Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deniers and Heretics and Skeptics -- Oh My!

Many watermelons argue that preservatives are all a bunch of dogmatic Christian fundamentalists who reject science. I don't think that's true. Let's consider the history of science and the role of skeptics and testable hypotheses in the quest for the truth. Following the line from Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein...

Newton's hypotheses replaced earlier scientific orthodoxy. Newton's theories soon became so well validated that people called them natural laws. And yet, as our tests became more precise and larger in scope, skeptics like the inventors of the Michelson-Morley experiment raised serious doubts about Newton's model of space and time. We started seeing quantum effects such as the photo-electric interaction.

Eventually, Einstein blew everyone's mind, saying, "Gravity curves space, and the speed of light in a vacuum is constant. Oh, and matter can be converted to energy at the rate of its mass times the speed of light squared." SAY WHAT!?!? To which Einstein replied, "You don't have to believe me; here are some experiments you can run to test my theory". Guess what? The experiments were successful, and Einstein became a superstar.

But now, we're bogged down in string theory, climate change, and a bunch of untestable hypotheses. We try computer simulations (not experiments at all, but buggy self-fulfilling prophecies with circular dependencies). It seems we've lost the ability to experiment. We can still whomp up hypotheses like crazy, but no one actually wants to test them. The scientific culture is severely broken. Throughout scientific history, you had to be honest enough to want the truth in the first place, and courageous enough to ask the hard questions, and risk being proven wrong despite your personal interest. Science goes to hell whenever it gets mixed up with politics.

The media love to spew these untestable hypotheses as fact. SNL's Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber sketch parodied the idea of settled science: Steve Martin as Theodoric says, "You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach."

The man-made climate change hypothesis has so many discrepancies, loose ends, untestable truth-claims and outright fraud that it is just begging for some critical analysis. Sympathetic peer review and "consensus" is not experiment. Without rigorous experimental confirmation, the climate change hypothesis is simply a matter of faith -- another religion. If it was properly called religion instead of science, the fact that it should have no role in public policy would be a no-brainer.

When the watermelons call us deniers instead of skeptics, I want to yell, "Don't you mean heretic? This isn't the Holy Roman Empire! I'm sorry about the rest of the world, but here in the United States, we have something called 'The First Amendment'. We don't have to subscribe to your religion!"


  1. Nice article. It would be a good letter to the editor. (although you'd have to define watermelon) Thanks!

  2. Unfortunately, letters to the editor only allows about half as many words as I used here. I can't think of any way to shorten it that preserves the meaning.


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