The Corner

Can You Say It Ain’t So?

A London Spectator article by the British writer Rupert Darwall on the failings of Britain’s Met Office  (the UK’s official weather forecaster) produced this somewhat angry response in the UK edition of the Huffington Post from Bob Ward of the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.  Darwall in turn replied here (kudos to the Huffington Post for letting both men have their say). Readers can judge for themselves who has the upper hand.

The wider point contained in Darwall’s reply (which is also a key element in The Age of Global Warming, his new intellectual and political history of the climate change issue, a book of which my review, much like AGW itself, is running a little behind schedule) is, however, also well worth reproducing here:

Amidst all the agitprop, there is a nugget of science: no 15-year period of global temperature [the recent ‘pause’ in global warming]  yields a statistically significant trend. But then, to its embarrassment, neither could the Met Office demonstrate a statistically significant trend in global temperature for the last 130 years. That doesn’t mean observed temperatures did not rise – they did – or that global warming, whether man-made or not, did not happen. Rather it illustrates the sheer difficulty in demonstrating whether the rise is outside a range of random natural variation and of moving from the physics of the test tube to the immense complexity of the atmosphere.

Bert Bolin, the first chairman of the IPCC, acknowledged that global warming was not something ‘which you can prove.’ In one of his last lectures, the late Stephen Schneider – one of the most intellectually able of all climate scientists – asked his students whether the science of anthropogenic climate change was settled. Dumb question, he answered. ‘Climate science is not like test tube science,’ Schneider said. ‘You don’t falsify.’

Although codified by Popper in the 1920s, falsifiability was the standard set in the Scientific Revolution and used with devastating effect by Lavoisier in his demolition of the phlogiston theory of combustion. Instead of seeking evidence that would falsify, climate science follows a much older injunction, one from the Beatitudes: ‘Seek and ye shall find.’

As Popper argued, evidence can be found for virtually any proposition, so when global temperatures don’t rise as anticipated, evidence is sought in ocean temperatures, sea ice extent and glacier retreat. The absence of a falsifiability test renders the science of global warming inherently weak. Instead acceptance of the central proposition of global warming – that the earth’s atmosphere is rapidly warming thanks to man’s activities – marks a reversion to pre-scientific standards, principally its reliance on consensus, peer review and appeals to authority….

I have no doubt that some of those who ‘deny’ (to use that loaded verb) anthropogenic global warming do so on grounds with very little scientific merit (this is not, for example, a debate that ought to have too much room for Noah) , but that does not get around the central fact that there is a flaw—the absence of falsifiability—right at the heart of  the AGW thesis, a flaw made inevitable, not by any sinister conspiracy, but by the immense complexity of the climate system. That does not mean that man is not having an effect on the climate, but it does mean that we should be careful before claiming to know exactly what those effects are, and, therefore, even more careful about deciding what to do about them.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More