December 26, 2007
$cience Mag Jumps on Global MoneywagonBy James Lewis
Scientists like money. (It's true --- be still, my heart.) Big Science is a Big Business, supporting nearly half the budgets of our major universities. Science professors are only hired if they can swing enough Federal grant money to pay for their labs, hire a gaggle of graduate assistants, and let the universities skim up to forty percent off the top for overhead. And besides, it's nice to get fat salaries. So the professional scientist union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has ads headed AAA$. They aren't shy about it.
The trouble is that money means politics, and politics means shading the truth. As a result, we get politicized science, which corrupts real science. Any kind of Politically Incorrect science therefore becomes very hard to publish. So the cult of PC has invaded the pristine halls of science.
The past week's Science magazine is a study in the way science can be ruined. The scare cover shouts Reef TROUBLE, to support the idea that our coral reefs are dying. It's like the National Enquirer.
Naturally, Science magazine has weekly updates on the grant wars in Washington, DC.
The last issue of Science has an editorial endorsing the Democrat candidate for president. Not exactly in so many words, but it's unmistakable.
This is like the union boss telling his members how to vote in a general election if they want to get more money.
But global warming is a popular hypothesis, Dr. Kennedy. It's not established. You remember the difference.
No doubt Kennedy is a fire-breathing liberal. But he's also hoping for lots of global warming money from Hillary or Obama. (For a good cause, of course. Perhaps his roof needs repairs).
What new discoveries does Science magazine present to support that scare cover? The answer is: None. This week's Science has one article by Australian reef researchers, but it presents no new data. They make the claims that if the acidity of the oceans increases slightly over the next 50 to 100 years, coral reefs will be in trouble. The source? The highly politicized United Nations IPCC report, which has now been roundly criticized by many of the scientists who were involved with it. So if disaster strikes, disaster will strike. It's a perfect circular argument.
This scientific article is "supported" by a truly sloppy coral reef article by a professional writer --- not a trained scientist --- repeating the panic slogan of the moment, with a few second-hand quotes from scare mongers. This one is really embarassing. It contradicts itself and makes no sense at all. (1712)
The whole sham is based on the notion that carbon in the air has never increased before, slightly changing the acidity of the surface layers of the oceans. So this is a unique world-historic doom caused by evil human beings. But that is absurd. In 1911 a comet crashed in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia, leading to massive wildfires. Forest fires like that increase carbon in the air and the water. At other times in the last billion years, animal species have exploded in variety and biomass. Animals breathe out carbon dioxide. CO2 grows plants, which emit oxygen, which increases animal life, and so on. It's a stable symbiotic system, not a self-destroying system.
The other farcical assumption is that global temperatures are bound to increase by two degrees Celsius in the next hundred years, and that has never happened before either. That assumption is based on the 22 grossly oversimplified computer models that are constantly revised to take in new evidence to come to the same convenient conclusion. The idea that world temperatures have never increased by a mere two degrees C over a century is bizarre. Every time the world comes out of an ice age, temperatures increase by a lot more than 2 degrees.
Living things adapt to changing conditions. That is why they are still here. Coral reefs are living biosystems that emerged half a billion years ago in the Cambrian explosion of single-celled life. Single celled creatures can adapt with amazing speed --- which is why we get "superbugs" in hospitals, remember? Superbugs are bacteria that have evolved to survive antibiotics, so they are hard to wipe out. Hospitals therefore easily become centers of infection. Find a new antibiotic, pretty soon you get a new superbug.
In fact, we now know about extremophiles, organisms that thrive in extremely harsh environments, like volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean. Life is hardy, not fragile.
You can't have it both ways. Either microorganisms evolve and adapt to slightly changing temperatures, or they can't. If they can adapt rapidly, the coral reefs can adjust to minor changes. Since coral organisms have been around for 500,000,000 years, it's pretty clear that they have been able to adapt quite nicely, thank you.
Experiments on the adaptability of e coli (yes, that one), show that over a decade or two, some 20,000 generations of bugs evolve to deal with a wide variety of conditions. Fruit flies have been bred continuously over fifty years under adaptive pressures, and evolve to cope.
What scientists have actually observed is changes in coral reefs. That's why they are running around like religious maniacs on street corners with signs that The End of the World is At Hand! But change is a constant in biological history. Nothing stays the same.
Nobody has a complete "census" of the coral reefs in the world, so percent changes in the estimated size of coral reefs are a wild guess. (The denominator is missing). Our current guess is that world reefs constitute about six times the area of West Virginia. There's no way we know what's happening in a vast ecosystem like that. But basic biology says that those populations of coral creatures are constantly adapting, adapting, adapting.
As science fiction guru Arthur C. Clarke loves to point out, famous physicists predicted about 1900 that man would never fly. In the 1950s they confidently said that a moon landing was impossible. "Clarke's Law" states that whenever a famous scientist tells you that something is impossible, don't believe him. Chances are he's just wrong.
Humans are the fastest-learning creatures ever known. In the last hundred years we have gone from choo-choo trains to scramjets. Give us another century, and who knows what we will do? Colonize Mars? Solarize energy? Double our life span? Human history gives lots of grounds for hope, and much less for despair.
It's easy to imagine ways to fix coral reefs. For one thing, we could strip mine them if the ocean level drops, so that the top of the reefs will stay immersed in seawater. Or we can take blocks of the dead part of a reef (which is most of it), and spread them on top of the coral layer cake if the water level rises. We do that kind of thing all the time in dredging rivers and harbors. So we can keep adjust coral reefs to the heigh to sea water if that ever changes.
My real worry is --- will we ever fix politicized science? Because if we allow the search for truth to be so easily twisted by political fads, we may be in really deep doo-doo.
Now there's a scary prediction.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/