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How Science Lost Its Way and Created an Army of Doubters

Jonathan Clark
Sep 22, 2017 · 10 min read

At one time, there was a consensus among the scientific community and, in fact, it was a common procedure, to remove part of one’s brain, to cure certain mental disorders.

For nearly 2,000 years, the practice of withdrawing blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease was once the most common medical practice performed by surgeons — until the late nineteenth century.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since lobotomies and bloodletting were common practice.

Scientific research has transformed the way we live, making life better for countless numbers of people over the past century. In the United States, a long list of diseases has been nearly eradicated by vaccines, including diphtheria, bacterial influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus, among others.

Consider that at the turn of the twentieth century, the average lifespan of an American male was just forty-seven and dysentery was one of the leading cause of death.

Testing theories through experimentation has always been the basis for scientific progress. To know if something is true, scientists attempt to disprove it. In the case of vaccines, for example, the data is so overwhelming that is nearly impossible to disprove their efficacy.

Similarly, there is overwhelming evidence that genetically modified plants are safe to eat. And the added benefit of GM crops is that their production reduces the amount of pesticides required and increases the output levels of corn, cotton, and soy by up to thirty percent, allowing some people their only means of survival.

But when it comes to climate science, it seems all bets are off. The narrative is that A) the climate is changing for the worse, B) the cause is man-made, and C) something must be done — now! (Although, the “something” part seems to be up for debate.) And anyone who doesn’t subscribe to this notion is branded a “denier” — or worse.

In the political world, the hyperbole has reached a ludicrous level that climate-change supporters refer to dissenters as “anti-science.”

How ironic it was to observe the congressional role-reversals in the in the summer of 2015. According to Real Clear Science, “the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 1599, that, among other things, would block states from requiring foods containing genetically modified ingredients to carry special labels. From a scientific viewpoint, this is the correct policy. Yet, the Democratic Party, which has branded itself the ‘pro-science’ party over the last two decades, overwhelmingly opposed it.”

In this case, “anti-science” republicans sided with the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the scientific community who are “solidly united behind the science of genetic modification.”

Beyond the doomsday headlines and bloviating politicians, there is considerable debate within the scientific community about our planet’s climate. Unfortunately, that debate is often dismissed and its participants mocked. As NASA states on its website, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

But this oft-cited consensus — the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — fails critical scrutiny. It claims to speak for more than 2,500 scientists but lists only forty-one authors and editors who address “anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing.”

And yet the Petition Project, a group of physicists and physical chemists, boasts more than 31,000 signatures of scientists who affirm that, “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

What’s really interesting about the Petition Project statement is the last sentence:

“Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Beneficial effects from carbon dioxide? A gas labeled as a pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency?

For those who slept through sixth-grade science, carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the environment and is needed by plants to grow. Increasing Co2 (carbon dioxide) levels benefits the growth and overall health of many plants.

While it’s true that, with most things, too much of anything can be bad, there seems to be a significant amount of evidence to suggest that high levels of Co2 have little effect on global temperatures.

Historically, there have been warmer periods where Co2 levels were much lower than observed today.

In fact, Professor Dr. Doug L. Hoffman, mathematician, computer programmer, and engineer, says “There have been ice ages when the levels of Co2 in Earth’s atmosphere have been many times higher than today’s.”

But this data is often ignored by those who claim the science on climate change is settled.

Writing on her blog, Judith Curry, professor at Georgia Institute for Technology and participant in the International Panel on Climate Change and National Academy of Sciences, argues that talk of consensus ignores disagreements within the scientific community and reduces the diversity of thought in scientific publications.

“These negotiated government sanctioned assessments don’t adequately account for the very substantial disagreement about climate change that arises from:

· Insufficient observational evidence

· Disagreement about the value of different classes of evidence (e.g. models)

· Disagreement about the appropriate logical framework for linking and assessing the evidence

· Assessments of areas of ambiguity and ignorance

· Belief polarization as a result of politicization of the science

“All this leaves multiple ways to interpret and reason about the available evidence.”

Why should you care about any of this?

Because there are people in powerful positions making decisions based on assumptions that may or may not be accurate — decisions that will likely affect the lives of every American. Consider that the widening gender gap in academic achievement that currently threatens the future of millions of American boys began with policy decisions made from faulty research.

And, according to the Heritage Foundation, “the Clean Power Plan, should it survive the serious legal problems with the regulations, promises to create a $2.5 trillion loss in GDP, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, and a total income loss of $7,000 per person by 2030. Those hardest hit will be people in manufacturing and with lower incomes.”

Who’s Really Checking The Facts?

The scientific community prides itself in its role as a fact-checker. For academics, getting published is a big part of the job. In fact, publishing a scientific finding is an essential part of the practice of science itself. It’s where a scientist puts his or her findings out for the community to review. Academics risk losing funding if they are not publishing their work and it can affect a researcher’s job prospects, promotion, and the opportunity for tenure.

But what would happen if the integrity of the peer-review process comes into question?

According to Slate, more often than not, fraudulent, plagiarized, and nonsense scientific research papers pass peer review.

“In 2013 science journalist John Bohannon created a biomedical equivalent of SCIgen and submitted more than 300 obviously bogus papers to publishers around the world. More than half were accepted.

