Saturday, 12 November 2011

Carl Sagan Part II : Climate “Science”

Well Carl Sagan’s comments on pseudo-science fit remarkable well with the methods and attitudes of the climate scientists. So what about the claims of the CAGW researchers that what they are doing is science? What does Sagan’s book say about science, and how does that fit with CAGW claims?

Every time a scientific paper presents a bit of data, it's accompanied by an error bar - a quiet but insistent reminder that no knowledge is complete or perfect. It's a calibration of how much we trust what we think we know.

We will always be mired in error. The most each generation can hope for is to reduce the error bars a little, and to add to the body of data to which error bars apply. The error bar is a pervasive, visible self-assessment of the reliability of our knowledge.

This is exactly what the climate guys don’t want us to know. They have so often ignored error bars, or been accused by reputable statisticians of poor error handling that I think they have forgotten that their data are not perfect. Considering some of the problems found in their original data … that is not promising.

I keep talking about the “idea” of catastrophic climate change being caused by human activity. That is because I have never seen it categorised, except in the vernacular as a theory.

… scientists are usually careful to characterize the veridical status of their attempts to understand the world - ranging from conjectures and hypotheses, which are highly tentative, all the way up to laws of Nature which are repeatedly and systematically confirmed through many interrogations of how the world works. But even laws of Nature are not absolutely certain. There may be new circumstances never before examined … where even our vaunted laws of Nature break down …

So in the scientific sense is CAGW a theory? An hypothesis? What? I would call it conjecture, but it is certainly not a law. Yet as Sagan says here even a law is not known to be immutable. How can anyone say the debate is over?

But our climate scientists are the great experts, are they not? Surely we should uncritically accept what they say, regardless of the complete lack of evidence.

One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.) Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.

Ah. So Carl Sagan says specifically that we should mistrust anything we have ever read in the mainstream press or heard on television about human activity, and CO2 in particular, being an overwhelming factor in global climate. Every one of those pieces is an argument from authority. Not a single one is a presentation of evidence, because there is no evidence.

That I am asserting from authority, my authority as a graduate in Earth Sciences who has been following the media avidly for over two years on the issue. You should therefore distrust my assertion, and look for yourselves. Seek an article that discusses empirical evidence (not models, certainly not discredited models; not data twisted to show human influence as a statistical artefact) that humans cause significant climate change. If you find a single one, please post here. Free gig tickets, concert of your choice to the first to link such an article in the comments (my dear wife is in the music business, so I can usually acquire VIP or even AAA passes).

So what about the response in climate “science” to sceptics? Is calling the man who disagrees with your conclusion a “denier”, to link him with neo-Nazis and to avoid having to answer his substantive points good science?

Every scientist feels a proprietary affection for his or her ideas and findings. Even so, you don't reply to critics, wait a minute; this is a really good idea; I'm very fond of it; it's done you no harm; please leave it alone. Instead, the hard but just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away. Don't waste neurons on what doesn't work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. The British physicist Michael Faraday warned of the powerful temptation to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in the favour of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them . . . We receive as friendly that which agrees with [us], we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense.

So that’ll be a no then.

… I maintain that science is part and parcel humility. Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find. We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong.

Oh. Surely that can’t be right. The revered climate “scientists” have never been wrong, have they? Surely climate “scientists” need not be humble?

Of course not! Sagan is, of course, talking about real scientists, not climate “scientists”. Sagan did not know about post-normal science.

We are constantly prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs.

Again, I think the problem is that Sagan died too early to hear about post-normal science. I am sure he would have sought fewer alternative explanations if he was alive today.

However Sagan did have some distinctly odd ideas.

In diverse ways, many other physicists are testing General Relativity, for example by attempting directly to detect the elusive gravitational waves. They hope to strain the theory to the breaking point and discover whether a regime of Nature exists in which Einstein's great advance in understanding in turn begins to fray.

These efforts will continue as long as there are scientists. General Relativity is certainly an inadequate description of Nature at the quantum level, but even if that were not the case, even if General Relativity were everywhere and forever valid, what better way of convincing ourselves of its validity than a concerted effort to discover its failings and limitations?

This is one of the reasons that the organized religions do not inspire me with confidence. Which leaders of the major faiths acknowledge that their beliefs might be incomplete or erroneous and establish institutes to uncover possible doctrinal deficiencies? Beyond the test of everyday living, who is systematically testing the circumstances in which traditional religious teachings may no longer apply? … What sermons even-handedly examine the God hypothesis?

Is Carl Sagan, the quintessential scientist, saying that climate “science” has a lot in common with religion? Surely he would never have written this if he knew that a new science would rise, one whose leaders do not “…acknowledge that their beliefs might be incomplete or erroneous and establish institutes to uncover possible doctrinal deficiencies”. A science that refuses to “systematically [test] the circumstances in which [its] teachings may no longer apply”. A science that refuses to “even-handedly examine the [CAGW] hypothesis”, or even acknowledge that such even-handed treatment could have any validity.

A science, no less, that is closer to a god, that we can worship, with sins, penance and the sale of indulgences, taxing people, paying the high priests to live in luxury while they interpret the world by declamation.

So we come to the bible, the great revelations of science. For centuries Christianity hid the “revelations of God” in the bible from common folk, by insisting it could only be published in Latin (and of course murdering the first man to publish it in a language commoners understood). Only a priest could interpret the word of God, and to ensure this remained so the common people would not be permitted to even read it or have it read to them by a literate friend.

Climate “scientists” also seem rather reluctant to part with the information they interpret. They hide their data, in the case of UEA breaking two completely separate laws to avoid disclosure. They openly declaim that this is so others cannot challenge their conclusions. Surely this is a normal part of science?

Science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions.

That’ll be another no then. Not sure, but I think I’ll just have to put this one down to post-normal science too.

So I have in two posts shown some of Carl Sagan’s opinions on pseudo-science and then on science. I am convinced by these sections that Sagan would have seen today’s climate “science” as more akin to pseudo-science that to science.

I have provided no citations or page reference simply because this is an essay not a research paper. As such I want it to flow, and stimulate further reading rather than prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. I know that I have seen all the poor science and pseudo-science I claim in print from climate “scientists”. If you feel differently, look for evidence. If you can find any to the contrary, or cannot find the types of errors and claims I assert then post a comment, I will give more detail as to what I mean. If you want to know more about Carl Sagan’s views on science, read the book. It’s very good.

[Update from Climategate II] It's funny how the climate hysterics are bent on proving everything said against them. Remember what I said about error bars?

...any method that incorporates all forms of uncertainty and error will undoubtedly result in reconstructions with wider error bars than we currently have. These many be more honest, but may not be too helpful for model comparison attribution studies. We need to be careful with the wording I think. (Wilson)

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