The majority not always right: Most scientists see global warming, but it's just a show of hands
Friday 25 October 2002
[This article was also published in the National Post, Oct. 26, 2002, under the heading Consensus? What consensus? That article contains a copy of the letter that is being discussed in the following text.]
Scientific truth is never determined by a show of hands.
So it matters not a jot what the majority of scientists believe about global warming -- if they're wrong.
The other day, a friend and colleague, whom I admire even if I usually disagree with him, argued, "If you have 853 scientists over here who say global warming is happening, and three over here say maybe it isn't, that's pretty convincing."
Not to me.
He was exaggerating the ratio of believers to skeptics -- "a bit." But his central contention was that scientific consensus favours the global warming theory, so the skeptics can be dismissed.
Well, no they can't be -- if they're right.
If you insist on being impressed by numbers, go to www.oism.org/pproject/, Website of the Oregon Petition Project. There you can view the signatures of more than 17,000 scientists who dispute the science behind global warming alarmism. That's nearly seven times as many scientists as worked on the UN's last pro-Kyoto, climate change report.
However, I'll bet you've never heard such a huge number of climatologists, oceanographers, environmental scientists, geophysicists and meteorologists doubt global warming. We in the media typically refer to pro-Kyoto researchers as the main body of scientists, which permits us to write off dissenters as a minority unworthy of much coverage.
But numbers against Kyoto and the global warming theory don't impress me any more than numbers for them do.
The vast majority of scientists used to believe the Sun revolved around the Earth; that didn't make it so. Nor did the Earth begin revolving around the Sun only after Copernicus convinced his colleagues to switch their votes at some Renaissance science symposium. Aristarchus, the Greek astronomer who first postulated in the Third Century BC that the Earth revolves around the Sun, wasn't wrong for nearly two millennia just because the main body of scientists mistakenly chose to believe Ptolemy's geocentric theory of the universe.
So I am not impressed, either, that 56 Alberta scientists have penned a letter to Premier Klein insisting "there is little disagreement in the scientific community on climate warming."
For one thing, these are scientists who "work with climate change or its effects."
Studying the effects of climate change is hardly the same as understanding the mechanisms that may or may not be triggering it -- effect is not the same thing as cause. So scientists who are expert on how mites or bark beetles are adapting to changing temperatures and moisture (effects) are not necessarily any more expert than you or I on what's behind these changes (cause).
Many such effects-scientists simply assume greenhouse warming is causing the climate change they think they are seeing because other scientists say so, or because greenhouse warming fits neatly into their worldview that profit-driven industrialization is evil, and therefore can be blamed for all manner of bad things.
Nearly half the letter's signatories are biologists, not climate scientists at all. Three are federal government forest scientists, seven are geographers, one a mathematician, and three are renewable resource experts, whose discipline may be just a tad biased against fossil fuels. Only 10 are earth scientists. Of the total, at least nine also have strong links to environmental lobbies such as Ecotrust, Friends of the Environment, Global Forest Watch and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
But we're back to a numbers game again.
The letter offers lots of projections of the catastrophes (effects) that may befall Alberta if global warming is happening, and we don't stop it -- intensified droughts, more forest fires, declining water quality -- but little if any proof that global warming is happening or that humans are causing it. Rather, there are mostly just assertions that manmade warming is upon us.
Once again, we are being asked to believe global warming has arrived and will worsen because "they" say so. In this case "they" are the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Society of London, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The much vaunted supercomputer models that project plenty of warming over the next 100 years, are cited again, too.
Yet these computers cannot even get the climate of the past 100 years right because the variables that create climate are too complex.
The global warming True Believers, frequently use such a circular proof for their theory. We believe it because A and B say it is so. A believes it because we and B say so, and so on.
That may be impressive. It certainly proves "they" are convinced of their own intelligence.
But it is nothing more than a sophisticated show-of-hands.
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post
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