Academia is in the New Dark Age

Jan 19, 2017 |  Leo Goldstein

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Academia is in the New Dark Age

Jan 19, 2017 | 

Leo Goldstein

Editor's Introduction: Last month the NAS published "Academia on the Verge of a New Dark Age" by Leo Goldstein. It also published responses by Bruce Gilley and Edward R. Dougherty. We are now publishing Mr. Goldstein's response to the critiques presented by Profs. Gilley and Dougherty.



Reply to Dr. Bruce Gilley

Dr. Bruce Gilley’s reply to my earlier piece, Academia on the Verge of a New Dark Age, would be entirely reasonable—if the sources he relied upon were accurate. Normally, Dr. Gilley would be correct to extend professional courtesy to his colleagues, and rely upon them to provide a fair summary of the relevant data. Unfortunately, the situation in the field of climate science is exceptionally marred by ideology and politicization. It isn’t just that climate science is not as “settled” as the climate alarmists claim. It’s that climate science, if anything, is “settled” in ways that disprove what they take to be the basic facts of the case. Among the facts they obscure are these:

  • Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration are good, because carbon dioxide (CO2) is a plant food; scientists estimate that about 15% of the global food production comes from the elevated CO2 concentration (Freeman Dyson, 2013; see detailed analysis in Craig D. Idso, 2013).
  • In the geological past (tens and hundreds of millions of years ago), CO2 concentrations were up to 10 times higher than they are today; most Earth flora evolved in those times and is better adapted to higher CO2 concentrations than we have today ([4], p.4).
  • Surface warming from the elevated carbon dioxide concentration is very small.  Most of the estimated 0.8°C rise in the so-called “global temperature” over the last 150 years was due to natural effects, probably variations in solar activity ([2], p.3).
  • The sea level has been rising since the last glacial episode, which ended 20,000 years ago.  In the last few thousands of years, it has been rising at the rate of about one inch per decade, and no acceleration has been detected in the last 150 years ([4], pp.13, 21).
  • Claims that CO2 emissions increase the frequency or severity of extreme weather events (hurricanes, floods, droughts, snowstorms, etc.) are propaganda, and not based on any evidence from the natural sciences (scientists think that global warming would likely reduce intense storms, but focus groups and surveys have shown such claims to be highly effective to raise climate alarm; also Seeking to Save the Planet, with a Thesaurus – NY Times, 2009).
  • Humans exhale CO2 with each breath.  The CO2 control agenda thus has very anti-human undercurrents.

“Climate science,” as the term is used today, is a pseudo-science with a credo quia absurdum narrative, no better than astrology, scientology, or “scientific communism.” Practically no distinguished scientists support climate alarmism, except those in the insular area of environmental studies, including “climate science.”  Many top physicists, biologists, and other distinguished experts have strongly condemned it.  Alarmists have been revising history to hide this inconvenient truth.  For example, Al Gore’s staff attempted to suppress information that his putative mentor, the distinguished oceanographer Roger Revelle, joined Professor Singer in opposition to climate alarm.

Climate alarmists have succeeded in misrepresenting not only the science at issue but also the positions of their opponents (“fossil fuel supporters” or worse).  This is not surprising, since CO2/climate-change alarm has its roots in United Nations politics of the 1970s rather than in scientific debates, and has been consistently driven by politics.  Since at least 1988, the academic Left has adopted climate alarmism as a progressive cause, and acted accordingly.  Al Gore became obsessed with the subject even earlier, and used his position as Vice President to purge distinguished scientists from positions of influence, causing enormous damage to scientific enterprise in America. 

There is an extensive and accessible literature about these developments.  In particular, I recommend everything written by Richard Lindzen, starting with his 1992 article Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus, and going through his recent Global Warming and the Irrelevance of Science.  I also recommend the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK).  Indeed, I think my own website on climate alarmism and climate cult is a good resource.

What really is at issue in the climate debate is the corruption of scientific inquiry.  Academia—by dint of ideological group-think and excessive professional courtesy by non-climatologists—has become complicit in this corruption. Elected politicians ought to speak up about the corruption of scientific inquiry in academia, in and of itself. Alas, they become involved only when there is clear and immediate danger to the energy industries.  That contributes to the inaccurate impression that fossil fuels are at the center of the climate change agenda. 

What Dr. Gilley writes in his article leads me to believe that he is one of the many academics outside of climate science who takes the arguments of the climate alarmists in good faith. (Even his article’s title, The Lack of Prudence of Fossil Fuel Supporters, accepts the presuppositions of the climate alarmists.) As a professor of Political Science, he criticizes the climate alarmists for their politics, but accepts their science. There are many reasons he should not do so, but I will focus on the computer climate models that Dr. Gilley cites.  Something akin to evolution happened to climate models, resulting in survival of the “fittest” – for the advancing the alarmist agenda.  Not surprisingly, these models were the scientifically weakest ones. Criticism of these models has been published in the specialized literature since the 1970s. The climate alarmists’ reliance on such models is one of many reasons why “climate science” belongs in quotation marks, and why Dr. Gilley should doubt the facts provided in the spurious guise of professional expertise.

