Tuesday, February 21, 2006

When Science Isn't Really Science

I'll put this bluntly: This global warming piece on 60 Minutes the other night really pissed me off.

This is how the story starts out:

The North Pole has been frozen for 100,000 years. But according to scientists, that won't be true by the end of this century. The top of the world is melting.

Maybe this would be more alarming if the Earth was not an estimated 4.5 billion years old. The piece doesn't get any better. The worst part of the tv version was the shot of a glacier melting away, crashing into the water on camera- As if that one instance would somehow be of any scientific relevance. This is all typical sort of scare tactic journalism, made more egregious by the fact that one view of an extremely complicated scientific issue is presented as fact.

The fact of the matter is that any scientist can tell you that climate change is an incredibly complex subject, one that we do not completely understand. We know that the climate of the earth is constantly in flux, and we know the Earth has undergone substantial climate changes numerous times before. (Just think of all the Ice Ages.) There are three questions that face us today- 1) Is global warming actually occurring? 2) Does humankind play a role in global warming, and if so, how significant a role? And 3) Assuming humankind does play a role in global warming, how concerned should we be with climate change? By the way, these are questions that science has no clear answers on at this point- and in regards to question 3, the answers go beyond science.

According to the piece, one thing is clear:

"The entire planet is out of balance," says Bob Corell, who is among the world's top authorities on climate change.

I don't really know what that means. But I do know it sounds more like hippie-talk than it does science. And going back to the 60 Minutes report that was the subject of my wrath, there were plenty of similar pseudo-scientific pronouncements:

60 Minutes brought [Paul] Mayewski [a university of Maine scientist,] back to Greenland, where he says his research has proven that the ice and the atmosphere have man's fingerprints all over them. Mayewski says we haven't seen a temperature rise to this level going back at least 2,000 years, and arguably several thousand years. As for carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, Mayewski says, "we haven't seen CO2 levels like this in hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions of years."

Well that just proves it, doesn't it! Those higher CO2 levels and higher temperatures from hundreds of thousands of years ago ... those were probably our fault to!

Even if we stopped using every car, truck, and power plant- stopping all greenhouse gas emissions— Mayewski says the planet would continue to warm anyway. "Would continue to warm for another, about another degree," he says. That's enough to melt the Arctic

So even if we just bent over and died, the Arctic would still melt? Now explain to me why was the media was so riled up when we didn't sign Kyoto?

Obviously, I am not a scientist, nor am I an expert on climate and environment. However, like any other lay person, it is very easy to become familiar with the scientific method. And comparing a picture of the polar ice cap in 1979 to a picture of the polar ice cap in 2006 to prove global warming, as the 60 Minutes piece did, is not by any means science.

I believeve it was the Cigarettete Smoking Man on the X-Files who claimed that science is the new religion of the masses. He may have been right. The vast majority of the American public seems ready to jump on the global warming bandwagon, declaring their science to be unassailable, despite the fact that they don't understand it in the first place. What's amazing is how many articles and news pieces on global warming contain absolutelyey zero evidence that human caused global warming is occurringng. Look hard- there's no real evidence in this piece. Maybe "the real science" is too complicated for laypeople to understand, but if that was the case, then we really should have no concern about the issue. After all, how would we chose between competing scientific ideas we couldn't hope to understand?

It's not that we shouldn't be concerned with out environment, but that concern should be rational. That concern should reflect that every action we take has consequences on the environment, and we have to balance the costs of those consequences with the benefits of our actions. 10,000 years ago, humankind did not impact the environment to the extent it does today, but no one thinks we should be living like we did back then. Of course, most people don't think in these terms. Most people would rather just beleive in the "science" of global warming. If only they would realize, global warming today is just as dogmatic as any religion ever was.


Blogger Porkopolis said...

60 Minutes was very selective with their reporting on Paul Mayewski's (the very scientist they interview in the report) research into global warming.

They left out this (http://www.globalwarming.org/article.php?uid=868):

"A team led by University of Maine scientists has reported finding a potential link between changes in solar activity and the Earth's climate. In a paper due to be published in an upcoming volume of the Annals of Glaciology, Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, and 11 colleagues from China, Australia and UMaine describe evidence from ice cores pointing to an association between the waxing and waning of zonal wind strength around Antarctica and a chemical signal of changes in the sun's output...

...Researchers in the UMaine Climate Change Institute (http://www.climatechange.umaine.edu/) have focused on the relationship between solar variability and climate, particularly the use of isotopes in tree rings and ice cores to provide an indication of the sun's strength. The ice core data reported in the paper demonstrates a direct atmospheric consequence associated with changing solar radiation."

For more see: http://porkopolis.blogspot.com/2006/02/60-minutes-on-melting-ice-caps-on.html

2:50 PM  

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