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Memories of the 28th Century

Intellectual Honesty

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I have known a good number of very intelligent people, and with a few exceptions (people with Asperger’s Syndrome) those intelligent people were perfectly willing to admit error when they learned that they were wrong. Unfortunately, that seems not to be true of some other people.

A few days ago I was talking to a college student, and the matter of climate change came up. I explained the major problems with the matter as it has been presented in the press, and my student friend expressed great surprise to learn that there had been two other warm cycles in recorded HISTORY. She had never heard of Eric the Red’s Greenland colony, and she said that she had taken a course about this very matter. I was appalled. Anyone giving a college level course on climate change should be teaching the actual facts, rather than popular opinions.

Later I thought about it a little more and started remembering the recent revelation about faked “scientific experimentation”. And there was an article in The Economist not long ago about science that could not be replicated. “The Journal of Irreproducible Results” would be accurate for many scientific journals.

I don’t expect anyone to be right all of the time, and I include myself in that, but I don’t like it when people who put themselves forward as experts are not experts but are putting forth things that they know are false (or should know are false), and that is what the article from The Economist (link below) is about, and that was the case with college course that my friend took. Perhaps there are, or were, valid reasons for people to think that there was warming that was caused by human activity, but one needs to simply look into the matter to find that there is no substance to that claim.

I can understand why people defend fallacies when they don’t realize that something is false, but it is inexcusable to defend a fallacy after one learns the actual fact. There also is no excuse for a college course to put forth fallacies. The only excuse for that and for scientists to write journal articles with faked data (see Economist article) is self-advancement at the expense of knowledge.

One of the peculiarities of humans is that we look for and usually find patterns in data. Whether the patterns are real is another matter. I can forgive a researchers for believing that their research is the most important thing in the universe, but they should have been trained to forget that and double check things every now and then. There is no excuse for scientists to fail to check their data.

On the other hand there are styles in science, and most people follow styles. Only a few decades ago the Earth was slipping into a new ice age. There were articles about the onset of the ice age in many of the science publications, including some of the peer reviewed journals. There was plenty of good evidence, and the theory of how and why was reasonable. A few years later that was all thrown out and the Earth was warming up. At that point I stopped reading anything about climate for a number of years.

After hearing about global warming for a number of years I decided to look into the matter to see whether there was anything to it. I started with the basics, what a greenhouse gas is, how various gases stack up, how that relates to the historic records, and so on. I had known before that water vapor was responsible for making the Earth habitable by making the surface warmer by about sixty or eighty degrees, and so on. Well, what I learned was interesting. Climate scientists (apparently something different from climatologists, which is what people in that field used to be called) had figured out how a gas with a tiny dipole moment could be the most important greenhouse gas, while the actual major greenhouse gas (water vapor) was relegated to minor status. Well, those guys get the big bucks, so there might be something to it. Then I made the mistake of looking to see how their theory stacked up against history.

Everyone knows something about the Little Ice Age. Well, they decided that it had abruptly ended in the nineteenth century. All at once the climate was back to normal. They were ignoring the fact that such starts and stops tend to be rounded, so that the worst part of the Little Ice Age had come to an end, and the climate was trending back toward normal in the nineteenth century, and, if things went as they had in the tenth century, the climate would head into another warm period like the Medieval Warm Period, when it was so warm that barley ripened in Greenland (something that hasn’t happened since the thirteenth century). True to its chaotic nature the climate continued to warm and have some nasty cold times also. Apparently the climate scientists expected the climate to behave as their models said, and the warm and cool periods were supposed to have square shoulders, and they were dubious about the Medieval Warm Period, and when they finally decided that it happened, they decided it was local to the North Atlantic region, and ignoring the drought that caused the Mongols to start shoving other tribes around, which led to Genghis Khan expanding his empire. If we look at other regions we find additional, but less dramatic, climate change was going on all around the world and the later weather changes that made the Hohokam leave the area where they had been (leaving some great ruins and artifacts) . Maybe climate scientists don’t read history.

Scientists are supposed to be taught that everything has to be testable, and when one gets contrary results when testing a theory that means that either the experiment was poorly designed or the theory is wrong. Apparently that isn’t the way that it is always done, see “Trouble at the Lab“ (link below). Or perhaps it is a result of most scientists having a narrow specialty, a trend that started a few hundred years ago and has become so strong that people have trouble believing that anyone can know anything outside a small specialization. That narrowness probably is part of the reason why medical specialists initially supported obamacare, until they figured out how much it would cost them. That suggests that we generalists have plenty of work to do, if we can convince anyone that generalists are also important.

Dear readers, it there any excuse for college professors to teach their opinions as fact? Is there any acceptable reason for scientists to push their prejudices when science and observation says their opinions are mistaken? Or has science changed so much that known errors can be presented as actual fact?

Irreproducible research

Trouble at the Lab

Partial list of greenhouse gases with relative power (water vapor is not listed here)

Dipole moment of CO2

Vikings grew barley in Greenland

Greenland barley

Updated 04-15-2014 at 07:41 AM by PeterL