Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is it better to form beliefs based on evidence or based on consensus?

Stuart Schneiderman linked to this Wall Street Journal by Matt Ridley.

Take a look at this:

Last week a friend chided me for not agreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is likely to be dangerous. I responded that, according to polls, the “consensus” about climate change only extends to the propositions that it has been happening and is partly man-made, both of which I readily agree with. Forecasts show huge uncertainty.

Besides, science does not respect consensus. There was once widespread agreement about phlogiston (a nonexistent element said to be a crucial part of combustion), eugenics, the impossibility of continental drift, the idea that genes were made of protein (not DNA) and stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and so forth—all of which proved false. Science, Richard Feyman once said, is “the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

My friend objected that I seemed to follow the herd on matters like the reality of evolution and the safety of genetically modified crops, so why not on climate change? Ah, said I, but I don’t. I agree with the majority view on evolution, not because it is a majority view but because I have looked at evidence. It’s the data that convince me, not the existence of a consensus.

My friend said that I could not possibly have had time to check all the evidence for and against evolution, so I must be taking others’ words for it. No, I said, I take on trust others’ word that their facts are correct, but I judge their interpretations myself, with no thought as to how popular they are. (Much as I admire Charles Darwin, I get fidgety when his fans start implying he is infallible. If I want infallibility, I will join the Catholic Church.)

And that is where the problem lies with climate change. A decade ago, I was persuaded by two pieces of data to drop my skepticism and accept that dangerous climate change was likely. The first, based on the Vostok ice core, was a graph showing carbon dioxide and temperature varying in lock step over the last half million years. The second, the famous “hockey stick” graph, showed recent temperatures shooting up faster and higher than at any time in the past millennium.

Within a few years, however, I discovered that the first of these graphs told the opposite story from what I had inferred. In the ice cores, it is now clear that temperature drives changes in the level of carbon dioxide, not vice versa.

As for the “hockey stick” graph, it was effectively critiqued by Steven McIntyre, a Canadian businessman with a mathematical interest in climatology. He showed that the graph depended heavily on unreliable data, especially samples of tree rings from bristlecone pine trees, the growth patterns of which were often not responding to temperature at all. It also depended on a type of statistical filter that overweighted any samples showing sharp rises in the 20th century.

I followed the story after that and was not persuaded by those defending the various hockey-stick graphs. They brought in a lake-sediment sample from Finland, which had to be turned upside down to show a temperature spike in the 20th century; they added a sample of larch trees from Siberia that turned out to be affected by one tree that had grown faster in recent decades, perhaps because its neighbor had died. Just last week, the Siberian larch data were finally corrected by the University of East Anglia to remove all signs of hockey-stick upticks, quietly conceding that Mr. McIntyre was right about that, too.

So, yes, it is the evidence that persuades me whether a theory is right or wrong, and no, I could not care less what the “consensus” says.

I think that one of the most troubling things about college students today is that they are so much under the influence of their professors that they regularly just parrot whatever their professors say in order to pass their classes. They can’t afford to ask questions and disagree – they’ve already paid their money, and their job is to agree with the professors in order to pass. This is especially true with secular leftist professors who are often woefully incapable of respecting views other than their own. The ivory tower is not the best place for having one’s views tested by reality, as Thomas Sowell has argued. This is especially true outside of the fields of engineering, math, science and technology. So, young people tend to come out of university parroting the view of their professors, who often don’t know how the real world works at all. The right thing to do to fix this problem is for universities to promote a diversity of views. But that’s not likely to happen in universities that are dominated by progressives. Non-progressive views are not just wrong, but evil. Rather than be viewed as evil by professors and peers for the crime of thinking critically, most students prefer to stick with the consensus views, whether they are defensible or not.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jay Richards and Stephen C. Meyer discuss scientific consensus on the Michael Medved show

The Michael Medved show is a national radio show broadcast out of Seattle, Washington. According to Talkers magazine, he has the fifth largest radio audience. He has a regular weekly segment on science and culture featuring  scholars from the Discovery Institute.

Here is the fifth segment from this past week, courtesy of the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

The MP3 file is available for download. (35 minutes)

The description is:

On this episode of ID the Future, Jay Richards and Stephen Meyer join Michael Medved for a discussion of the phrase “scientific consensus” and how it is used in debates over controversial issues such as Darwinian evolution and climate change.

Each week, leading fellows from Discovery Institute will join Michael Medved to talk about the intersection of science and culture. Listen in live online or on your local Medved station, or stay tuned at ID the Future for the weekly podcast.

