Monday, September 16, 2013

Global Climate Hoax?

Or not.

More than 20% of Einstein’s original papers contain mistakes of some sort, says Mario Livio in Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein.  Indeed, Darwin’s  Origin of Species contains far more of them, owing in no small part to the total ignorance of the mechanisms of heredity at the time or writing.  It was thought that the mysterious elements we now call genes simply mixed in the offspring like different colors of paint rather than like the shuffling of cards.  Yellow and blue paint may give green  until diluted by combining with one or the other color,  but Genes, Jacks and Queens are always one or the other and undiluted and a joker introduced into a deck will always turn up again sooner or later.  Darwin’s blunder was in not noticing that an advantageous mutation would under the blending model of his day eventually disappear, making  the passing on of small traits almost impossible with successive generations. 

Mountains of new data both from fossils, in the laboratory and from the comprehensive understanding of genetics proved that the blunder was only apparent when viewed in a glass darkly.  Inheritance didn’t work the way his detractors insisted  (and some still do.) As to one of Einstein’s apparent blunders, first in adding and then removing Lambda, the Cosmological Constant, the  truth seems when viewed through more modern glasses that  adding it was not a blunder but understanding it is so far an unachieved goal. 
Yet when we examine the kind of Denialism modern communications have  facilitated, we will find much commentary using the early pre-Mendelian uncertainties in the theory of Evolution to attack what may now be the most documented and supported theory of anything and further, a theory that gains more supporting data with every new discovery and finds wider and wider application.  We find, at least in my opinion, far less outrage about any of the proposed  explanations  of the apparently accelerating inflation of  empty space in our universe .  Astronomy was not yet advanced enough  for Einstein’s early cosmology to include an expanding cosmos, much less an accelerating expansion and he famously removed the constant, which he called ugly, from his equations as being no longer necessary. 

Still, deniers and opponents  of all sorts  exist and passionately marshal outdated observations, invalid arguments and fallacies against the science.  I don’t think I’m being venturesome by seeing patterns amongst denialists. I think there is a constellation of beliefs that seem to accompany passionate attacks on well documented  scientific and historical consensuses and they differ from the truly valid observations that consensus changes when new data appears.  There certainly is no new data refuting evolution, nor are geneticists and paleontologists moving in all seriousness away from accepting it. The same is true of  the currently accepted ages of the Earth or of the Universe.  There is no new data showing that millions were not rounded up and gassed by the Nazis and I’m convinced that there is no new data and only an assemblage of fragments of old data to argue that not only is the idea that the worldwide climate is changing but that the deforestation and   artificial introduction of  carbon and sulfur compounds  into the air are not a significant factor.  Arguments that examine only fragments of data, chosen for ambiguity are often cited without reference to other firm data that clarifies the matter. Insinuations are made of suppression for political reasons as if everyone from Communist to Libertarian would agree to delude the world for no particular gain.  Assertions are made that radiocarbon dating “is a joke” and  “is no longer trusted.” Assertions that  global warming is part of a natural cycle, contrary to observed data.  Assertions that one data set invalidates all other data with no mention of peer reviews of that set.  It’s almost monotonous.  

People, or at least a large proportion of the people who angrily deny theories and the data that support them also possess, as I mentioned, a constellation of other traits and particularly a personal attachment to belief systems political and religious.  Most people for instance, who argue in the total absence of empirical observation  and contrary to huge and growing masses of data, from physics, mathematics and geology  are certainly  religious.  Likewise, the people who write books and articles about the “hoax” of climate change tend also to have not only an affiliation with ‘Conservative’ politics and religious traditions but a propensity to assemble the same sort of arguments.  Concocted evidence of human footprints next to dinosaur tracks,  fictitious articles about oil forming magically in the deep strata,  dishonest testimony that evolutionary science is giving way to other interpretations,  books asserting  evidence against the existence of Nazi extermination camps almost always written either by heretofore unknown “experts”  often unconnected or only tangentially connected to the science in question or to science in general all grasped at  like floating straws to Denialists:  Books by Engineering professors about the Holocaust Hoax,  Articles and talks about  anthropogenic factors in climate change by aeronautical engineers,  and TV meteorologists.  Paleontologists, Paleoclimatologists, Geologists?  Not so much,  unless they work for the petroleum industry.

Certainly the history of science is the history of how theories are modified as technology allows new data; how theories are replaced by theories that explain observed phenomena, certainly -- but  giant worldwide hoaxes involving  nearly every scientist in a field including  suppression and falsification of data? I can’t think of one, nor can I think of a motivation that would affect such a widely diverse set of individuals and make them act in such unlikely  harmony.

No, as I said, not only Einstein’s work but the work of all the most brilliant pioneers of science and mathematics have contained errors, oversights and blunders.  We don’t have shoe salesmen writing anti-Newtonian diatribes. We don’t hear about Galileo’s Hoax, the mendacity of Kepler, do we and that's because they don't endanger the dearly held fictions of today's religious people or wealthy corporations.

Science progresses haltingly but the ultimate test is the agreement of theory with data even as data emerges and refines theory. Theories have been overthrown, discredited and abandoned but the level of passion involved has nothing to do with the soundness or unsoundness of a theory as history asserts in a loud voice.  If Einstein, Newton Kepler, Kelvin, Darwin, Hoyle and in fact all of them  spent their lives revising and reviewing, blundering and going back to the drawing board, none of them have been perpetrating hoaxes.  Hoaxes involving multitudes only seem apparent to certain kinds of people who share certain characteristics. Not understanding how science works is one of those characteristics. Being Republican is another.

There is no new data arguing against accepted cosmological and paleontological or anthropological theories. There is no emerging data arguing for a climate hoax, Intelligent design, a  worldwide flood  – only cranks seeking attention and the people with personal, financial and psychological reasons to become their disciples.  Yet they go on and on. Fox goes on reporting and deciding for us.

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