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Real Science Debates Are Not Rare

Reposted from Wattsupwiththat

This post from is, IMHO, one of the most important and insightful essays about science ever to appear. It is far too important to be lost amongst the many other posts on the very popular site by Anthony Watts. In the hope that it gets seen some more, I repost it here.

Guest Post by Dr. Robert G. Brown

The following is an “elevated comment” appearing originally in the comments to “A Rare Debate on the ‘Settled Science’ of Climate Change”, a guest essay by Steve Goreham. It is RG Brown’s reply to the Steven Mosher comment partially quoted at the beginning of the essay. This essay has been lightly edited by occasional WUWT contributor Kip Hansen with the author’s permission and subsequently slightly modified with a postscript by RGB.


October 3, 2014 at 8:41 am

“…debates are rare because science is not a debate, or more specifically, science does not proceed or advance by verbal debates in front of audiences. You can win a debate and be wrong about the science. Debates prove one thing. Folks who engage in them don’t get it, folks who demand them don’t get it and folks who attend them don’t get it”.

Steven Mosher – comment

Um, Steven [Steven Mosher], it is pretty clear that you’ve never been to a major physics meeting that had a section presenting some unsettled science where the organizers had set up two or more scientists with entirely opposing views to give invited talks and participate in a panel just like the one presented. This isn’t “rare”, it is very nearly standard operating procedure to avoid giving the impression that the organizers are favoring one side or the other of the debate. I have not only attended meetings of this sort, I’ve been one of the two parties directly on the firing line (the topic of discussion was a bit esoteric — whether or not a particular expansion of the Green’s function for the Helmholtz or time-independent Schrodinger equation, which comes with a restriction that one argument must be strictly greater than the other in order for the expansion to converge, could be used to integrate over cells that de facto required the expansion to be used out of order). Sounds a bit, err, “mathy”, right, but would you believe that the debate grew so heated that we were almost (most cordially :-) shouting at each other by the end? And not just the primary participants — members of the packed-room audience were up, gesticulating, making pithy observations, validating parts of the math.

What Is a Scientist?

I blog less often than I would like, and sadly it often happens because I am spurred into action by something ridiculous. So it is today. In a nonsense piece called "Should Scientists go on strike over climate change?", the author writes:

I hesitate to make an estimate, but a brief Google search suggests there are approximately (depending on definitions) six million ‘Scientists’ in the world.

At present, these six million or so Scientists do not have what Marx and Engels referred to as ‘class consciousness’, but they have a great deal to unite around; a shared commitment to certain methodologies, principles, values and practices and a worldview that respects appropriate responses to data and evidence.

From this shared sense of identity and purpose they would generally respect the verdict of their climatologist colleagues (better not to say ‘comrades’…) that climate change is happening because of what governments are allowing people and businesses to do, and that we ought to ‘do something’ rapidly to change that.

I notice he capitalises "Scientist". Capitalisation is used to make something a name rather than a plain descriptor. A scientist is someone who applies the scientific method to discover truth. But who knows what a "Scientist" is? Because scientists certainly do not and should not share a "class consciousness" (a concept odious enough in any context, but vastly more so here). Scientists try to disprove each others' work, because that way, the thing they all respect, truth, is more likely to emerge because the false notions will fail while the correct ones will withstand all challenges.

Is the Global Warming Theory Scientific?

A long article has been released with many quotes from the core group of global warming alarmist 'scientists'. Why do I quote that word? - because so far none of them have told us, the intelligent public, a full, proper, scientifically argued case giving evidence of four things:

  1. dangerous,
  2. human-emitted,
  3. carbon-dioxide-caused,
  4. global warming is taking place.

In other words, there are four propositions that must all be substantiated with credible evidence before a scientific theory exists that there is anything to fear from carbon dioxide. My take on the status of these four is: (1) is certainly false, (2) uncertain, (3) most likely largely false, and (4) most likely true, but not as large as it has been represented. But this post is not about the correctness of the theory, but the more basic question whether it is a scientific theory at all.

I think most people know of the concept that scientific theories must be falsifiable. There are a lot of subtleties around that idea that need not concern us now, but we can use it as a rough test for good science. Remember, good science doesn't have to be correct - a theory proposed, tested properly, and rejected for making incorrect predictions is still an exercise in good science, even if it failed to come up with an advance. And contrariwise, a wild guess shoved down people's throats by force without any attempt to test against reality is bad science, even if by some chance the guess happened to be correct.

