Science by democracy doesn’t work (Synopsis)

“Even when Darwin’s teaching first made its appearance, it became clear at once that its scientific, materialist core, its teaching concerning the evolution of living nature, was antagonistic to the idealism that reigned in biology.” -Trofim Lysenko

We love having debates when there's a disagreement. When there are multiple competing explanations for an effect, multiple possible causes, and multiple ideas flying around, different people will inevitably be drawn towards different sides.

Image credit: Springer 2007 / Union of Concerned Scientists, via http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/voting-opens-on-scientific-integrity-cartoons.html. Image credit: Springer 2007 / Union of Concerned Scientists, via http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/voting-opens-on-scientific-i….

It's only human nature, I suppose. But what are we to do in this case? We are going to have these debates, these predispositions, and these opinions. So how do we sift through it?

Contrary to popular opinion, debate may not be necessarily bad, if we do it right. What does a productive debate look like?

Image credit: ESO/P. Grosbøl, via http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1042a/. Image credit: ESO/P. Grosbøl, via http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1042a/.

Come check out the greatest debate in all of science history, and the lessons we learn from it!

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Nice article, but the Congressional vote(s) over AGW serves more as a pretext than a real contrast. I say that because we all know (or should know) that the Congressional actions themselves are not about science, they're about government regulation of businesses. I'm guessing there's maybe about 20-40 representatives (in both Congress and the Senate) that truly don't accept the science. The rest of the GOP...well, they have campaign contributions to honor.

@eric #1

It isn't about not accepting the science. It is much like the article above. Not enough is known to make a determination. I know everyone has a problem with that statement but think of it this way: If I asked everyone to create a computer model that found the answer to 1+2, I'd likely get the exact same answer from just about everyone. The 'science' on 1+2 is settled, but virtually every climate model spits out different answers because there are big, important pieces where people are making educated guesses and they're all guessing slightly different numbers.

"Observations of Messier 31 (the Andromeda Galaxy) showed that there are many objects flaring up in that small region of the sky. They were similar in brightness to the novae that we see in our own Milky Way, except they were incredibly dim..."

I don't follow; how can this be? By "similar in brightness", do you mean they had a similar spectrum, or that the change in brightness followed a similar curve, or something like that?

We have these wonderful tools: representative democracy, public debate, courtroom trial, etc. These tools have served us well for over two centuries, and we recognize their power for creating a society that is conducive to human flourishing.

But the tools of a carpenter don't perform masonry, and the tools of a mason don't perform carpentry. What we fail to recognize is that these wonderful tools of ours do not determine what is real: reality could care less what we think.

It might be tempting to nominate a body of scientists who have official authority to rule on the subject of what is real, and then limit the legislature to deciding what shall be done about it. But that won't get us very far, as the same human faults such as the desire for worldly gain or the desire to dominate others, will find their way to corrupt any such body, much as they do our existing legislatures.

The greater our capacity to affect the world around us, the greater the imperative becomes for us to evolve socially, as the condition of our continued existence.

@2: they spit out different numbers but the range of results overlap and they all point in the same direction.

Your argument is akin to saying three people on a racetrack discussing a car, where you say: "well, I clocked that car going 200 mph. Alice clocked it at 230 mph. Bob clocked it at 180 mph. Because of the variance, we can't tell whether its going forward, backward, or standing still." Of course you can. A variance in model results is not the same as complete ignorance.

@eric #13

If 3 people measured the exact same event at 200, 230, and 180, then I would say their understanding of how to accurately measure velocity is not adequate. If those same 3 people clocked another car at equally divergent results then proclaimed car #2 was faster because it was purple, I'd be untrusting of their conclusions.

The climate models all differ from each other and differ from the temperature record. I'm not suggesting we are totally ignorant of exactly how some of the components work, but if the system was truly understood, there wouldn't be large error bars and divergent results. The scientific understanding of several significant areas of our very complex climate system is not adequate yet.

If 3 people measured the exact same event at 200, 230, and 180, then I would say their understanding of how to accurately measure velocity is not adequate.

It's adequate enough that if someone asks "is the car going forward," every rational person should answer "yes." See the graph here? The temperature is rising. The car is going forward. There are variations between measurements, yes, but nothing that provides any support for the notion that the car is standing still.

