Thursday, July 30, 2015

WSJ: "The Unsettling, Anti-Science Certitude on Global Warming...doesn’t sound like science"

The Unsettling, Anti-Science Certitude on Global Warming

Climate-change ‘deniers’ are accused of heresy by true believers. That doesn’t sound like science to me


THE WALL STREET JOURNAL July 30, 2015 8:03 p.m. ET

Are there any phrases in today’s political lexicon more obnoxious than “the science is settled” and “climate-change deniers”?

The first is an oxymoron. By definition, science is never settled. It is always subject to change in the light of new evidence. The second phrase is nothing but an ad hominem attack, meant to evoke “Holocaust deniers,” those people who maintain that the Nazi Holocaust is a fiction, ignoring the overwhelming, incontestable evidence that it is a historical fact. Hillary Clinton’s speech about climate change on Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, included an attack on “deniers.”

The phrases are in no way applicable to the science of Earth’s climate. The climate is an enormously complex system, with a very large number of inputs and outputs, many of which we don’t fully understand—and some we may well not even know about yet. To note this, and to observe that there is much contradictory evidence for assertions of a coming global-warming catastrophe, isn’t to “deny” anything; it is to state a fact. In other words, the science is unsettled—to say that we have it all wrapped up is itself a form of denial. The essence of scientific inquiry is the assumption that there is always more to learn.

Science takes time, and climatology is only about 170 years old. Consider something as simple as the question of whether the sun revolves around the Earth or vice versa.

The Greek philosopher Aristarchus suggested a heliocentric model of the solar system as early as the third century B.C. But it was Ptolemy’s geocentric model from the second century A.D. that predominated. It took until the mid-19th century to solve the puzzle definitively.

Assuming that “the science is settled” can only impede science. For example, there has never been so settled a branch of science as Newtonian physics. But in the 1840s, as telescopes improved, it was noticed that Mercury’s orbit stubbornly failed to behave as Newtonian equations said that it should.

It seems not to have occurred to anyone to question Newton, so the only explanation was that Mercury must be being perturbed by a planet still closer to the sun. The French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier had triumphed in 1846 when he had predicted, within one degree, the location of a planet (later named Neptune) that was perturbing Uranus’s orbit.

He set out to calculate the orbit of the planet that he was sure was responsible for Mercury’s orbital eccentricity. He named it Vulcan, after the Roman god of fire. Once Le Verrier had done the math, hundreds of astronomers, both amateur and professional, searched for the illusive planet for the next few decades. But telescopic observation near the immensely bright sun is both difficult and dangerous. More than one astronomer injured his eyesight in the search.

Several possible sightings were reported, but whether they were illusions, comets, or asteroids is unknown, as none could be tracked over time. After Le Verrier’s death in 1877 the hunt for Vulcan slacked off though it never ceased entirely.

Only in 1915 was the reason no one could find Vulcan explained: It wasn’t there. Newton had written in the “Principia” that he assumed space to be everywhere and always the same. But a man named Albert Einstein that year, in his theory of general relativity, demonstrated that it wasn’t always the same, for space itself is distorted by hugely massive objects such as the sun.

When Mercury’s orbit was calculated using Einstein’s equations rather than Newton’s, the planet turned out to be exactly where Einstein said it would be, one of the early proofs of general relativity.

Climate science today is a veritable cornucopia of unanswered questions. Why did the warming trend between 1978 and 1998 cease, although computer climate models predict steady warming? How sensitive is the climate to increased carbon-dioxide levels? What feedback mechanisms are there that would increase or decrease that sensitivity? Why did episodes of high carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere earlier in Earth’s history have temperature levels both above and below the average?

With so many questions still unanswered, why are many climate scientists, politicians—and the left generally—so anxious to lock down the science of climatology and engage in protracted name-calling? Well, one powerful explanation for the politicians is obvious: self-interest.

If anthropogenic climate change is a reality, then that would be a huge problem only government could deal with. It would be a heaven-sent opportunity for the left to vastly increase government control over the economy and the personal lives of citizens.

Moreover, the release of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in 2009 showed climate scientists concerned with the lack of recent warming and how to “hide the decline.” The communications showed that whatever the emailers were engaged in, it was not the disinterested pursuit of science.

Another batch of 5,000 emails written by top climate scientists came out in 2011, discussing, among other public-relations matters, how to deal with skeptical editors and how to suppress unfavorable data. It is a measure of the intellectual corruption of the mainstream media that this wasn’t the scandal of the century. But then again I forget, “the science is settled.”

Mr. Gordon is the author of the forthcoming “Washington’s Monument and the Fascinating History of the Obelisk,” out early next year from Bloomsbury.


  1. Although determination of local climate is "an enormously complex system, with a very large number of inputs and outputs, many of which we don’t fully understand—and some we may well not even know about yet." determination of average global temperature for the planet as a single entity is quite simple.

    Engineering science proves CO2 has no significant effect on climate.

    The proof and identification of the two factors that do cause reported climate change (sunspot number is the only independent variable) are at (now with 5-year running-average smoothing of measured average global temperature (AGT), the near-perfect explanation of AGT since before 1900; R^2 = 0.97+).

