Save us from the politics of science

It's bad enough when politicians and true believers distort scientific findings for their own purposes. But when scientists do it, we've reached a dangerous point in intellectual discourse.

Such is the case with the widespread belief that evidence of global warming is incontrovertible. Thankfully, some scientists courageously have decided to publicly challenge this numbing, politically correct dogma.

Among them isNobel Prize-winningphysicist Ivar Giaever, who recently resigned from the American Physical Society because he couldn't accept the group's policy statement that the "evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring …" and mitigating action must be taken immediately to avert certain ruination. He asked, "In the APS, it is OK to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multiuniverse behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"

He might as well have added, "Give me a break." Basically that's what an international group of 16 eminent scientists said Friday in The Wall Street Journal ("No need to panic about global warming.").

"In spite of a multidecade international campaign to enforce the message that increasing amounts of the 'pollutant' carbon dioxide will destroy civilization, large numbers of scientists, many very prominent, share the opinions of Giaever. And the number of scientific 'heretics' is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts."

Among them is the absence of global warming for more than 10 years, acknowledged in private emails by climate alarmist Kevin Trenberth. That absence is troubling because the model on which global warming is based predicted otherwise.

Continue reading on the Chicago Tribune op-ed page.


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  • Using Ivar Giaever, a physicist, as an authority on climate change is like asking a cricket player his opinion about baseball.

  • I am a scientist--a biologist, to be specific.

    I often wonder how Byrne gets his information. I really would like to know the process. As a scientist, the key thing I would do is to look at the evidence from an authoritative source (things like temperature data, for example), and not just assertions by smart people who agree with me.

    My guess is that Mr. Byrne starts and stops with the assertions.

    Here's the way it should work: Mr. Byrne reads in the Wall Street Journal that Dr. Giaever, a prominent physicist, doubts global warming. Mr. Byrne finds out what the reasoning of Mr. Giaver is for doubting global warming (reasoning based on data, not based on name-calling or questioning people's motives). For example, Mr. Byrne could ask Dr. Giaever: "What is the evidence you are using to argue that there is no global warming over the past 10 years?". Or Mr. Byrne could see what Dr. Giaever has indicated in writing about the sources of information he uses.

    Second, Mr. Byrne would find someone in authority who could comment on the issue, like the head of the American Physics Society. Mr. Byrne would ask the second source "Do you agree or disagree, and why"? The "why" part is critical.

    Third, Mr. Byrne would present both arguments in his piece.

    This is not too much to ask: when you write about a science issue where there is a mainstream position, you ask someone to represent the mainstream position who actually believes in the mainstream position.

    You might even get two or three columns out of the work you put in.

    My hypothesis is that Mr. Byrne gets his scientific information from ideological sources, and that he has never succeeded in contacting any scientific authority who represents the mainstream position. (By the way, environmental organization don't count as scientific authorities: they are ideological, too). I believe that he gets all of his information about the mainstream position from ideiolo

    Please let me know if I am mistaken, Mr. Byrne.: I'd like to know who you have consulted for the mainstream position.

  • In reply to unicyclegeek:

    I do believe that you've missed the point: science is too often being used for political and ideological purposes, especially when someone--including scientists--contend that their conclusions cannot be contested. As a scientist, you should be repulsed by this. Unless, of course, you believe that absolutes in the scientific debate over an issue as complicated as climate change are acceptable.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    Mr. Byrne,

    I really appreciate your response. Thanks!

    Like a lot of scientists, I dislike definitive language, words like "incontestible" and "absolute". As another example, a lot of us dislike the word "prove"; it has been drilled into our heads that any hypothesis has a statistical probability of being wrong.

    It is hard for me to understand what is the deeper meaning behind your phrase "contend that their conclusions cannot be contested". (Nice alliteration!) In the most straightforward sense, scientists are not being hindered from expressing their opinions, especially if they have tenure, as the signatories of the WSJ article attest.

    Are you thinking of something else? Perhaps you are thinking that those with the minority position cannot get jobs, or that they cannot get tenure, or that they cannot get published, or that they cannot get grants?

