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Opening Arguments

Unsettling science

Charles Krauthammer on the myth of "settled science":

Irepeat: I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’ve long believed that it cannot be good for humanity to be spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years are white-coated propagandists.

“The debate is settled,” asserted propagandist in chief Barack Obama in his latest State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” Really? There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.

[. . .]

If climate science is settled, why do its predictions keep changing? And how is it that the great physicist Freeman Dyson, who did some climate research in the late 1970s, thinks today’s climate-change Cassandras are hopelessly mistaken?

They deal with the fluid dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans, argues Dyson, ignoring the effect of biology, i.e., vegetation and topsoil. Further, their predictions rest on models they fall in love with: “You sit in front of a computer screen for 10 years and you start to think of your model as being real.” Not surprisingly, these models have been “consistently and spectacularly wrong” in their predictions, write atmospheric scientists Richard McNider and John Christy — and always, amazingly, in the same direction.

"Settled science," as Krauthammer says in the piece, is just a crude attempt to silence critics and delegitimize debate. The clownish John Kerry tried his hand at that the other day, calling "climate change deniers" the modern Flat Earthers. Two scientists writing in The Wall Street Journal helpfully reminded him that "The Earth is Flat" was once the consensus -- you know, "settled science."

In a Feb. 16 speech in Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry assailed climate-change skeptics as members of the "Flat Earth Society" for doubting the reality of catastrophic climate change. He said, "We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists" and "extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts."

But who are the Flat Earthers, and who is ignoring the scientific facts? In ancient times, the notion of a flat Earth was the scientific consensus, and it was only a minority who dared question this belief. We are among today's scientists who are skeptical about the so-called consensus on climate change. Does that make us modern-day Flat Earthers, as Mr. Kerry suggests, or are we among those who defy the prevailing wisdom to declare that the world is round?

"Settled science" is what those who study logic faults call argumentum ad verecundiam or "appeal to authority," the notion that we should believe something because of who else believes it. Appeal to authority can give an argument a certain authenticity -- better to listen to the "expert" than to somebody speaking outside his field of expertise, right? But it is oddly out of place in talking about science, which is about doubt and experiment, not certainty so unquestioned it becomes a matter of faith.


Larry Morris
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 3:55pm


Settled science, … huh, might as well tell all the sci-fi writers to go home, their services are no longer needed.



Leo Morris
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 4:48pm

Or as John Kerry might say, "Mission accomplished!"