To Open The Sky
The Front Pages of Christopher P. Winter
Debunking Arguments About Scientific Procedures
How do you attack a scientific theory you dislike when the facts aren't on your side? One way is to try and throw the research that's producing those facts into disrepute. Denialists frequently accuse mainstream researchers of departing from the scientific method. One commonly heard claim is that "there is no scientific consensus" on global warming. In other words, although most of the world's scientists have decided that the world has warmed in recent decades, and that human activities are the most likely cause, the fact that a small number of scientists disagree means this mainstream view should not be accepted. I discuss this charge in more detail below, but here I want to look into its implications.
Those implications go to the heart of the scientific method, and here the Denialists have one thing going for them: history. You'll instantly recognize the case they most often cite — Galileo v. the Catholic Church. They're correct to say that this shows how a powerful institution (then, the Church; today, the government) can quash scientific truth. But they miss one thing: Galileo was right. All the proof needed was a look through his telescope.
Proof that the dissenting view of climate change is right will not be as dramatic. But then, it need not be; it only has to be scientifically valid. This is where the Denialists fall short. The scientific method isn't working for them; the evidence they present doesn't support their hypotheses. Their response to this failure is to attack the scientific establishment. It must, they say, be fudging facts to promote the theory it likes and suppressing any scientist who tries to speak the truth.
So let's look at some of the work done by the Denialists. If their charge has any credibility, their work should show that they, moreso than mainstream scientists, are diligent in research and astute in analysis. Granted, providing incontrovertible proof that none of their work meets this standard would require me to examine hundreds of scientific papers. I'm not going to take on that task. But I will examine a few scientific papers, and some other documents, with the intent of showing a pattern of poor scholarship. Those case studies are on the page linked here.
Now that you've seen some examples of Denialism in action, let's examine the arguments.
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The Bottom Line on Alleged Abuses of Scientific Process
I am no scientist, but I understand science. Moreover, I can recognize lapses of logic when I encounter them. I remember facts well and I can synthesize them into patterns that let me evaluate the larger picture. I will never assert that Denialists cannot possibly be correct. Nor do I believe that every aspect of the mainstream AGW theory is necessarily valid. But the typical pattern I see in the Denialist work I examine has the following features:
In addition there is the oft-repeated but never supported claim that national governments, along with most scientists worldwide, have agreed to support AGW despite the lack of evidence for it — a claim that shares the defects of other modern conspiracy theories.
Put this all together and it tells us that the Denialists haven't made their case. If there is any reason — any air-tight, rock-solid reason — why the world should not begin to act against the effects of global warming, let them find it and bring it forward. If they can find such a reason, they will be hailed as heroes. But all they've been doing so far is preventing prudent preparations for future climate conditions that, while they may not be catastrophic, will almost certainly be major problems for our descendants.
References on Specific Topics
Books and Reports