Sacrificing Scientific Skepticism


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Phil Berardelli, who periodically comments here and who is a veteran science journalist who worked for the journal Science for a number of years, has written a very cogent four part essay on the subject of climate change for the think tank Capital Research Center.

Berardelli very carefully outlines the uncertainties that dominate our knowledge of the Earth’s climate, while explaining clearly why consensus is never what good science relies upon. As he notes,

Science is not primarily about proof; science is about disproof. Nothing in science, absolutely nothing, should ever be taken at face value. This view isn’t new; it’s age old.

Read it all, especially if you are one of the people who reads my writing and questions my skepticism about much of what I see in the climate field, especially coming from NASA and NOAA. Berardelli illustrates how doubt and skepticism are the hallmarks of science, and should always be honored, not denigrated with slurs like “denier.”

Full disclosure: Phil Berardelli was also my editor when I did a weekly column for UPI called Space Watch for six months in 2005.

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20 comments

  • ken anthony

    It is absurd how badly they define science these days. As you say, the truth is ages old and not only never changes it can not change and still be science. Science is totally about contradiction and skepticism. It never proves. It only disproves by finding contradictions in independently reproducible measurements.

    ‘Science’ today is about getting tax dollars. Integrity is a joke.

    The other problem is confusing science with modeling. Math is useful to science, but math isn’t science.

  • Phill O

    Nice articles. When talking of proxy methods for temperature and CO2 levels, one must keep in mind that those techniques have their own uncertainties, so to say the last warm period was 2 degrees warmer must be taken with a grain of salt. This also goes for CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

    The basis of his arguments is that we do not have a good baseline on data, and to make decisions based on short term data is dangerous.

    He seems to support the CFC model for ozone depletion but this data has no baseline either.

    So, to be skeptical of the consensus opinion is very much warranted, because we really do not have a good handle on what we think we know.

  • LocalFluff

    ken,
    Oh, MSM and all school used to define Marxism as science for 100+ years. At least that has gone away. Now it is the theologian Al Gore’s climate deluge and feminist islamism which are sciences…

  • Edward

    That is an excellent series.

    I have a minor issue with a nit picky point, however:

    From the article (Part 3): “In some ways, we could consider the onset of a ‘little’ ice age, if it develops and lasts maybe a half-century, to be fortuitous. Yes, such a temperature shift would no doubt cause difficulty for many people and nations. But the change would also produce two significant benefits. One, it would prove or disprove assertions about the degree of the sun’s direct influence on global temperatures—if sunspots disappear and Earth cools, then there’s no question solar activity is the preeminent climate driver. But if a Maunder Minimum recurs without a corresponding and widespread cooling, then the extra atmospheric CO2 has been sufficient to overcome a diminished sun.

    First, the paragraph goes against one of the primary themes of the series: “Science is not primarily about proof; science is about disproof.

    Second, such effects would not be proof either way, but they would be strong evidence. There is always the possibility that other factors are also involved, and sunspots may not be as important as has been assumed by the correlation between the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice Age. Correlation alone should not be confused with causation. In fact, the cause could be an unsuspected other factor that may (or may not) be related to both events.

    For instance, more people drown during the summer than during winter; however, people do not drown because it is summer but because more people swim in summer than in winter. The reason for the increased drownings is the increased swimming.

  • Phill O

    Cotour This link has in it a statement “Apart from the hole in the ozone layer, which has now been stabilised, every one of the major threats identified in 1992 has worsened.” I find this another example of saying the science is settled but not really. The proper evaluation of the data may be (IMO) that we now have the technology to measure the “holes” that must be present due to the mechanism of ozone formation. We do not have a baseline data set for comparison and to say the holes are now stable almost implies this theory to be true.

    I know you were not endorsing the article but giving it for commentary.

  • Phil Berardelli

    Edward, you raise a valid item and thank you for pointing it out. The onset of a new Maunder Minimum, if coupled with a period of colder temperatures, would indeed be evidence but no proof. I didn’t get into the discussion of the correlation between sunspots and earthbound weather, which is indirect at best and remains speculative. The hypothesis is that reduced solar activity weakens the heliosphere, which in permits more interstellar cosmic ray particles to interact with Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn form more nuclei for water vapor droplets, thereby increasing the planet’s cloud cover and, presumably, lowering temperatures. The only reliable data we have for that rather long chain of events is the sunspot number.