This week I was telling my class (Physical Science in Contemporary Society) about this controversy. When I was a kid in Scotland in the early 1950s there were still books in the local library which claimed the spiral nebulae were in our "island Universe". I think one may have been by Eddington. Anyway I was very confused. How does a kid in a country back water in Scotland sort this out? I was happy to find your discussion of this issue, and forwarded it to the class.

Thanks,
Bob Orr

@Denier: In fact, you don't seem to understand the science at all, but are more than willing to parrot back whatever non-scientific pabulum you've been fed.

The underlying physics of radiative transfer is extraordinarily well understood, and the effects of both atmospheric carbon dioxide and atmospheric methane have been for about 120 years. If you think you know more about the physics, please, please point us to your peer reviewed articles supporting your "knowledge."

The production of excess methane and carbon dioxide due to human activity is extremely well understood and well documented. It should also be trivially obvious to anyone who has ever lived near, worked near, or even driven past, large industrial installations (such as factories). If you haven't done any of those things, well, I congratulate you on both your extremely good health and on your insularity.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Even simpler: the "what if you're wrong?" test.

If I'm wrong that humans are causing climate change, we still get 21st-century clean power sources, profitable investments, well-paid secure jobs, and all the prosperity that goes along with.

If Denier is wrong that climate change isn't occurring, we get a near-extinction event.

Simplified further:

If you smell smoke and look around, only to discover that your neighbor is having a barbeque, you've wasted a few minutes.

If you smell smoke and do nothing, but there's an electrical fire in your walls, you've wasted your house.

We only have one house.

@eric #1

It isn’t about not accepting the science. It is much like the article above. Not enough is known to make a determination

We definitely DO know enough to make a determination. I don't need proof of the shock waves that will pound through my body on collision with the ground to know that falling off a tall building is not bad for me.

And I don't change that assertion merely by the few people who have fallen a mile and survived.

If 3 people measured the exact same event at 200, 230, and 180, then I would say their understanding of how to accurately measure velocity is not adequate.

Not adequate for what?

Answering the question "Is that car speeding?"?
Answering "Is that car stationary?"?
Answering "Is that car in reverse gear?"?

There are MANY determinations of questions that can be answered by those three people, and the FACT that you make the claim that their methods are *inadequate* illustrates the absolute problem you deniers have: you don't know or care what the evidence is, nor what the question asked is, you only care that your ideology is not disturbed or challenged.

@eric #7

The car is going forward because it is your analogy. If you want to do away with your analogy and talk climate then it is not so clear cut. The satellite record shows no warming for 20+ years while a ground based record says this was the warmest year ever, and Antarctica has more ice than ever recorded.

@Michael Kelsey #9

Cloud feedback is negative, negative but different, and negative but different again.

http://geotest.tamu.edu/userfiles/216/dessler10b.pdf
http://www-eaps.mit.edu/faculty/lindzen/236-Lindzen-Choi-2011.pdf
http://www.met.reading.ac.uk/~sgs02rpa/PAPERS/Allan11MA.pdf

Cloud feedback is positive, positive but different.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/325/5939/460.abstract
http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/2010JCLI3666.1

All are pier reviewed and all are different, but if you are saying that you've known the answer to this very difficult question for 120 years then perhaps you should tell these scientists why they are all idiots and give them the correct numbers on cloud feedback so the climate modelers can all agree to use your numbers.

@G #10

'The Day After Tomorrow' is a cheesefest, terrible movie that I also have to watch every time I am flipping through the channels and see it on.

‘The Day After Tomorrow’ is a cheesefest, terrible movie

Yup, it is. What's the point of telling everyone that?

All are pier reviewed and all are different, but if you are saying that you’ve known the answer to this very difficult question for 120 years

By different you mean "different types of cloud are different in their effect". Denying reality to ensure you make the grade again?

@eric #7

The car is going forward because it is your analogy.

Yet YOUR response to the analogy was that there was NO determination of speed. So given your change of heart on the result, do you change your view and rethink your stance?

Of course not.

If you want to do away with your analogy and talk climate then it is not so clear cut.

No, what's clear cut, even in climate, is that you are not able to make any assertion of whether data and results are indicative of an effect or not.

