Tuesday, August 23, 2011

AGW Opus

This piece is well written, but is so horribly uninformed that it will never really be satisfying to respond to, so .... I will just use it to jump off to the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) and science discussion.  This author, and many others, throw around the term "science" in such a way as to make it a meaningless term.  You don't have to be a "scientist" to understand what is or is not good science.

The BLUF:  The author believes that if a majority of "scientists" believe that the earth is warming due to the activities of mankind, then the "science" supports said theory of "anthropogenic global warming" or "climate change."  If one wonders how "scientists" could discern the difference between inevitable changes in climate, and the ones supposedly caused by human activity, one will be described by this author as "unthinking."  I would say that anyone who accepts the climate change conjecture as presented to the public is guilty of the same or worse - but there's no need to dis-abuse me of the notion that people care whether or not I think they are unthinking.

Never mind for a moment what the author thinks he's saying when he says Perry - who is clearly thinking very hard about how to become president, and is doing about as well as any one else afflicted with such an ambition - is "unthinking".

Thinking About Proof Using the Scientific Method
Here are a few things for the author to "think" about.  If one were to go about trying to figure out if fluctuations in the earth's climate were caused by human activity, or were naturally occurring, how would one use the scientific method to do that?

First, one might form a conjecture - "I think humans are causing climate change via carbon emissions."

Then one would gather data.  Data like:
-antarctic ice cores which have captured atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to calculable times
-tree rings
-available measures of temperature from around the world (thermometer readings)
-ocean temperatures the world over
-atmospheric temperature profiles via satellite
-polar ice - for square miles and total mass
-advance/decline of glaciers
-annual snow fall
-layers of sediment in lakes/harbors for evidence of temperature changes over time
-our sun's output in heat energy over time

There are probably a few more measurements that would make potentially useful data.

Then you would ask yourself:
1.  How much did the climate fluctuate "normally"? (meaning, before mankind's carbon contributions began)
2.  What is the "earth's temperature" now?
3.  What are all of the factors which impact the "earth's temperature"?
4.  How much does accumulation of carbon dioxide, and other man made contributions to the atmosphere, affect  the "earth's temperature"?
5.  How much does the earth's heat source - the sun - vary over time, and how do those variances affect the "earth's temperature"?

From Data to Model
At this point, one might be able to concoct a model which would allow one to test inputs for predicted outcomes.  If this model was very, very well constructed, it would be able to "backward forecast" historical temperatures based on inputs of known variables.  That is to say, if the model was based on, for example, a measure of sun energy reaching earth, and carbon dioxide levels which were the real numbers that existed historically, the model would accurately predict the temperatures that resulted (assuming they were known).  If one entered incorrect data about sun energy and carbon dioxide, though, the model should make inaccurate "backwards predictions." 

So what would "prove" that climate change is anthropogenic?  If the very same model as described above could forecast future temperatures with sufficient accuracy.

I assume everyone knows that such a model has yet to be devised.  No scientist, or non-scientist, or puppy dog, has developed a model which is predictive of  the "earth's temperature" to a sufficient degree of accuracy that it would serve as proof.  In fact, extant models serve as proof that the modelers do not understand the various factors involved in climate change well enough to predict future temperatures. 

The "science" is, therefore, not settled.  AGW is not proved.  AGW is probably at least ten years from being proved. The conjecture of AGW has not even reached the level of theory yet.  Theory is a significant scientific marker, but is still short of law. 

What Is the Role of Consensus in Science?
What if a thousand "scientists" think the AGW conjecture is true?  Should that seem like compelling evidence? 

What if there are two "scientists" who don't think the AGW conjecture is true?  What if I can also find 1000 scientists who say that the AGW conjecture is untrue and unlikely and is more likely to be related to variances in the energy earth receives from the sun?  Is scientific consensus just another way of saying "popularity contest?" 

Who counts as a "scientist"?  Do we count only specific experts in meteorology?  Those with a PHD in physics?  Climatologists?  Oto laryngologists?  People who take photos of polar bears who are happily floating on an ice berg? 

What if I say your representation of 1000 scientists' opinions is really only 994 scientists, because 6 of your scientists died in a tragic polar bear attack?  What if it turns out that I have 1000 scientists who are pure as the wind driven snow, have never had a drink or taken drugs, they never engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, and they love their mommas, but your 1000 scientists are all employed by the 18 billion dollar a year global warming cabal?  My scientists are better than yours, because they have better intentions, right?

I hope the absurdity illustrates the point, which point is - all this talk about what scientists say is beyond pointless.  Anyone who speaks with this language mis-understands what is important about the scientific method, which is that scientific expertise is only useful if it enables one to more skillfully set up and evaluate tests of conjecture, hypothesis, and theory, to show that these may or may not be true.

Or, as I just saw on a nutrition blog, another arena with little scientific certainty, "If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."  Anatole France

According to the scientific method, if all "scientists" think that the AGW conjecture is true, it does not mean anything different than if two "scientists" think the AGW conjecture is true.  Opinions are an elemental component of the scientific method (if you have no opinion, you have nothing to test), but have nothing to do with "proof." 

The scientific method is predicated on the fallibility of humans.  The scientific method works when all humans are assumed fallible, especially those conducting the science.  No opinion is to be taken at face value.  All assertions are to be questioned.  Truth is derived by a devotion to measurable, observable, repeatable results through experimentation or forecast via model.  When science yields a result, opinion is not relevant.  Either the experiment (or in the case of AGW, experimental model) delivers measurable, observable and repeatable results, or it does not. 

Appealing To Authority
In the court of public opinion, in contrast to science, appeals to authority are popular because they work - even when people don't know something, they like to think that "experts" do know something.  People like to find certainty about uncertain matters in the opinions of experts.

As my friend and AGW expert Dr. Jeff Glassman puts it:  "Scientific concensus is the same as CO2 concentrations - a trailing indiciator."  Dr. Glassman has published a paper which makes an as yet unanswered and scientifically rigorous defense of the case that observed temperature fluctuations can be attributed to the sun without reference to CO2 concentrations whatsoever.

The article linked at the beginning of this post uses the "appeal to authority" technique to condemn those who would oppose his use of the coercive monopoly of the state to make things according to the way he thinks they should be.  He wants to force you to conduct yourself in a specific, non-carbon emitting way.  In his opinion, his obstruction of your liberty is justified because experts say the means justify the ends.  The irony is that his appeal to scientific popularity vote is the author's own abnegation.

The Urge to Tyranny
I trust you are smart enough to see the implication - which is that if your liberty may be infringed based on appeals to authority, in effect, there are no limits to government, and any passionate majority may use the government to coerce your behavior "for your own good." 

Never mind the fact that, as has been discussed on this blog many times, even if the opinions of the "scientists" are correct as regards humanity's role in AGW, there's still no proof that taking action to reduce carbon emissions will provide more benefit than harm.  "Some experts" think warming would be better than cooling for humans, on the average.

Further, it is unlikely that anything could be done to reduce carbon emissions, given the fact that global governments are just as dysfunctional as, if not so more so, than ours is, and any solution would be based on political calculus which would primarily serve to increase the political power of those currently holding power. 

Lastly, since the "scientists" don't understand AGW well enough to model it, who knows whether their recommendations would work to change AGW, even if the politicians would implement the "right" solutions?

There are plenty of reasons to be leery of Rick Perry and all other candidates for President.  Perry's scepticism about AGW, and willingness to express it, isn't one of them.
(edited with additional content 9/2/11)

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