Thursday, January 21, 2010

Global Warming Skeptics have no Credibility with the Intelligensia

Some people claim that the tea party movement will not gain traction with intelligent people as long as we remain skeptical of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). I find this claim to be elitist and condescending.

Case in point: I hold a degree in mathematics and physics. I am a lifelong student of science and the philosophy of science. I know how scientific knowledge is obtained. I also know how it can be corrupted. It is for precisely these reasons that I am skeptical of AGW. AGW is the proposed theory that humans are responsible for the phenomenon formerly known as "global warming". The notion that "the science is settled", or that there is "consensus" is historically ignorant.

We thought that the science was "settled" when Isaac Newton's laws of motion and gravity were "proved". Physics was considered a dead science until some unexplainable phenomena inspired Albert Einstein to blow the whole thing wide open again in 1905. About the same time, quantum theory threw some monkey wrenches into Einstein's work, as well as further revolutionizing physics, chemistry and cosmology. Relativity and quantum theory are approximately 100 years old, and they are still not "settled". The standard model was agreed upon by "consensus", and yet ongoing research pokes inconvenient holes in it. It works, if you watch where you step. Fortunately, the government hasn't passed any laws based on the standard model. Yet.

String theory is the latest twist on quantum theory, and it appears to be going nowhere. Renowned physicist Lee Smolin wrote a book about it: The Trouble with Physics. Do you know what it's about? It's about the politicization of science. Not at the government level, but at the university level. String theory is the "cool" science, on the cutting edge. The best grants, the best teaching positions, and the best students get to work on string theory. The trouble is, there are huge problems with string theory. It hasn't made any real progress in 20 years. But the best minds continue to hammer away at this concept, leaving other avenues unexplored because there isn't any money or prestige in them.

I would argue that AGW suffers from the same trouble -- only worse because of the "real political" aspect of it: The climate is always changing, except now statists have secured "science" to tax us for it. Climategate came as no surprise to me. In fact, it is the natural conclusion: Big government, big power, big money, big corruption -- in that order.

The AGW hypothesis suffers from one very serious problem: There is no way to test whether the assumptions (and hence the predictions of this theory) are actually true, and by how much. Computer models are not experiments! The best minds in the field -- if they were honest -- would have to admit that.

But I saved the best for last: Even if AGW was demonstrably true, it is not the role of the American Republic (thanks to the Constitution) to coerce everyone to fall into line. It is the true believers' job (via the first amendment) to convince everyone to fall into line of their own free will. See the difference?

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