    I am going to guess that you think that they cannot get published. That doesn't make sense. For one thing, the WSJ signatories who assert that there is no global warming, are (without a doubt?) relying on peer-reviewed publications that support the idea that there is no global warming. They are not getting their opinions out of thin air.

    I am sure that you get frustrated sometimes when someone you agree with argues your position with too much vehemence in a foolish manner. But that does not make them wrong. I don't like some of the language used by my fellow global-warming believers. But I believe that our position is the one best supported by the data.

    My earlier point is that the way one gets information on scientific issues is important. I have speculated that you get your information in an ideological manner and that there are better, fairer alternatives that you did not use. I am still curious about how you went about finding out your information.

  • In reply to unicyclegeek:

    I like your formulation when you say, "...I believe that our position is the one best supported by the data." I can even agree with that, in that the data best support one position or another. And it might be that the data best support your position. I like that formulation because it does not rule out other possibilities.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    Thanks for the compliment. Actually the statement I used is a somewhat standard phrase used by scientists, so I can't take much credit.

    I still think that when you seek scientific opinions, you have been unwise in relying too much on those of only a few scientists that are in effect chosen based on their ideology--their opinions and conclusions--rather than their expertise; I am thinking of groups such as those scientists writing to the WSJ and those scientists that you take the time to talk to. There are a LOT of scientists. One can easily find scientists, even prestigious scientists who hold kooky, nonstandard opinions. Francis Crick, one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, believed that our planet was intentionally seeded with microbes by outer space aliens. Charles Darwin advocated a theory of heredity by gemmules that not even his supporters took seriously.

    A better way to assess the state of scientific opinion is to seek out representatives of authoritative organizations, scientists who have reviewed the studies of a great deal of other scientists in the field, or scientists considered as the best authority by other scientists in the same field.

    Another alternative is to use a random sample of scientists. I have just learned of the "Steve" project, a project launched to counterbalance the idea that there are a lot of scientists that are skeptical of Darwin's theory. If one restricts the sample of scientists to people with names of Steve, Stephen, Stephanie, and the like, there is an almost overwhelming number that believe in evolution. In other words, there is a consensus, even though there are some dissenters. Consensus does not mean unanimity.

    My speculation is that if we did a "Dennis/ Denise/Denny" sample of climatologists (and perhaps, meteorologists), this would also provide evidence that there is a consensus in the field.

  • I've speculated that bats may see color with their ears. Because I speculate and get a crowd of like minded Progressive Learning graduates from Roosevelt and University of Chicago to agree to my inquiry, with the appropriate Federal and State funding our collective inquiry, we not only prove,with all the available space in the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times, that we hear color, but also smell via the auditory sense. Therefore, Mr. Byrne, I not only hear bat-shit, but actually breathe the brown of it.

    Quod Erat Demonstrandum! Jack Dewey et al

  • In reply to PatHickey:

    I think that your point is that scientists just give other scientists money to do things based on cliquishness, even to the point of funding absurd ideas.

    Sure, some bad ideas get funded. But mostly, the money goes to people who do a great deal of legitimate background work to make their case.

    I'm sure that you could come up with some witty retorts to make me look stupid. But I doubt that you have much evidence for your idea that cliquishness is the most important criteria for funding decisions. And I doubt that you can come up with a better system for distributing research dollars than the current one.

  • In reply to unicyclegeek:

    My dear chap, you do me far too much credit.

    One can no better than Greece, Portugal, Dear Old Erin's Isle et al for " a better system for distributing research dollars than the current one" - we, have yet to fully embrace redistribution of wealth, Old Man. Thanks be to God.

    By the bye, my opener came from old Dicky Dawkins - biologist, atheist, and snappy dresser.

  • Apologies - my poor old eyes and rapid fingers.

    One can (DO) no better than Greece, Portugal, Dear Old Erin's Isle et al for " a better system for distributing research dollars than the current one" - we, have yet to fully embrace redistribution of wealth, Old Man. Thanks be to God.

    Mea culpa.

  • In reply to PatHickey:

    I'm impressed that you are quoting Dawkins. I'm a little lost as to the point about Greece, Portugal and Ireland. The distribution of research dollars is a different issue, in my reductionist mind, than the issues of the redistribution of wealth, and countries that spend beyond their means. I don't see how they are linked.

    And--apologies accepted.

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