    On the other hand, a new Maunder Minimum, if coupled with a sustained cooling period, would be a strong connection and should weaken the assertion, which I heard multiple times, that atmospheric CO2 forcing is a stronger determinant of climate. Whatever the outcome, there’s a chance we’ll begin to see it in the relatively near future.

    Many thanks to Robert Zimmerman for posting my series and exposing it to his loyal and thoughtful readers.

  • Phil Berardelli

    And Phill O, you are correct about the proxy data for temperatures during the last interglacial period. They suggest but do not prove. Likewise, the role of CFCs. The researchers I interviewed speculated about the connection because of the molecules’ known ability to absorb heat, not because they had collected any empirical data.

  • wayne

    Phil B–
    Good stuff. Reads very well!

  • Cotour

    Phillo O:

    This is how “IT”, human and most all other life, has the potential to all end at some point starting from the moment you read this on to probably some time within the next 500K to 1 million years? And that is not even considering that the earth will probably go into a glacial cycle within that time. https://youtu.be/9KhLdSfS3qw .

    This is how “IT” and everything we know on earth will absolutely end at some point in the future.
    https://youtu.be/VQAVNN4dP90

    Now those eventualities are truly grim and they are not even choices for life on earth, the choices that human beings make in between are important, very important, but they are for the most part one way or another self correcting.

    As a species with special capabilities we need to make good and wise choices but not be cowed into making politically correct ones. And that is what much of these grim predictions IMO are based in. Probably well meaning at a certain level but even more destructive in the long run than the horrors that they prognosticate.

  • wayne

    Cotour–
    I’ve seen a number of these type of videos, but…. (and anyone please correct me if I have this wrong)-
    Our Sun is too small to nova, but when it starts to expand into a red giant, the orbit of the Earth will adjust outward, (conservation of angular momentum) so we won’t (at least initially) become engulfed, but it will become totally inhospitable.

    Rick and Morty:
    “Nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody’s going to die.”
    https://youtu.be/E_qvy82U4RE
    1:00

  • Cotour

    Wayne:

    The exact technicalities of “Grim” may be other than exactly known, but grim they are, in the big picture.

    Enjoy it while you’ve got it :)

  • wayne

    Pink Floyd –
    “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”
    https://youtu.be/Z6va7xCZPPc
    (10:22)

  • Cotour

    I want to make an adjustment so as not to seem too absolute in grimness.

    “In the big corporeal picture”

    Lets not be so absolute that we leave no room for other dimensions or possibilities, who knows in the real big picture what lies ahead for us, existence and this universe is unusual to say the least.

  • wayne

    Bringing this back to sacrificing scientific skepticism–

    Feynman on magnets
    (“why” vs. “how”)
    https://youtu.be/wMFPe-DwULM
    7:32

    I would put forth- some of the problems in science today, perhaps, are a result of not being able to differentiate between “why” something happens and “how” it comes about.
    Maybe a distinction without a difference, but I rather trend toward believing, it is that nuanced.

    I come from a heavy behavioral bent, if we couldn’t measure ‘it,’ in some “reasonably accepted manner,” we weren’t allowed to “make something up,” as it were, no matter how ‘scientific’ it sounded.
    It sorta forces one to think a bit more critically about the question one is actually trying to answer.
    (Explanatory Fictions are a biggie I’ve always tried to fight.)

    “Apres moi le deluge”
    (attributed to Louis XV)

    “Fire and Ice”
    Robert Frost
    (Read by Richard Burton)
    https://youtu.be/r-pMuyQnSXw
    (1:33)

  • Edward

    Phil Berardelli,

    I like the cosmic ray hypothesis, because we can measure that. Not only can the cosmic ray flux be measured and be compared between a second Maunder Minimum and the historical data, but since we have five decades of weather satellite data on global cloud cover, we can also do a study to determine whether there is an increase in cloud cover that corresponds with a second Maunder Minimum. If so, it presents strong evidence that the hypothesis is correct, not just a correlation with sunspots.

