Something’s (probably) got to give

Perhaps ClimateGate is a flash in the pan, though we view that as unlikely. It might be that the ardent scientists of East Anglia corrupted data in service of their vision of the world. Or perhaps it is the “deniers” who are in error. In either case there is a conflict of visions. Perhaps thinking back to a previous conflict of visions could add a little enlightenment.

In 1962 Thomas Kuhn, then at Harvard, published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which quickly became one of the seminal books in the history of science. Kuhn argues that radical changes in thought often require, and create, a whole new way of seeing the world. He invented the term “paradigm shift,” to describe the phenomenon. Often, it is only when you have crossed over to the new paradigm do you see reality the way it really is.

One example Kuhn uses to illustrate his point is the Copernican Revolution. In 1500, the accepted view in the Christian world of western Europe was that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun and the planets revolved around the earth. The astronomer Ptolemy in the second century AD had worked out a set of equations for the movements of the planets and the moon based on the the earth being the center of the universe. Of course the set of equations describing the Ptolemaic universe had terrible problems since they were attempting to describe a universe that doesn’t exist.

In the early sixteenth century, Copernicus developed an alternative view of, and set of equations for, a universe in which the moon alone revolved around the earth, and in which the earth, like the other planets, revolved around the sun. His masterwork, De Revolutionibus, was published after significant delays, due to religious and scientific objections to his work. Copernicus finally received a copy of his book on May 24, 1543, the day he died.

Many people had a lot invested, professionally, culturally, religiously, psychologically, in the notion that the earth and man were the center of all creation, and so there was considerable resistance at first to the Copernican universe. Some scientists and religious leaders of the day were horrified at the universe Copernicus described, and adamantly defended their geocentric, Ptolemaic beliefs, refusing to accept the Copernican paradigm. Kuhn writes:

In a sense I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. (p. 150)

The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced….

Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are shocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine….[B]ut I look with confidence to the future, — to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to look at both sides of the question with impartiality.” And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (p. 151)

We instinctively tended to side with the AGW skeptics because that viewpoint fits with our view of the world. We think government should have modesty and a limited role in man’s life, we are viscerally repelled by grandiose schemes that intend to pick our pocket in the service of a vague threat decades away, and we think that man burning things for 200 years is small beer given the vastness of nature. (BTW, we often dislike conventional wisdom just for the heck of it.) Many on the other side of the argument probably have a different view of the proper role of government. The data often come into play only thereafter, but they can serve as a battering ram — we are thus appalled that anyone could think that an insignificant 100ppm increase in a rare gas (0.3% of global greenhouse gases) that is necessary to life on earth could be calamitous. Those on the other side have their data too.

Final point. ClimateGate may not be the Copernican Revolution. However, it does remind us of some recent events in history. Most of the smart money and praise from the wise has been for the pro-AGW crowd. They represented the superiority of the knowledge of the elite over that of the lumpenproletariat. Not surprisingly there has been to date precious little glasnost about their data, and little perestroika as well. That seems about to change. Things didn’t end well for the incumbents as that situation developed over the succeeding several years. We’ll just have to see which worldview a critical re-evaluation of the data supports.

13 Responses to “Something’s (probably) got to give”

  1. BC Says:

    Both sides could be biased with the views they hold. Some compare the tension that exists in the scientific community today to looking at a half-full glass on a table. Some say it’s half-full while others half-empty. Technically, both are right. The glass is both half-full and half-empty at the same time. It’s when we try to determine what brought the glass to that point that we come into a whole variety of differing opinions. Each hypthosis could be true. But until we follow the scientific method of experimentation and discovery (and all data is available to all researchers) we will always have just that: a number of equally interesting ideas

  2. Canucklehead Says:

    BC, what are you trying to say? I don’t understand your point.

