Here’s the thing: If you listen to Fox News, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you’d have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it. Mind you, scientists are a contrary lot. If there were solid evidence that global warming didn’t exist, or that CO2 emissions weren’t the culprit, there would be papers in the journals about it. Lots of them.
I base this on my own experience with contrary data in astronomy. In 1998, two teams of researchers found evidence that the expansion of the Universe was not slowing down, as expected, but actually speeding up. This idea is as crazy as holding a ball in your hand, letting go, and having it fall up, accelerating wildly into the sky. Yet those papers got published. They inspired lively discussion (to say the least) and motivated further observations. Careful, meticulous work was done to eliminate errors and confounding factors, until it became very clear that we were seeing an overturning of the previous paradigm. It took years, but now astronomers accept that the Universal expansion is accelerating and that dark energy is the culprit.
Mind you, dark energy is far, far weirder than anything climate change deniers have come up with, yet it became mainstream science in a decade or so. Deniers have been bloviating for longer than that, yet their claims are rejected overwhelmingly by climate scientists. Why? Because they’re wrong.
That was my experience of science as well. From doing a science degree and from the various people I know who’ve worked in science and engineering I’ve known over the years, people in science love to argue (boy do they like to argue). They are bull-headed enough to push through almost every obstacle if they think that their completely over the top idea is right (and most of them have a few weird ideas).
But they know they have to have a theory about the mechanism with ideas about how to observe it and/or they have observed evidence. That is what peer-reviewed journals with equally bull-headed, opinionated, and knowledgeable smart people reviewing articles are looking for.
Merely ineffectually clutching your balls and waving a vague theory in the air like Rodney Hide did last week or such luminaries of logical thinking like Donald Trump did a week earlier isn’t “skepticism”. It is just some dickheads who are too lazy to read the peer reviewed papers and who are seeking to increase their penis size by the column inches that equally lazy media editors are willing to give them. Gareth Morgan had a more mundane description of this phenomenon that is worth reading.
The more interesting question is why the media give numpties like Hide and Trump airtime when they are so clearly just playing Dumbass? As mentioned, 97% of scientists who work in this area agree that man-made climate change is real. Yet in some supposed quest for ‘balance’ the media continues to give half the airtime to the 3% of scientists that disagree. The result is that climate change sceptics are getting far more column inches than they deserve. This only serves to bolster the egos of the uninformed like Hide that can’t be bothered to read the research for themselves. But is this also a commentary on the poor state of media?
As with the recent Bob Jones suicide article that had to be pulled, there certainly is a need for our media to exercise greater quality control if its own relevance isn’t to suffer.
As Phil Plait points out above, some pretty weird ideas go from being viewed as being completely crazy to being the accepted consensus in a field within a decade. In this age of fast and rapid communications I can’t think of a testable idea that has not apart from a few ideas that have proved to be bloody hard to test for. For instance that was the case with the Higgs boson which took more than 40 years. But with our increased population and its consequent increased population of scientists now probably exceeds the entire population of scientists in history prior to 1950, ideas are torn apart and tested like never before.
Untestable was also the case for the theory of human generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and oceans causing climate change. I first ran across this as a theory back in 1979 when I started doing an Earth Sciences degree. At that point it’d been around as a untestable idea for most of a century. That was mainly because to prove it one way or another required the types of long-period observations of air and water temperatures from across the whole world that we simply didn’t have. Climate changes the weather patterns gradually. Fluctuations in day-to-day weather are far more extreme than anything that can be seen in climate patterns in anything less than a decade (something that Rodney Hides dick-waving managed to forget).
In 1979 the World Meteorological Organisation held its first climate conference (WCC-1) to evaluate the theory and its impacts. In the decades since, the introduction of satellites for weather observation and global communications, plus a deliberate focus on testing the theory have shifted the basis. It isn’t a theory and this is reflected in the peer-reviewed papers.
Getting back to Phil’s article again..
In 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot ofsound and fury from the denial machine, deniers have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus. The same is true for a somewhat different study that showed a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists supporting both the reality of global warming and the fact that human emissions are behind it.
Powell recently finished another such investigation, this time looking at peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December 2013. Out of 2,258 articles (with 9,136 authors), how many do you think explicitly rejected human-driven global warming? Go on, guess!
One. Yes, one.
What that means in science terms is that are no credible testable or even vaguely credible theories out there that contradict the theory that humans are inducing climate change in their own planet. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t extreme arguments in the scientific community about how fast it is happening and where it is happening. The general conservative scientific consensus as expressed by the IPCC and WMO is that it is happening fast.
It just means that unlike the wishful dick-waving world of Rodney Hide and his band of great ape followers performing their ancient instincts, no-one with any knowledge doubts that it happening.