Falling skies

One of the advantages of having studied “small-e” ecology — and science, in general — is that one gains the important skill of discernment between what is and what is not valid science. The scientific method is the base methodology on how the understanding of the world, and the universe, or at least our understanding of it, changes dramatically as a result of its results.

In his Caltech lecture Michael Crichton argues:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

This particular passage has been jumped upon by commentators out and about and yet they are missing the context at which it is considered: particularly because the historical development of science — the knowledge that is gained through causes — is marred by politics and “consensus science.” “Consensus science” is where new science is stifled because the guardians of old science have been faced with a set of facts, data, and subsequent conclusions that challenge their old science.

The history of how the bacterial origins of peptic ulcers was discovered is an excellent example. The medical community had a consensus science that said that bacteria could not possibly live in the stomach and cause ulcers. When Barry Marshall ingested an H. pylori culture and developed ulcers, the road to changing the paradigm has been paved. I did not follow the entire history of Marshall’s challenge to consensus science. I suppose proof of its results exist today. Between then and now the medical community has reevaluated its consensus and has found it to be false.

This is the challenge that capital-e Environmentalists face today. Armed with suspect methodologies, insufficient data that the scientific community is at a loss to handle, and vile rhetoric as well as alarmist propaganda, they seem to get a pass at “proving” their suspect science and nonetheless are able to sell it to the public. Let us take note that “scientific conservatives” who approach the matter of climate change with great suspicion do not form a legendary and shadowy cabal of lab rats opposed to the betterment of the envrionment (ad hominem, particularly poisoning the well), rather they are scientists who know the scientific method and that under the guidelines of discovery and experimentation find evidence to be lacking. The two questions that keep Environmentalists bothered are “wheres the beef” and “how did you cook what little beef you’re showing us?”

Amusingly enough, just as capital-l Liberals who cannot make their case in Congress run to the Supreme Court for massive upheavals in social engineering, capital-e Environmentalists who cannot make their case in the scientific community run to the court of public opinion to scare the living daylights out of the The People and teach them to hate themselves because they happen to have been born human.

(I make no pretense that there will be those scientists who will oppose anything new despite the presence of irrefutible proof; they are not who I consider among the “scientific conservatives” as they are as religious about their views in their staunchness as those who challenge it.)

The upcoming movie, The Day After Tomorrow, has gained momentum as a result of the blogosphere’s dismissal of the junk science surrounding, as well as Al Gore’s histrionic reaction to this histrionic movie. Here is my prediction as to how the public will turn out, after seeing this movie. They will be in awe of the special effects, the booming sound, they will feel gripped by the pretend deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. They will witness the symbol of capitalistic success freeze over. Then after approximately two hours of this “visually stunning” showcase, these Americans who have seen this movie will step out the movie theatres. Majority will ride in their fossil-fuel combustion-engine automobiles. Some will light up their tobacco products. They will proceed to eat the products of free markets, capitalist ventures that have ensured food safety, and ingenuity that provides convenience (think: McDonald’s; think: Burger King; think: PB&J sandwiches). I am also convinced that the one or two self-hating human beings who would destroy their evil cars after seing this movie will get extensive media coverage. They’d have had discovered the folly of their ways just as the criminals who confessesed did so after seeing The Passion Of The Christ.

In all of this, I am more than amused that the clown that wanted to be president is now leveraging on a movie that is dripping with assclownery of the highest scientific order. We human beings are such complex organisms, are we not?

2 thoughts on “Falling skies”

  1. I think a lot of junk science is really about self-promotion. Selling books, newspapers, getting grants from the gullible feds. On the self-promotion note, Algore is a perfect example. God he’s embarrassing.

  2. Jay,

    Another example is the atom. When the idea of the atom was first put forward by a modern scientist the notion was rejected by the old guard and the scientists life was literally ruined (i.e., they trashed his name). The argument was theoretical and the old guard were Popperians who argued basically if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist (that is a bit simplified). When a paper came along that changed that (Einstein’s I believe) they re-canted their earlier position…unfortunately the scientist whose reputation they destroyed had already committed suicide.

    Another example, as to do with the interior of the sun. Everybody was positive it worked a certain way. Then when technology became available to learn about the sun’s interior those theories all had to be junked.

    There is also the Ptolemic model of how the solar system worked as well. Everybody was convinced that the earth was the center and everything revolved around it.

    There are plenty of examples of where the consensus has had to give way to new data. I look at science and the world through the lens of probabilities. What is the probability that a given hypothesis is true given the evidence? Consensus can indicate that one hypothesis is more likely “true” than another. However, there is more than enough historical evidence to suggest that no hypothesis, no matter how strong the consensus, should be considered as the unequivocal truth (i.e. the probability given the evidence is 1). Unfortunately too many on the Left side of the aisle want to invoke consensus as to be just that. It is bad science as well as just bad reasoning.

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