  3. Steve Says:

    Government should definitely have limits and modesty, but dealing with potential disasters has always been part of its job, demanded by its citizens. Also, please stop with the specious arguments about “a gas necessary to life on earth” — water is also necessary to life on earth, but floods or drinking too much of it will kill humans. At least you acknowledge that current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have indeed risen precipitously in the past 150 years. The levels certainly began to rise above the long-time maximum of 280 ppm exactly when we starting producing lots more carbon dioxide in industrial activities and transportation, and its isotopic signature clearly demonstrates that the new gas comes mainly from fossil fuels. Still you say this all is “insignificant”. But these levels are now higher than humans have ever lived with, higher than any time in the past 15,000,000 years (ScienceDaily, Oct. 9, 2009), and “The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,” said the paper’s lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

  4. BC Says:

    If we really want to get to the bottom of this problem then we need to follow the established scientific process: present your theory with ALL the scientific evidence (including all of the programming required to develop the theory) and have others in a variety of fields test it. That hasn’t completely happened with the AGW group since they have kept their data from others (and now, unfortunately, lost the original data on which they based their conclusions). Only when they did share ome of it (or had it shared for them by others) did we see the fraudulant way in which they went about making their claims.

    I’m not a scientist. I am an historian by training. I can look at a variety of facts and give my opinion about what happened or why it happened. But it’s only an opinion. Other researchers can view the data differently depending on the prism though with they interpret the information. Take Steve’s argument. CO2 has risen. That’s a fact. Precipitously? That’s an opinion. It’s also an opinion taken out of context since AGW folks say that CO2 rises when temperatures rise. Unfortunately, temps have been falling (by all independent measurements) while CO2 continues to rise. Casue or effect? Precipitous or just a part of nature that we’ve only been able to measure recently due to the technological innovations we’ve made.

    The point being, share the data. Have qualified scientists peer review all of the findings through the approved scientific process (rather than making it into a reality show) and we all will be much better off.

  5. Canucklehead Says:

    BC, that makes sense. Here is a link to an article about an opinion on the historical context of AGW.

  6. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Saturday morning links…

    Dynamite from Krauthammer: The new socialism
    Forget CO2 – now it’s nitrogen!
    Dino on climategate: Something’s (probably) got to give
    SISU on Scott Brown
    About time: Britain, Long a Libel Mecca, Reviews Laws
    More on the Minnesota Teacher Brainw…

  7. Norby Says:

    Some Perspective…

    Great post that reveals some light on the subject. Take a gander at the graphs at the top of this article on the temperatures derived from Greenland’s Ice Core. Temps spike up and down all over the place, but one thing is true, as you go backwards in time, we are nowhere near the highest temps* in the last 12000 years.

    AGW might be happening on some minimalist level… the hoax is the scale (actually lack of scale) of it and money it’s sucking away from other legitimate scientific projects. I for one believe, that the next 100 years of technology will take care of everything…

    * – in Greenland’s regional area of the world, seeing it was an actual scientific project it doesn’t try to speak for the rest of the world.

  8. bill Says:

    Correlation is not the same as causation. Warmer waters hold less CO2 than cooler waters, so that is part of the equation. That fact alone would indicate that CO2 would correlate with global temperatures, but would give NO indication that they are causal.

    A decade of rising CO2 with NO rising temperature would indicate CO2 is NOT a dominant cause (let alone the fact that man made CO2 is a small part, and the portion that could be reduced, even more miniscule).

    Add in the contortions by “top scientists” to distort data that might contradict their lucrative AGW theory and their sabotage of real science that reveals their dishonesty, and you have the makings of a fraud.

    Add in Rev. AlGore with his messianic movie message “The End is Near” … and you have a new church that adheres “conveniently” to the left’s drive for more control over all things. And Rev. Gore stated the earth’s core temperature is millions of degrees … so perhaps Gore has the earth confused with the center of our solar system, and Al would have us revert to that Ptolemaic universe.

    The social science indicates this is another Silent Spring moment, radically popular, but devastating to millions of the world’s poor, who then needed cheap and effective DDT to fight malaria, and now need energy to develop agriculture and industry.

    Control of others has been the consistent worldview of the left for decades. It is hardly a coincidence that Obama has radical communists in his administration. This is all about command and control from a scientifically illiterate elite.

  9. Canucklehead Says:

    Bill, here is a link to Carbon Dioxide and the 800 year lag. This talks about correlation and causation.

  10. ShrinkWrapped Says:

    Paradigms & Weltanschauung…

    Over the weekend, Dinocrat, in an insightful post, considered the conflict between AGW “Warmists” and “Deniers” through the prism of history: Something’s (probably) got to give Perhaps ClimateGate is a flash in the pan, though we view that as unl…

  11. aclay1 Says:

    The safest conclusion is that we don’t know much. Given that, one must conclude that CO2-driven policy decisions are based on faith. Few rational people would be willing to base the fiture of the world economy on faith-based policies.


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