So we see that the question of whether this is good science is not the same as the question whether it is correct (although the two are obviously related).

So how does the CAGW theory stack up?

Steve McIntyre recognised as a thought leader

Steve McIntyre, one of the two researchers who exposed the faulty statistics behind the infamous "hockey stick" temperature curve which attempted to write the medieval warm period and the little ice age from the pages of history, has been recognised by New Statesman as one of the top 50 "People Who Matter 2010".

Congratulations Steve. Those who, like me, came late to the global warming question, owe a great debt to you and Ross McKitrick for your tireless work in the face of astonishing and tenacious obstructionism in getting the raw data needed to do a detailed analysis. Steve runs his own blog on climate science at

But we can't have an honour going with grace and good humour to someone who opposes the consensus, can we? New Statesman just had to find a way to spoil it somehow. Here's their "acknowledgement" of Steve's invaluable work:

Nature: You can NOT be serious!

"Nature", which imagines itself to be the international weekly journal of science, published an absurd piece trying to make out that the bullies in the global warming scare movement are in fact a naive group of timid waifs being rolled over by a powerful movement that dominates the media. Try telling that to David Bellamy, one of the best and most popular media biologists, banned from TV for his disbelief in anthropogenic global warming!

There's a really good deconstruction of Nature's cowardly piece over here on Talking About the Weather, but a few additional remarks are in order. To give you the flavour of the thing, here's a sample of the Nature article:

Global Warming: The Science is Simple

In a previous post on,I used the example of a chappie called Fred to show you why the absence of an atmospheric hotspot is, all by itself, a complete disproof of the hypothesis of dangerous anthropogenic global warming (AGW). For those who came in late, the entire basis for the AGW claim is that certain unverified, and now falsified, computer models predict a lot of warming over the coming 100 years. It is shocking, but true, that there is no actual evidence whatsoever for this idea; it is computer models alone, and those models are basically no more than coded guesswork. And what do these models predict?

They predict that the world is heated by the appearance of a 'hotspot' in the atmosphere above the equator.

Predicted atmospheric temperature changes from a model,showing hotspot in atmosphere above the tropicsModel predicts air above the tropics heats up. from the NIPCC Report p. 107
But the reality is that this hotspot has failed to develop:

Arrogance and the Large Hadron Collider

I see they're going to fire up the Large Hadron Collider at half power. For those who haven't been following this story, your life is being put at risk.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a project by The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN. Back in 1964, a physicist called Peter Higgs found an elegant mathematical theory by which he explained one of the great puzzles of particle physics, why mass exists.

There is some background to this question. The twentieth century produced two great theories of physics: relativity and quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics explained many curious puzzles in the subatomic realm, for example, why atoms don't collapse. Atoms have a field of electrons orbiting the nucleus; according to classical mechanics, any accelerating charged particle (like an electron orbiting an atom) should radiate energy. This means the electron should spiral into the nucleus and the atom should collapse. Obviously they don't because we are still here, made of functioning atoms! Another example is the radiation from black bodies. Only quantum theory can explain why the spectrum is what it is.

It is no exaggeration to say that the modern world only exists because of quantum mechanics: every piece of electronics that exists only works because of quantum mechanics, and a great deal of it was only discovered because we understood the theory behind it all. It is the most successful scientific theory ever. It has passed every experimental test ever thrown at it. But it doesn't explain gravity.

Review: The Climate Caper - Garth W. Paltridge

This is a reasonably short work, very different from Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth. Although Paltridge is an atmospheric physicist and erstwhile Chief Research Scientist with Australia's CSIRO, he has put together an accessible summary of some of the damning evidence against the global warming alarmism.

Global Warming: You can't verify climate models with more suppositions

Over on the newsgroups, folk are discussing a rather sad article from ScienceDaily, called "Apparent Problem With Global Warming Climate Models Resolved".

Apparently the folk at ScienceDaily, as well as a large fraction of the general public, need some basic lessons in how real science, the science that increases our understanding and helps us make sense of the world, works. Here's a textbook example of how not to do it:

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