Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jovial skepticism…

"Scientists Behaving Badly" by Dr. Stephen M. Barr

Scientific knowledge is a highly reticulated structure of mutually supporting facts and inferences. Every well-established scientific fact is held in place by numerous links to other known facts, both closely related and seemingly distant. There are many scientific facts the denial of which would bring vast expanses of the edifice of human knowledge crashing down. …

The scientists who are questioning the “consensus view” on anthropogenic global warming are not proposing such wholesale revisions. Quite the contrary. All the scientists who are involved in these climate controversies, whether skeptics or ardent alarmists, are working within the same basic framework of modern scientific theory. They accept the validity of the same laws of thermodynamics, chemistry, fluid dynamics, and so forth. They disagree only in their analysis of a specific physical system that everyone agrees is tremendously complex.

…there are very well-known, highly respected and accomplished scientists, knowledgeable in the relevant fields, who are openly skeptical about various aspects the “consensus view” on global warming. Just to mention two: Prof. Richard S. Lindzen of MIT, one of the world’s leading climatologists, and Prof. Will Happer of Princeton University [cf. my previous post], who was for several years the director of energy research at the United States Department of Energy (one of the main funders of scientific research in this country). Nor are Lindzen and Happer alone. Scientists who share their views may be in the minority, but it is hardly an insignificant minority.

Read the whole thing, it isn't long.

I want to clarify that my reservations about AGW do not amount to a wholesale rejection of "the very idea," but are rather a two-fold "hold on a second here."

First. If "follow the money" is a good rule of thumb for journalism, the same goes for the AGW research industry. We must be careful and well informed about who is pulling the strings on high-flying scientific politicking. And we must be soberly aware that a "consensus view" in science can all too easily become a clannish code word for the fallacy "majority = truth".

Second. I think climate science is such a vast and immensely complex branch of inquiry that the words "inherently unpredictable" do not seem out of place. Elaborate modeling, if not scrupulously wedded to a truly collegial "trial by facts," is all too easily an Icarus-like play thing for political ends. Dr. Barr's piece well expresses much of my jovial skepticism vis-à-vis "the global warming thing."

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