Dr. Gilley’s willingness to accept “facts” asserted outside his discipline follows a well-established pattern.  In the 1990s, some good physicists used to support a milder form of climate alarm, while dissenting from its statements on their own scientific specialty.  Many scientists involved in the IPCC process also used to believe that climate alarmism was correct in all scientific fields except their own.

I repeat my arguments for the absolute falsehood of what the climate alarmists claim because a good deal of what Dr. Gilley argues turns on his broader point that “Even if we assume that there is only a 10% chance that a majority of the world’s climate scientists are correct, the catastrophic consequences are such that the modest costs of mitigation make eminent sense.” I think Dr. Gilley’s moderation and deference to expert opinion is ultimately misguided. If 97% of astrologists recommended that everyone wear tinfoil hats, I would still reject the modest costs of stockpiling tinfoil, fitting out 10% of the population in prototype tinfoil berets, and, of course, establishment of astrology as a basis for public policy. Political pluralism is one thing, but sometimes the emperor has no clothes. In a friendly spirit, I urge Dr. Gilley to contemplate the nakedness of the climate alarmists.

For further reading on climate science, I recommend the following reports:

[1] State of the Climate (2016)

[2] Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming (2015)

[3] Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts, Summary (2014)

[4] Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, Summary (2013)


Reply to Dr. Edward R. Dougherty

Dr. Edward R. Dougherty has joined the discussion started by my earlier piece, Academia on the Verge of a New Dark Age. I agree with him in general on the epistemology, but disagree when he accepts the straw-man argument of climate alarmists.  The argument is not that “climate models have not been validated.”  Validation is not the proper procedure for checking whether a theory or a model is correct (see Oreskes et al., 1994; Oreskes, 1998; and Oreskes & Belitz, 2001). Instead, the proper procedure is comparing the predictions of the theory or the model to the results of a properly designed experiment or observation.  Designing and executing such experiments or observations for complex theories is not always easy.  But when a theory fails a properly designed and performed experiment or observation, it becomes refuted.  When a climate model fails “validation,” it is frequently described as “has not been validated.”

Now we have enough observational data to say that the models in question, used by the alarmist community in 1988-1996, have been proven false.  The whole hypothesis that anthropogenic release of CO2, even combined with the emission of other infrared-active gases and substances, causes significant surface warming contradicts the observational data, and is thereby refuted.  Note that climate alarmism assumes a much stronger hypothesis – that the warming is not only significant, but dangerous or even catastrophic (DAGW or CAGW).  But so-called “climate science” can be compared to a labyrinth with all kinds of traps, from fake data to elegant logical fallacies.  This labyrinth has been changing and growing for three decades.  There is a subtle difference between the “grand theory” of CAGW and individual climate models/ensembles.

Dr. Dougherty proposes four questions of increasing difficulty, which should be asked about a theory (wherever math is applicable) and answered affirmatively as a condition of validation.  The first question is “Does it contain a mathematical model expressing the theory?”  For the grand theory, the answer depends on the meaning of the word “does.”  Just kidding.  It depends on the tense of the word “do.”  In the past, alarmist scientists boldly predicted future increase of the surface temperatures as a function of future concentrations or emissions of CO2.  These predictions have been proven wrong.  So-called “climate scientists” have learnt from this lesson.  The latest (2014) IPCC report features a broad band of likely future temperature changes, including negative values, even for the scenario with extremely high future growth of the emissions (RCP8.5).  (See IPCC AR5, Synthesis Summary for Policymakers, Fig. SPM.6(a) and IPCC AR5, WGI Summary for Policymakers, Fig. SPM.7(a).)  Further, the band for this scenario and the band for the even more unlikely scenario of a sharp emissions curtailment (RCP2.6) diverge only after 2060, making such “predictions” practically unfalsifiable. In the present, the answer even to the first question is a firm “No.” 

Speaking of individual climate models, there are many types of them.  Since climate alarmism went mainstream in 1988 (after the Toronto Conference and the James Hansen Senate testimony,) the General Circulation Models (GCM), including ocean-atmosphere coupled models, and their “ensembles” have been dominating the IPCC process and so-called “climate science.”  Below, I will refer only to them.  One does not need to know much epistemology to find out that these models are wrong.  If a hypothesis derivation had mathematical errors, it is wrong.  No testing is needed.  This is rarely the case in other fields, so it is natural that this fact became forgotten.  But this is the case with the climate models. 

The climate models repeatedly “solve” a system of partial differential equations, usually including the primitive equations used in weather models.  The solutions to these primitive equations are famously unstable.  This is why the weather cannot be forecasted further than a few days ahead.  Attempts to compute solutions for years into the future produces garbage.  “Climate modelers” claim that averaging many runs of a model with different initial conditions produces a meaningful result.  In other words, they claim that by combining multiple informational sources, each having zero information, they obtain output having non-zero information.  This claim contradicts basic information theory. The philosophy of climate change “action” is just a poor parody of Pascal’s famous wager, couched in stronger terms.

By the way, a common and wrong practice among “climate modelers” is to refer to a large set of different models, produced from a single model template by changing internal parameters, as a single model.  It is also common to call model runs “experiments.” How such clearly wrong theories gained so much power is beyond the scope of academic discussion.  I call the research into this phenomenon Climatismology.


Image Credit: Ansgar Walk.

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