“More recently I exposed more than 100 journal articles that looked like they were products of a scientific version of Mad Libs; they tended to have obvious signs of plagiarism or poor scholarship of various sorts. A rigorous peer-review process should have caught these problems. Yet these papers appeared in journals published by PLoS, Nature Publishing Group, Wiley, Taylor & Francis, BioMed Central, and other publishing powerhouses.

“As it is, the majority of research published in the scientific literature could be wrong.”

To understand how big an issue this is for the scientific community, consider that the core tenet of science is that research gets tested, challenged and if valid, replicated. That is what is supposed to happen during a peer review — it’s the process that separates the wheat from the chaff.

But there is growing doubt as to the validity of the majority of scientific literature.

Within the climate change arena, there seems to be considerably less integrity. Remember the ninety-seven percent figure mentioned earlier? It’s just one example of the lack of rigor involved when it comes to climate change.

In an excellent piece from the Australian science publication, Quadrant, Matt Ridley explains how inaccuracies are casually dismissed and those publishing them are rarely held accountable.

“The 97 per cent figure is derived from two pieces of pseudoscience that would have embarrassed a homeopath. The first was a poll that found that 97 per cent of just seventy-nine scientists thought climate change was man-made — not that it was dangerous. A more recent poll of 1854 members of the American Meteorological Society found the true number is 52 per cent.

“The second source of the 97 per cent number was a survey of scientific papers, which has now been comprehensively demolished by Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University, who is probably the world’s leading climate economist. As the Australian blogger Joanne Nova summarised Tol’s findings, John Cook of the University of Queensland and his team used an unrepresentative sample, left out much useful data, used biased observers who disagreed with the authors of the papers they were classifying nearly two-thirds of the time, and collected and analysed the data in such a way as to allow the authors to adjust their preliminary conclusions as they went along, a scientific no-no if ever there was one. The data could not be replicated, and Cook himself threatened legal action to hide them. Yet neither the journal nor the university where Cook works has retracted the paper, and the scientific establishment refuses to stop citing it, let alone blow the whistle on it. Its conclusion is too useful.”

Ridley goes on to detail how climate change dissenters are ostracized from the scientific community, discredited, and defunded. Which is where we find the motivation for much of the “sky is falling” hyperbole that infiltrates many left-leaning media outlets. Funding for most of climate change research is made possible by huge green multinational organizations with even bigger budgets.

And scientists who accept those funds and “make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.”

In a more recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Ridley sums it up nicely saying, “Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate.”

Both articles are enlightening and well worth the time spent reading.

Despite the constant barrage of propaganda predicting a catastrophic, dire, and scary future (which never materialize), produced by the proponents of man-made global warming, they seem to be losing ground in the arena of public opinion.

Thus the desperation calls of “settled science,” a common tactic of someone on the losing side of a debate.

But many proponents of the climate change agenda are no longer satisfied with simple ostracization. Now, there are members of the scientific community who consider “the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent.” Lawrence Torcello, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology believes, “It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.”

Why?

To criminally charge the “climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.” For Torcello and like-minded scientists, it seems that free speech and dissenting views must not only be silenced but punished. Unless, they happen to agree with your findings.

It seems that when skeptics are treated as heretics, it starts to sound more like religious doctrine and less like science.

A Cooler Future?

While there may be a consensus among many in the scientific community that global temperatures are rising, there is no agreement on what that change will look like in the future — or how, if possible, to curb the change.

Based on historical data, the Earth’s climate has been changing for hundreds, even thousands of years. So even if there was agreement and if there was a method of change, what’s to say that there won’t be a future naturally occurring event that will make our efforts meaningless?

According to researchers from Harvard University, tree rings, ice cores, and historical accounts were reviewed to allow scientists to estimate temperatures prevailing at sites around the world. What they found is evidence that the world experienced a warm period “between the ninth and 14th centuries with global temperatures significantly higher even than today.” In fact, prior to 1200 AD, the climate in Europe was warm enough that vineyards thrived in England and agricultural productivity was high.

The study also confirmed a “Little Ice Age” beginning around 1300 in which the world cooled, lasting by most estimates, into the 1800s. And according to a growing number of scientists, the climate may actually be cooling again. The past eighteen years of global temperatures have been relatively flat, even though attempts have been made to change historical records to align with the warming theology.

But those who study the influence of the sun’s activity on Earth’s temperatures believe that “reduced periods of sunspot activity correlate with cooler and very cold periods, with higher incidences producing opposite effects.” Which is to say that solar activity plays a big role in climate temperatures.

Scientists have observed during the twentieth century that the Sun was exceptionally active. Which may explain some of the reason for rising temperatures for much of that time period. But it’s widely believed that cycle is coming to an end.

Here’s the rub. No one really can tell with any degree of certainty what type of impact the lack of sunspot activity may have on global temperatures because this is such an inexact science. But, if history is a guide, it’s a good bet that weak solar activity for a prolonged period of time will likely lower temperatures.

And that’s really the point: How can climate science be settled when there are so many scientists with differing views?

As a student of history, I am reminded of George Santayana’s warning that “those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The doomsayers have been predicting the end of humanity, for various reasons, for hundreds of years with the same results — they all have been wrong. And it appears that, for anyone paying attention, the modern-day Cassandras are no better with their prognostications.

Which wouldn’t be a concern if predictions of catastrophic doom weren’t so profitable.

Jonathan Clark

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Designer, writer, contrarian, photographer, and connoisseur of bourbon.