March 10, 2008
The Epicycles of Global WarmingBy James Lewis
When True Believers begin to harbor doubts, they don't immediately give up the faith. It's too scary; too much pride and money has been invested; too many jobs and reputations are on the line; and they need to find a new reason to live. So they always try to add on new wrinkles and qualifications to their crumbling story.
Today that's happening with the global warming cult.
"Human-caused global warming" has now officially been re-named "climate change" to explain the inconvenient truth that the winter of 2007-8 was the coldest in a century, in spite of all those tons of "greenhouse gas" being spewed into the air from all the new factories in China and India. Worldwide temps dropped 0.6 of a degree C in one year. That may not sound like a lot, but it's more than all the ballyhooed warming in the preceding century.
If you want to see cult therapy at work, read John Tierney in The New York Times. Tierney is a skeptic who now conducts recovery therapy for the faithful on his Tierney Lab page. It looks like someone at the NYT has finally caught on to the hoax but won't admit it. So they hired Tierney to break it to the True Believers as gently as possible. Watch how the readers' blogs are resisting his gentle skepticism; it scares them. They are just Obama suckers who would have fallen for Bill Clinton, when he still had his magic mojo.
In the 1960s social psychologists studied a doomsday cult which made the big mistake of predicting the day of Armageddon. When that day came and went without crisping the world, the cult leaders didn't admit they were wrong. Instead, they discovered reasons why doomsday had been postponed. It was a triumph of faith over facts. That's how stock market bubbles and busts work. It's how the jihadi Armageddon cult of Tehran will crumble, if we're all very lucky.
How can this super-cold winter happen? It's got all the faithful a little worried. Climate modeling teams all over the world are sweating 24/7 to deal with it. They are producing epicycles for their models, to hang on the warming story.
"Epicycles" are cycles on top of cycles. When traditional astronomy began to collapse in the years before Copernicus, True Believers reacted by adding lots of little cycles on top of the great cycles of the planetary orbits, to protect their faith. Trouble is, they had to add so many cycles on top of cycles that eventually, the whole system became a laughingstock. Ultimately you could explain anything you wanted -- after the fact.
The Polish astronomer Nicholas Koepernick -- called Copernicus -- pointed out that a sun-centered planetary model could get rid of all those epicycles with elegant simplicity. You only had to assume that the planets are going around the sun, not the earth. Suddenly all those cycle-on-cycle orbits simplified into near-circular ellipses. But he only saw the page proofs of his book De Revolutionibus on his death bed. He didn't want to share the fate of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake, or Galileo Galilei, who was put under house arrest by Pope Urban VIII and forbidden to publish in the last years of his life. Because mobs of True Believers can get pretty nasty before they give up. [See also this view of Galileo's troubles -- editor]
Today we see a spate of new computer models showing up in science journals, each one attempting to rescue some piece of the ecological goose that laid the golden egg. These are often not called "models." With utter dishonesty, they are labeled "new studies of the climate." But they are not empirical studies at all. They are little math models with new epicycles, but still based on the same gross oversimplifications. To reassure the True Believers, they always end with the same punch line: Yes, Virginia, there really is a global warming faerie, and all the doom-sayers are right.
How good are the assumptions in these models? Well consider the fate of Ferenc M. Miskolczi (pronounced Ferens MISkolshee), a first-rate Hungarian mathematician, who has published a proof that "greenhouse warming" may be mathematically impossible. His proof involves long equations, but the bottom line is that the warming models assume that the atmosphere is infinitely thick. Why? Because it simplifies the math. If on the other hand, you assume the atmosphere is about 100 km thick (about 65 miles) -- which has the big advantage of being true -- the greenhouse effect disappears! No more global warming.
Miskolczi once worked for NASA, but resigned in disgust when they would not allow him to publish his work. (It appeared in the peer-reviewed Hungarian journal Weather, and looks legit). So it's the global warming faithful of NASA Goddard Space Center, notably True Believer Godfather James Hansen -- who are always complaining to the media about Bush Administration censorship -- but who have ended up censoring their own scientific skeptic. Cosmic justice for NASA, you might say.
Censoring skeptics is an admission of weakness. That's why Pope had to shut up Galileo -- he couldn't win on the facts. The science establishment is now going after the Galileos of our time for the same reason, because orthodox scientists are pretty frail human beings and don't really like to be wrong. Reasoned skepticism is not something our papacy of politicized science wants to hear. Off with their heads!
That's the real global warming tragedy -- a speculative bubble in science, which happens all the time, has now been protected by the politicians, and allowed into an ugly and expanding volcanic pressure point. It is threatening to erupt and engulf climate modeling around the world. Scientists are pretty ruthless with open failure.
Politicized science is a far bigger disaster than NASA's Challenger tragedy. Americans understood the Challenger tragedy as a technical mistake at the leading edge of space exploration. What we cannot understand or forgive is corruption of scientific inquiry to push a money agenda.
When this farce is finally exposed, heads must roll. Not for being wrong about the global warming hoax, because anybody can be wrong -- but for politicizing normal scientific debate. Politicized science kills science. This is one festering boil that has to be lanced.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/