In 1632 Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy for questioning the Aristotelian "consensus model" of the universe which held that the sun and all other heavenly bodies revolve around the earth. He was threatened by the Inquisition with torture for holding these views, despite the fact that he - and anyone who troubled to do so - could see through a telescope that moons orbit the planet Jupiter.
An old man, Galileo was forced to recant and confess his error; he thereby escaped being burnt at the stake and was instead sentenced to house-arrest for the rest of his life. Science and history have of course proven him right. Ever since, the notion of enforced "consensus" has been anathema to scientists.
The dawn of the 21st century sees relentless strident attempts to enforce consensus about global warming theory. These modern inquisitors, replete with Supreme Court rulings, brand "deniers" of impending apocalyptic global warming as heretics who lack blind faith in the theology of infallible computer models. Today's Galileos are being threatened with loss of their positions, credentials and titles. Foisting theories upon scientists and the public by means of verbal persuasion, elections, court orders, or intimidation is the opposite of the scientific method of determining the truth.
Science is accomplished by prediction, observation and measurement. The experimental results must be convincing - not the words of the theory's proponents.
Negative results are valued, reported and recorded since these disprove what might otherwise be a compelling theory, thus saving future scientists the trouble of repeating the error. Science requires experiments as with Galileo's observations through his novel hand-made ten-power telescope.
Conversely, absence of experiments means there is no science yet.
Let consider two premier revolutions in science to illustrate the role of experiment in proving new theory:
Einstein's Theory of Relativity is so complex and counterintuitive that few could fully understand it at the time of its publication, and that remains the case, for the most part, even today. It overturned the prior consensus view of the universe based solely on Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics. While controversial at the time, it was soon accepted because the theory yielded testable predictions undertaken by clever experimentalists. This account explains how the theory was first tested:
The central premise of Einstein's general theory of relativity is that all matter and energy moving through the universe are affected by curved space-time. This includes the path of light rays as they emerge from distant stars and make their way across the universe to our Earth-based telescopes and eyes. When their light passes near a massive body, such as a galaxy or our Sun, its path is deflected slightly
In 1919, merely three years after Einstein published his theory, Frank Dyson (Great Britain's Astronomer Royal at that time), Charles Davidson, and Arthur Eddington took on the challenge of observing and measuring this phenomenon. They compared photographs of a selected area of the night sky with photographs taken of the same area during a solar eclipse. Looking at these photographs, it became apparent that stars that should have been behind the Sun were actually visible during the eclipse. Their light was bending through curved spacetime around the Sun's mass. The result was limited by the short amount of time available to make the measurement during an eclipse (about four minutes), but it confirmed Einstein's prediction to within about 20%.
These measurements were taken during an expedition organized for the purpose to West Africa where the eclipse could be best observed. The expedition's progress was followed closely in the press. Einstein was met with instant and widespread professional and public acclaim upon this empirical confirmation of his theory.
Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution illustrates well the need for reliance on experimental confirmation. Darwin's sweeping theory was revolutionary when propounded and is controversial even to this day. Darwin sought to overturn the consensus view of the origin-of-species derived from literal interpretations of Biblical texts. The part of his theory describing the basic evolutionary mechanism (microevolution) is almost universally accepted today, even among advocates of intelligent design theory, precisely because it has been tested experimentally in many ways. For instance,
An example of evolution resulting from natural selection was discovered among "peppered" moths living near English industrial cities. These insects have varieties that vary in wing and body coloration from light to dark. During the 19th century, sooty smoke from coal burning furnaces killed the lichen on trees and darkened the bark. When moths landed on these trees and other blackened surfaces, the dark colored ones were harder to spot by birds who ate them and, subsequently, they more often lived long enough to reproduce. Over generations, the environment continued to favor darker moths. As a result, they progressively became more common.
Evolution can be directly observed in laboratory experiments with fruit-flies, mice and bacteria because they have very short lifetimes.
Darwin himself made a testable prediction which was vindicated only after his death.
Darwin's insights into co-evolution allowed him to foretell the discovery of a new species. In a famous example, he described an orchid from Madagascar that had a foot-deep nectar well that kept the sweet liquid far out of reach of all known butterflies and moths. But the existence of the flower led him to predict the existence of a specialized moth with a foot-long proboscis that, like a straw, could reach the deep reward. Indeed, after Darwin's death, researchers discovered just such an insect, and named it the "Predicta moth" in honor of Darwin's educated guess.
It is worth noting here that Macroevolution has long been a consensus view of most scientists and indeed most highly educated people. It holds that life itself evolved randomly from a "primordial soup" and that all species evolved from this primordial soup. In recent years, critics of macro-evolution, including some highly-credentialed scientists, have criticized Darwin's theory. The lack of experimental evidence for the production of entirely new species has been one of the principal grounds.
One sees then that the degree of success of two revolutionary scientific theories was predicated on confirmation by test results. All of science is advanced by the toil of experimenters who cleverly design methods and apparatus (such as Galileo's novel telescope) to measure natural phenomena. It is solely by convincing and reproducible empirical results that science advances; there is no other method. Consensus has nothing to do with it.
A Theory Unraveling
A major inhibition on the advancement of "string theory" is the fact that there is so far no way to test it. Dan Vergano of USA Today reports:
String theory is on the ropes. After decades of prominence as the key to physics' elusive "theory of everything," challengers say the hypothesis is unraveling.
Why? Because there haven't been experiments to prove it - and there don't seem to be any on the horizon.