    Your point that science is about disproof is valid, because even when we prove something, such as Newtonian physics, new information can come along that modifies the knowledge, thus disproving the previously “proved” knowledge of the universe.

    Another example that consensus is not truth is that it was widely accepted that humans had 48 chromosomes, until three decades later when Joe Hin Tjio broke with the consensus and showed that there are only 46. What a scandal it must have been that chimps required more genetic material than we (obviously superior) humans. This example is not nearly as powerful as yours was, Phil, but I like this story that it took three decades for science to admit the truth. This truth had to be admitted before we could produce a human genome.

    The Piltdown Man hoax is another example that science can take a long time to recognize that it has been fooled.

  • Phil Berardelli

    Edward — agree on all counts. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Cotour

    Yes, fooled.

    Happens all the time.

  • Max

    Phil B, I enjoyed the article. It’s premise need to be said, it’s conclusions are dead on. Any intellectual reading it will support your argument because it is founded on logic.
    Those who dismiss your words either did not understand them, or they are surrendering their thought process to their betters whom they believe not only think for them, talk for them saying what they feel, but act on their behalf for the greater good.

    A herd mentality that makes them feel safe, even if they disagree, they will say nothing. They do not believe that individual can survive outside of the hive mind. All of the others would turn on them, shun them, and eventually excommunicate them from the group.
    A very hard blow for an individual who needs acceptance for their own net worth. Logic and truth does not fill the void of loneliness. This is the way I explain why people would follow a lie that everyone pretends to be true to maintain their status, or their sense of well-being. Usually it pays well also.

    Is this what you described in that last conference where you got the hard stare for asking about consensus? Questioning the model?

    It reminds me of a T-shirt I recently saw, it said, “I follow the Masses, but sometimes the M is silent” …

    The only problem I had was the example that Phill O. described. Chlorofluorocarbons destroying the ozone… This is a fine example of “emotional language”.
    “Matter cannot be created nor destroyed”
    Therefore it should read “chlorofluorocarbon is changing the ozone layer”
    But this is not correct either because to change it, you would either need to remove all oxygen from our atmosphere or stop the sun from shining. As long as you have sunlight breaking down oxygen, you will have O-Zone.

    So Congress baned R12 to save the O-Zone…
    R12 (F2 C Cl2) molecule has a atomic weight of 120, almost 4 times heavier than air. (O2=32, N2=28, CO2=44, Cl2=70)
    R12 is very stable in high heat conditions making it perfect for refrigeration. To break this molecule down, it has to rise to the meteorsphere were the heat is great enough to strip away the chlorine atom so it can fall back down to the stratosphere and start breaking down oxygen in it’s rare form of O-Zone. (that’s assuming that the chlorine doesn’t run into a hydrogen atom in which it reacts violently)
    Unfortunately for Dupont, the Patent ran out, and so did the 20 year patent extension. Fortunately for us, they had a replacement ready to go that only cost 10 times as much and was nearly half as efficient. The replacement does not have chlorine, fortunately for the planet, and has an atomic weight of 102. (like R12, it falls like a rock into the soil or water)

    If Congress was serious about chlorine, it would have been banned from swimming pools, washing machines, drinking water. They would’ve made forest fires, volcanoes, lightning, open salt flats, and all other Chlorine sources against the law. (18th most abundant Element in the crust of the earth) They would’ve undergone a campaign to remove all salt from the ocean, which would create the equivalent of a continent the size of Europe…

    The current O-Zone distraction is being blamed on sea ice algae. “Bromoform”
    A natural occurring by product. Another one is “white rot fungus”, common on trees. This fungus produces methylchloride (Chloromethane) 5 million tons annually, 192 times as much as the 26,000 tons of O-Zone depleting chemicals created by man.

    The example of O-Zone depleting theory that you vetted with your friends is politically correct, and is the leading theory of the consensus… A hypothesis supported by politicians, not The facts or the science.

    In truth, do you know what causes the O-Zone at 9 ppm to drop to 3 ppm during the night? The most O-Zone depleting chemical in the stratosphere is… (drum roll please) ” Ozone”, (with oxides of nitrogen coming in second)
    O3+O3=3 O2 N2O+O3=N2, 2 O2

    When nitrogen reacts to give up it’s energy at night, it makes the upper atmosphere glow green as seen from space station.