    The ongoing average global temperature trend is down. Monthly reported temperatures are being temporarily propped up by el Nino and changes to reported data.

    1. Engineering science & physical science both prove CO2 has no significant effect on climate. Climate frauds continue to claim CO2 correlates to temperature much better than solar activity, but the opposite is clearly true.

    2. Dan & MS physical science has been twisted by unprovable hypotheses and untrue assumptions. Physical science is now little different to social science which has been politicised beyond recognition. On the other hand thermodynamics, heat & mass transfer, fluid dynamics, electrical-magnetic-optical studies etc have been and still are engineering science which shaped and still supports our standard of living. Our present level of medical science is based on engineering instruments, measurements and engineering equipment. Chemical and bio-engineering make possible all the pharmaceutical products. I could go on about 3D printing with metal and ceramics (the next great leap in technology), robotics, electronic communications etc
      The problem with atmospheric studies is that there are few real professional engineers who understand the basics involved. New frontiers such as 3D printing are more interesting and rewarding

    3. > determination of average global temperature for the planet as a single entity is quite simple

      Sure, thats why they need to adjust the data, and then adjust their adjustments of the data, until it fits the theory.

      In fact it is almost impossible to get a meaningful, accurate, and reliable measurement of the global climate at a given point in time, let alone observe its development over decades.

    4. Although I work in field founded on applied physics, my understanding of the scientific process is clearly dated. Before the current period of scientific reformation (which I believe began in the 1980s), a scientific hypothesis was tested against measurable observation for repeatability. If the testing of the hypothesis reliably demonstrated consistency between the forecasted results and the measured observation, then the hypothesis was refined into a theory where broader testing by a larger academic audience would continue challenging the concept for any signs of deviation from the predicted results.
      Today, thanks largely to political intervention; we skip all the baggage associated with testing and refinement and can jump directly from hypothesis to a religious-like political orthodoxy. This new science greets any un-sanctioned or non-conforming observation as something to be discounted as a triviality—an “anti-science” heresy.
      I frankly do not understand—nor can anyone provide—an explanation as to how the settle-science of anthropogenic climate-change squares with the original hypothesis—let alone observation and measured results. The originally published concept was that the out-gassing (largely CO2) generated by human consumption of fossil-fuels, created an insulating layer of “greenhouse” gases; trapping solar-heat from the natural & historical process of excess heat escaping back into space.
      When observed temperatures dropped below prior measurements, while human CO2 emissions increased, recorded temperature were subjected to a “calibration adjustment,” and “global-warming” morphed into “climate-change;” where increasing and decreasing temperatures are both considered equally foreseeable outcomes resulting from the thermal-blanket caused by human fossil-fuel consumption.
      The conundrum of opposite outcomes both sharing a common causation is beyond any logic statement I can plot. The best I can work out is that the anthropogenic greenhouse gases trap solar-heat; except when they otherwise cause planetary-heat to be extracted to space...from certain places.
      According to politicians, the media, and a reportedly significant segment of academia—this is a reasonable explanation...and those who would observe that the emperor has no clothes are ignoring both the facts and denying the historical foundation of the [current] scientific processes.
      To be honest, it would appear that I was a “denier” long before the term was generally applied to those objecting to the scientific orthodoxy. My break with “settled science” began in the mid-1980s. That was when NASA scientists had breathlessly reported that a chemical-compound, CCl2F2, with an atomic weight of 48 (roughly 4x atmosphere), had migrated ~4,000 south from large US cities while floating ~30 miles up; breaking-down and recombine with O3 to potentially destroy life on this planet as we now know it.
      If business-interests, environmentalists, politicians, and government-scientists, could convince the world to suspend the fundamentals of physics in deference to the purported common-good of mankind, why should climatology, thermal-dynamics, or any other field of science be treated differently? As a special “Where’s Waldo,” from these NASA slides, can YOU identify the year when implementation of the US CFC ban saved the planet—without looking up the answer?

      [name withheld—largely to protect my government funded job]

    5. You're right, the ozone hole variability is largely natural and despite the ban on CFCs, there has been no trend or change in variability. There are also many more naturally-occurring molecules containing chlorine radicals which can catalyze conversion of ozone to oxygen, so it is by no means proven that the CFC ban will have any affect upon this chemical equilibrium.

      The Arrhenius radiative GHE is absolutely false physics. The Maxwell/Clausius/Carnot/Feynman/US Std Atmosphere gravito-thermal GHE is the one and only "greenhouse effect" that is true and predicts essentially no effect to possible slight cooling from additions of CO2.

  2. Excellent article and excellent comments. I couldn't have said it better myself. I am routinely called a heretic and worse by both lay people and quasi science oriented persons. Having spent a lifetime of 40 years being educated in and or practicing science and engineering, I view anyone as suspect who buys into anything in science as completely settled. Further, I discount, ignore (and or have fired) anyone who doctors, hides or uses the media to propagandize their positions! The calamity which was "global warming" and has euphemistically been changed to "climate change" is as dangerous to human existence and progress as anything ever contrived by any idiot in history such as Al Gore!!