On Earth Day, Biden Must be Told: Consensus and Truth Do Not Apply to Science

by | Apr 22, 2021 |

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In President Joe Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23, politicians from around the world will tell us that climate scientists agree: it is unequivocal that we face a man-made climate crisis. Not only is that statement wrong, but it is also irrelevant and, ultimately, not even possible.

First, the surveys that are used to support the idea that there is a 97% consensus among experts about dangerous man-made climate change either asked the wrong people or asked the wrong question (or both – see here): 

  • The only scientists who should be polled are those who study the causes of climate change. While a bark beetle expert, for example, may well understand climate change impacts on the insects she studies, she has no special knowledge of the causes of those changes. 
  • The right question is simply, is human-caused climate change so severe that it is worth spending vast sums restructuring our entire society to try to mitigate it?

There is no known meaningful poll that fulfills both of these requirements.

And, even if there were, it would prove nothing about nature. A consensus is a tool of politics, not science, so it should not surprise us that politicians use it as a weapon to bludgeon the public into subservience. A show of hands does not decide the validity of scientific hypotheses. When Albert Einstein developed his Theory of Relativity, German scientists compiled a book titled Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein (A Hundred Authors Against Einstein), published in 1931. “Why 100?” Einstein replied. “If I were wrong, one would have been enough.”

A true advocate of real science untarnished by the politics that tends to guide it today was the award-winning American author and filmmaker Dr. Michael Crichton. Having sold over 200 million books worldwide, it is a shame that his condemnation of consensus science in general, and the warped science of global warming in particular, is not more influential today. 

In Crichton’s January 17, 2003 lecture, “Aliens Cause Global Warming,” presented at California Institute of Technology, he explained that there was an emerging crisis between science and politics that distorted the science he grew up with. That science extended life spans fed the hungry, cured diseases, and shrunk the world with jet planes and cell phones. He had expected “science to banish the evils of human thought, prejudice, and superstition.” In this lecture, he made a case for how science has been “seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity.”

Crichton focused on the many ways science wasted its resources investigating things with no physical data to support it. He explained that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, for example, had become a sort of strange religion based on faith, not science, and its acceptance as a legitimate research area by many scientists opened a crack in the door, loosening the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. This led, Crichton said, to the false fear-mongering promoted in government reports about the so-called ‘nuclear winter’ that could result from a nuclear war. As the destruction of all agriculture was considered a given, it was pointed out that, while scientists thought nothing would grow at Hiroshima and Nagasaki for 75 years after the 1945 Atomic Bomb explosions, a large melon crop grew the next year. Nuclear winter-promoter, Stanford University biologist Dr. Paul Ehrlich, brushed the question aside, saying, “what we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of an extensive group of scientists.”

It was here in Crichton’s lecture that he made a statement that everyone in the world today should read and learn:

“I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.

“The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has the results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science, a consensus is irrelevant. In fact, the greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”

Consensus may occasionally have a place in science, but only in situations different from what has happened in climate science. Consensus is typically achieved over an extended period of time by independent scientists following the conventions of the Scientific Method, in particular, welcoming and properly investigating competing hypothesis; it is not handed down by an authoritative international organization tasked with defending a single paradigm, as has been the case with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

All of this brings us to the second problem with the statements we will hear at Biden’s Earth Day summit: the idea that the science backing the climate scare is ‘unequivocal,’ in other words, statements that cannot be wrong. Or, as Al Gore often asserts, “truth.” But scientific hypotheses, and even scientific theories, are not absolute truth; they can be, and often are, wrong. Science ‘facts’ are merely the current opinions of experts, and, especially in the case of climate change, different experts often have very different points of view.

The UN has led the way in this mistake, often labeling its science conclusions “unequivocal.” For example, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report, one of the agency’s most important climate change documents, started, 

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.” 

It is obviously a mistake to refer to “global average air and ocean temperatures…and global average sea level” as “observations”—they are the results of computations based on thousands of observations in different places and at different times. But, as two philosophers on opposite sides of the global warming debate explain, the UN statement also makes no sense more importantly: 

  • Although he supports the dangerous human-caused global warming hypothesis, Lehigh University philosophy professor Dr. Steven Goldman explained in a personal communication that the IPCC statement is flawed. It is “an attempt to persuade extra-logically,” said Goldman. “Strictly logically, no observations can lead to an ‘unequivocal’ interpretation.” Goldman’s outstanding course, “Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It,” explains this idea in detail (listen here on Audible). 
  • David Wojick, a Virginia-based Ph.D. in the logic and philosophy of science, disagrees with Goldman about the climatic impact of human activity but agrees that the IPCC made a serious mistake in the Synthesis Report. “Reasoning from evidence is inductive logic,” said Wojick. “As for unequivocal, that is never the case in inductive logic.”

Yet, in speaking about the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group I co-chair Dr. Thomas Stocker effectively gave the same message again. “Warming in the climate system is unequivocal,” said Stocker. Canadian historical climatologist Dr. Tim Ball called Stocker’s statement “nonsense.”

And, indeed, it is. Einstein said,

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” 

It might be humorous to the gods, but the belief that we know the ‘truth’ about global warming has resulted in over one billion US dollars a day being wasted on futile attempts to ‘stop climate change.’ Imagine what could be done with such a sum dedicated to education, health care, cleaning up our rivers, or adapting to the inevitable natural environmental changes that lie ahead.

Crichton made an important point in his Cal Tech speech because, as the 20th century drew to a close, the connection between real science and public policy became increasingly elastic. The rise of specialized advocacy groups was now effective at shaping policy without scientific data. Contributing to this has been complacency in the scientific profession and the public’s lack of good science education. This problem has been magnified, Crichton explained, by the decline of the media as independent assessors of facts. 

On Earth Day, Biden must be held to account for basing his multi-trillion-dollar climate policies, not on science, but merely on pleasing the dictates of political correctness.

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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