The satellite record shows no warming for 20+ years

Nope, it doesn't. Unless you swap from UAH that was your favourite two years ago to RSS. If you have to pick your dataset (which requires a model), pick the period from the highest ENSO trend (which satellite is more sensitive to) and STILL get your claim wrong:

http://woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1995/to:2015/normalise

You really have to work to deny reality to continue.

The satellite record shows no warming for 20+ years

No, no it doesn't, unless you are dishonest and know just enough statistics to be able to selectively pick just the right time period.

@Denier: Pity you don't read what you're trying to refute (nor what you think you can use for support). I didn't mention cloud feedback in my post. Arrhenius derived the effect of CARBON DIOXIDE (that's "CO2", as I mentioned in my comment) about 120 years ago. His results are perfectly valid today, as they were then.

Cloud feedback, in particular the relative effects of albedo vs. forcing, are extremely complex. Each of the papers you cite, clearly without understanding them, are addressing different specific aspects of that complex problem.

This is how good science gets done: any given researcher narrows their focus to a measurable, solvable problem, and attacks it as best they can. Once you have many different pieces, you can start to put them together and get an idea of the larger puzzle.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 30 Jan 2015 #permalink

@Michael Kelsey #18

I read what you wrote. I simply elected to ignore your strawman. Correctly modeling climate is not as simple Arrhenius heat generation. As you correctly point out, the relative effects of cloud albedo vs forcing are extremely complex. While it is a guess on my part, I would bet the mechanism by which each climate model used to model the cloud feedback component is responsible for 90%+ of the prediction differences between them. As you also point out, the science on much of the rest of the system is well worked out.

If correctly modeling cloud feedback were a small part of climate models there wouldn't be much of a debate, but that isn't the case. Big positive feedback numbers are required to get the results due to the well established effect of carbon dioxide being logarithmic.

It could well be that a large positive feedback multiplier is justified and correct. It could also be wrong. Researchers are even now narrowing their focus to measurable, solvable pieces of the larger puzzle. New pier reviewed papers come out all the time, and I have confidence the problem will be figured out. We aren't there yet. The models are not in perfect sync with each other or with actual climate. Until that happens you can't just hold a popular vote. Science by democracy doesn't work.

I read what you wrote. I simply elected to ignore your strawman

And now you indicate you don't know what a strawman argument is. Brilliant.

Correctly modeling climate is not as simple Arrhenius heat generation

Such as the 1959 model by Callender? Or the even more complex model that was used in the last IPCC CMIP study? Yeah, we did that.

Where's YOUR complex model, by the way?

If correctly modeling cloud feedback were a small part of climate models there wouldn’t be much of a debate,

Provably not so. See "Climategate" and "Himalayagate" for a tiny sliver of the proofs available. Deniers will make a HUGE debate out of any old crap.

It could well be that a large positive feedback multiplier is justified and correct

Since most deniers insist that compared to H2O, the effect of CO2 is tiny, and given the fact of H2O levels increasing with temperature (Casius Clapeyron law), the only possible result is that the positive feedbacks are massive.

Given the 33C warming we have currently, given the effect of the current CO2 levels and the current H2O levels, there should be about 3-6C per doubling of CO2. Much of the upper range would be because the lower levels of CO2 would include a snowball earth, but we have very little land illuminated by sunlight falling on glacial snow, so the lack of albedo feedback can't drop it below 2-ish C per doubling thereafter.

But if you've got a more complex and accurate model. tell us.

New pier reviewed papers come out all the time, and I have confidence the problem will be figured out. We aren’t there yet.

The qusetion of whether AGW is real and existent was answered long ago, dearie. We're back to the car analogy.

THERE IS NO POSSIBLE RESULT OF CLIMATE SENSITIVITY IN FUTURE RESEARCH THAT MAKES AGW NOT BE THE MAJOR DRIVER OF CURRENT CLIMATE CHANGE.

2C per doubling means AGW is the major cause of current climate change.

6C per doubling means AGW is the major cause of current climate change.

Those are the two extremes available to explain the current changes to climate already spotted and available to future results.

Therefore whether AGW is the major single cause of current climate change is NOT a question that is still unknown.