Topics:

  • Does global warming cause more tornadoes?
  • Are we having more tornadoes now?
  • Is science decoded NY consensus?
  • Why would someone appeal to consensus
  • If a person defends their view by using sweeping rhetoric and insults is that am indicator of strength
  • Is there more extreme weather than before now?
  • When did the last warming begin?
  • Are we in a waking or cooling cycle now?
  • How are scientists who dissent from the consensus treated?
  • How much CO2 is needed in the atmosphere in order to create warming?

I subscribe to the ID the Future podcast, and I really recommend that you do as well!

Previous entries

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Jay Richards: what should Christians think about global warming?

Here’s a lecture Jay Richards did for the Acton Institue.

And here is a related article from Boundless.

Excerpt:

The big environmental issue nowadays is global warming. Anyone who watches or reads the news even occasionally has been told that humans are causing global warming through all the fossil fuels we’re burning. They’ve also been told that this warming process eventually will prove catastrophic if we don’t reverse course as soon as possible.

As thinking Christians and good stewards, how should we respond?

The short answer is, we should respond thoughtfully. Thoughtless stewards are rarely good stewards.

Notice that my brief summary of the global warming controversy bundled together several distinct claims. To think clearly about this issue, we have to tease apart this bundle of claims and consider each one. For each claim, there is a corresponding question we need to answer. And it’s only after answering these questions that we can be in a position to determine what, if anything, we ought to do about global warming.

Here are the four central questions:

  1. Is the earth warming?
  2. If the earth is warming, is human activity (like carbon dioxide emissions) causing it?
  3. If the earth is warming, and we’re causing it, is that bad overall?
  4. If the earth is warming, we’re causing it, and that’s bad, would any of the proposed “solutions” (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions) make any difference?

It’s important for us to think carefully about how best to achieve the goals set out by the Bible. And that means undertaking a close study of how the world works and how best to affect change for the good.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study shows that the medieval warming extended far and wide

From the UK Daily Mail.

Excerpt:

Current theories of the causes and impact of global warming have been thrown into question by a new study which shows that during medieval times the whole of the planet heated up.

It then cooled down naturally and there was even a ‘mini ice age’.

A team of scientists led by geochemist Zunli Lu from Syracuse University in New York state, has found that contrary to the ‘consensus’, the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ approximately 500 to 1,000 years ago wasn’t just confined to Europe.

In fact, it extended all the way down to Antarctica – which means that the Earth has already experience global warming without the aid of human CO2 emissions.

At present the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that the Medieval Warm Period was confined to Europe – therefore that the warming we’re experiencing now is a man-made phenomenon.

However, Professor Lu has shown that this isn’t true – and the evidence lies with a rare mineral called ikaite, which forms in cold waters.

‘Ikaite is an icy version of limestone,’ said Lu. ‘The crystals are only stable under cold conditions and actually melt at room temperature.’

It turns out the water that holds the crystal structure together – called the hydration water – traps information about temperatures present when the crystals formed.

This finding by Lu’s research team establishes, for the first time, ikaite as a reliable way to study past climate conditions.

The scientists studied ikaite crystals from sediment cores drilled off the coast of Antarctica. The sediment layers were deposited over 2,000 years.

The scientists were particularly interested in crystals found in layers deposited during the ‘Little Ice Age,’ approximately 300 to 500 years ago, and during the Medieval Warm Period before it.

Both climate events have been documented in Northern Europe, but studies have been inconclusive as to whether the conditions in Northern Europe extended to Antarctica.

Lu’s team found that in fact, they did.

What that means is that the Medieval Warming Period was not local to Northern Europe, but extended all the way to Antarctica, as well. Now you might be asking yourself “how could medieval knights riding around on horseback cause global warming? Wouldn’t they have to be driving SUVs and drilling for oil and generally do nasty capitalist things like that?” Yes, they would. But they weren’t. And so this clearly shows that the warming and cooling of the Earth has nothing whatsoever to do with CO2 emissions. Whatever will the socialists do now to trick people into voting for higher gas prices?

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 scientists explain why global warming is not a threat

From the Wall Street Journal. (H/T Levin)

Excerpt:

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 “Climategate” email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

And:

Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.

This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.

Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word “incontrovertible” from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question “cui bono?” Or the modern update, “Follow the money.”

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Read the whole thing! This is a must-read.

UPDATE: My friend Neil Simpson has found another recent study showing that there has been no significant global warming for 15 years – and the numbers come from the British Met Office, and the University of East Anglia (home of Climategate).

Related stories

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