"The interplay with experiments is essential, and string theory just doesn't have that," says physicist Lee Smolin, author of The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of Science, and What Comes Next, out today
One sees here that the scientific professionals who propose a theory recognize their own need for experiment to help affirm, refine and advance it. While many physicists are intrigued by the tenets of string theory, they acknowledge that consensus has nothing to do with its validity.
Climate Change alarmists seek to overturn the view that the temperature of the planet earth will remain hospitable to human, animal and plant-life. Curiously, despite all that has been written about "Climate Change", I have yet to learn anything about testable predictions. Are there any on the horizon?
Global Warming theory is only controversial because its proponents insist on the reliability of their long range dire predictions of floods, desertification, etc, which, in turn, necessitate draconian changes in the national and world economies. Somehow, in the ensuing hubbub over the alarmist predictions, climate scientists have forgotten their primary duty to provide convincing experimental data to validate their theory.
It is incumbent on climate scientists to make predictions derived from their theories about phenomena that can be observed over the next few years. Indeed, it is their scientific duty as proponents of the theory to provide the experimental evidence, and not the responsibility of the skeptics to disprove it. Those are the established rules of science.
One can observe that it is difficult to experiment on the world; however similar daunting challenges have been overcome by resourceful and ingenious scientists throughout history.
What do we know?
There has undoubtedly been an increase in the concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, which coincides temporally with the increase of industrialization throughout the world. This is in no way necessarily hazardous in itself. There has also been an increase in global mean temperature over the last few decades. Are these phenomena related? Is one caused by the other through a mechanism understandable via the laws of nature? Will new understanding of this mechanism permit us to accurately predict the evolution of the climate over the next century?
We have also heard of conflicting reports of glaciers and ice-caps melting (or not), polar-bears drowning (or not), and more frequent hurricanes (or not). Are these intended as validating evidence of the theories? There seems to be a lot of confusion about what should constitute proof of the theories that predict 1.4-5.8° K rise in global mean temperature over the next 100 years accompanied by as much as a 40 cm (16 inch) rise in sea-level as the ice-caps melt.
In my view, such warming should produce changes measurable in the next few years. For example, sea level change averaging up to 4 mm/year should be detectable with sophisticated equipment. Perhaps reduction over several years in the size of the ice-caps would also be discernable by satellite observation. However, it is not my role as interested, non-expert observer to propose the correct experiments, which could take many forms. To fulfill their role as scientists, climate experts must propose some testable predictions. Otherwise it is not science.
Fact or Faction
Instead of doing the hard work of establishing scientific fact, which requires intelligence, resourcefulness, creativity in experimental design, and proper professional skepticism of the expected outcome until the confirming measurements are realized, we see proponents of the revolutionary global warming theory resort to verbal "hand-waving" arguments in attention-grabbing efforts to convince the general public of the validity of their theories -- and their righteous prescriptions to curtail industrial activities in the name of reducing "greenhouse gases".
They invoke a "consensus" instead of empirical proof. Who designated the members of the consensus? How was consensus determined? Was it a secret ballot? Was the election stolen? The media and our politicians remain uncurious about these matters.
Consensus-building falls in the realm of politics not science. Not coincidentally, the favored prescriptions of climate change alarmists for remedying "global fever" directly imply the need for world taxes, world government and a planned global economy, all longstanding socialist dreams. The alarmists have resorted to obtaining a Supreme Court ruling declaring carbon dioxide, necessary for life, a "pollutant", forgetting the inconvenient truth that judicial rulings from the Trial of Socrates through Galileo's Inquisition through the so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" have never favored science.
A Nobel Laureate once remarked to me that "if lawyers were in charge of the (scientific) truth, we'd still be living in the stone-age."
Reclaiming Climate Science
It is incumbent on geologists, meteorologists and climatologists to reclaim their science for the exaggerations of Al Gore et al. Whether one is a proponent of man-made global warming or not, one should denounce as nonsense such alarmist claims as 20-foot increases in sea level. Climate-change scientists should publish testable predictions that can be measured within a reasonable amount of time in order to provide empirical proof for their science.
True scientists must respect others who may disagree with their theories. It is through free and open debate involving the exchange of ideas and data that science is advanced. Politics must be purged from this field. Global Warming theorists should come out from behind their non-scientist defender, Al Gore, and debate Lord Monckton. If its practitioners cannot manage their profession themselves, then the National Research Council should investigate on behalf of science itself climate science's politically-motivated practices as it has done recently elsewhere.
Finally, those who denounce their scientific brethren as "deniers", calling for them to be stripped of their titles and positions, should themselves be branded by all scientists as unscientific Inquisitors who are equivalent to the persecutors of Galileo.
It is noteworthy that those most eager to implement carbon-taxes and other economically draconian policy measures are those most insulated from their consequences. Academics, politicians, celebrities and bureaucrats are largely immune to direct consequences of decline in the industrial sectors of our economy (or at least they view themselves that way).
Why should the route to reduction of greenhouse gases travel first through Houston and Detroit? I recommend that we continue to let Hollywood and Washington lead the way, without recourse to phony carbon-credits. After all, the movie industry is the second largest polluter of air in southern California. "Pilot programs" should be initiated in Washington and Hollywood only to demonstrate their commitment to climate redemption by proving the effectiveness of new policy measures with the following minimal requirements :
- No private jets to any LA or DC area airports. Only commercial airlines or, better yet, Amtrak
- No limousines. Only carpools allowed to work or events such as the Academy Awards
- No smoking (contributes direct CO2 and other foul air pollutants)
I don't think Americans should take seriously the pronouncements of climate-change alarmists among our celebrities and politicians until they adopt such measures for themselves.
Jerome Schmitt is president of NanoEngineering Corporation.