    Does O-Zone Protect us? O3 is 1/3 larger than 02. It has one in 100,000 of a chance to block radiation, including a slightly larger wavelength of UV A which is not harmful to life.
    The heavy work is all preformed by O2/N2. The proof of this is that the sky turns blue as the UV B-C and x-rays energy is blocked and scattered.
    O-Zone is simply a rare high energy byproduct that loses its energy and returns to normal fairly quickly.
    Our current situation.
    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/warm-air-helped-make-2017-ozone-hole-smallest-since-1988

    Never mind that our Sun has not been very active to create a large hole this year…

    https://ozonewatch.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    Other than this commonly held myth, I loved your article. I hope to see more like it in the future. They need to know that there is hope of opposition to the “zombie collective think”…

  • Max

    One small note, to quote a paragraph in the article:

    “CFCs are human-made substances; therefore, they could not have affected paleo (ancient) climates. But methane gas is naturally occurring, has existed on Earth perhaps as long as the planet itself, and traps 50 times more heat than equivalent amounts of CO2. What is its contribution to this mix, and how much of it is natural?”

    Refrigerant is man-made, but similar compounds are also made in volcanoes such as Fuji Japan and in Mount Pinatubo. There was even a special space shuttle mission to observe the hole in I think it was 88? I remember the results of the tests they preformed as declaring that they know a O-Zone hole exists, but their instruments were not good enough to detect it. The truth is, there was too much dust from the volcano to see or measure it. It was supposed to be the “smoking gun” evidence because chlorofluorocarbons are much heavier than air and it would take the energy of a volcano to thrust it into the stratosphere.

    This part about methane, natural gas, CH4, being 50 times more heat retentive than carbon dioxide? I am so very skeptical. I have never seen an explanation that details how this is possible. It’s like a exaggerated fiction someone tells that gets embellished with every repeating.
    Methane has the atomic weight of 16, about half the weight of O2 (oxygen). It is too small to absorb much light, does not cling together to form a cloud to reflect long wave radiation (heat). In fact I don’t think there is enough methane in the entire world to make a cloud.
    After collecting for billions of years it represents about 1.8 ppm of our atmosphere. To use my favorite analogy, that is the equivalent of $1.80 cents out of $1 million dollars. Perhaps in another billion years we will be up to 2 ppm…
    Methane quickly oxidizes (burns) when it comes in contact with oxygen turning into carbon dioxide and water vapor. This occurs faster with a little heat or sunlight.
    There is not enough carbon dioxide to make a measurable difference, but water vapor is a different story. Observations from space have estimated at 30% of our atmosphere is covered in clouds on average.

    Water ions repel each other and do not capture much heat unless it clings to a positive ion of hydrogen sulfide (created by plankton in the ocean and causes acid rain…) without hydrogen sulfide, clouds would not form, and would not be able to reflect longwave radiation back to earth. (or reflect heat away from earth) Clouds can insulate, but it does not generate any heat.

    Methane can do none of these things. So where does the number “traps 50 times more heat than CO2 come from? There is virtually no methane in our atmosphere, so you can use any number you wish in this equation and still come out with the same answer. 50×0 is zero 10,000,000,000×0 is zero you can use any number you wish and there is no way anyone can prove you wrong with the nonexistent causation with an un measurable effect. Murky science indeed…

    What creates the 3ed most methane is anaerobic bacteria, not cows or any animals or fish or plants… Everything living will die, bacteria causes rot and returns it back to the atmosphere, recycling the carbon to be used again.
    2ed largest source of methane is natural gas caused by the heat and pressure of continental drift on top of water soaked calcium carbonate from earths 1st atmosphere. This results in volcanoes and cracks that releases the gas in large amounts from the ancient sea bed.
    The largest source of methane is the sun itself. Coronal mass ejection’s, when the sun is active, throws billions of tons of fresh hydrolyzed Carbon and other gases into our atmosphere where it burns very brightly 50 miles above earth surface as the aurora borealis. This is the cause of the ocean levels rising a few inches per century.
    Burning methane creates heat briefly, I can find no possibility in it’s physical or chemical make up that will allow it to capture heat. There is no application for using methane as insulation.

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