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The Limitations of Climate Science
As a generalisation it would be fairly safe to say we tend to trust those who have expertise in a given field or topic to guide us. So when  some individual scientist pops up in the media somewhere to tell us something, then we'll often tend to listen and take heed of any warning/s.  It's what mankind has always done - for example the tribal witch doctor, ancient Greeks and oracles.

The power to sway the beliefs of the masses can be especially stronger today when it comes via multimedia and even more so if the information comes from a notable scientist or scientific organisation(s), or else ostensibly connected in some way to scientific research.

Yet you will often see TV media presenters bringing climate "experts" onto their show in an apparent effort to give some credibility or background information to a particular subject i.e. melting of the polar ice caps, glaciers retreating and so on.

Have you ever wondered about these people when they are so definite about mankind causing climate change? Have you ever wondered how much of the information is from their own expertise and how much is what they've learned from someone else? Are they really passing on real proven scientific facts or just what they believe to be true from information provided by someone else?

Or do you just accept what they are telling you?

The Scope of Scientific Research

To date despite the claims to the contrary, the efforts of the best scientists in the world have yet to find a definitive pointer that identifies mankind as the actual cause of dangerous global warming.

The subjects under scientific research are many but basically there are just a few categories from which most scientific fields branch. Each of these encompass a variety of disciplines and sub-disciplines, and can even branch further after that. The three main categories are:

1. Physical Sciences - studies of inanimate objects e.g. physics, chemistry, computers, engineering;
2. Earth & Space Sciences - studies of the natural processes of the Earth and space e.g. meteorology, geology, oceanography, atmosphere, solar system;
3. Life Sciences - studies of living organisms e.g. biology, anatomy.

The average person on the street might be forgiven for thinking that climate change scientists are primarily meteorologists or climatologists plus perhaps some others with supporting expertise.  But that would be only partially right.

The subjects relating to climate change actually diverge into more than 100 scientific sub-disciplines, the elements of which can be exceptionally intricate, highly complicated and intertwined.  Just changing one of the many data inputs e.g. the output chemistry of sub-sea volcanoes to a climate change puzzle can flow-on to incorrect or at least misleading changes in the final solution. And the answer will still be a "best probable" result - not fact.

No matter how acclaimed a meteorologist, climatologist, physicist, chemist or any other individual scientist may be, they will generally only have a partial knowledge or exposure if any, to other sciences that affect climate change.

At most there may be a handful of scientists that have mastery of two or three scientific disciplines such as Professor Robert M. Carter (decd) who was a qualified palaeontogist, stratigrapher and marine geologist.  Yet even if a scientist does have expertise in two or more of the climate change elements, he/she still needs to find and use data from other sources to cover the gaps in his/her own knowledge. Such data may in turn only be a "best probable" solution as opposed to fact(s) as will be explained further below.

Alternatively a scientist may collaborate with others from different scientific fields but at some point they will likely need to use other scientific "best probable" results, or use a form of scientific calculation where the data to be input is not known for example Baynesian Reasoning theorem - read educated guesswork.

It must therefore be obvious that there can be no such thing as an "expert" simply because no one can fully comprehend the entirely of it all.

This doesn't stop the media, in particular the TV media in regularly presenting interviewees as experts to lend credibility to their show. But anyone who claims or admits to being an expert in climate change is either kidding themselves, egocentric or is being deceitful.

The bottom line is that when a supposed expert fronts up in the media - watch it guardedly or else switch the channel.   At the end of the day everyone, including the scientists themselves are basically amateurs when a topic is outside their own field of expertise - even if they are an educated amateur.

But having someone with at least some scientific background involved in climate change discussions has got to be far more preferable than pulling celebrities into the debate. These people despite their best intentions, are simply promoting their own views and muddying the waters for the public to make a realistic conclusion in their own minds.

So WHO Are The Climate Change Scientists?

Basically there are three different groups of scientists who look into the issue of climate change, and by extension mankind's role in creating dangerous global warming:

Group 1 Scientists
  • are experts in various weather sciences such as meteorology, atmospheric physics, chemistry and computer modelling;
  • tend to study climate change over shorter periods of time i.e. the last 150 years of recorded temperatures;
  • have expertise in how weather generates and ultimately how climate is formed; and
  • are arguably the loudest in generating alarm about AGW and the warming of the planet.
Group 2 Scientists
  • are experts in geological earth sciences and in use of proxy data over long periods of time e.g. rock formations, fossils, ice core data, tree rings;
  • they look at climate history as it relates to climate today; and
  • generally see no real cause for alarm when comparing current climate with past climate.
Group 3 Scientists
  • are experts in enabling disciplines such as mathematics or statistics.

Baynesian Reasoning

Baynesian reasoning is widely used in science where some but not all the information is known.  It's an important technique for statistics and especially in mathematics but it does not produce factual evidence.

At its simplest level it goes something like this:
1. a bag is filled with red and green apples,
2. three people are blindfolded and told to pull out an apple from the bag,
3. each pulls out a red apple.

The logical conclusion is that the bag must be full of red apples. This may be accompanied by an indication regarding confidence on the degree of probability e.g. 95% confidence that the bag is full of red apples.  

In other words, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it must be a duck"!

Obviously the methodology is much more complicated but the logic remains pretty much the same. The theorem is widely used and is perhaps an acceptable scientific method in some circumstances, but what matters most is how the resulting answer was and is still being  treated as scientific fact.

In the example of the apples, if one were to loudly and unreservedly claim that the bag is full of red apples then that would be at best simply wrong, or at worst underhanded.

Yet this  sort of thing is exactly what is happening on both sides of the AGW - Anthropogenic Global Warming debate.  This Propaganda v. Science image shows an alarmist claim at left with a sceptic response at right.  Neither side yet understands that if you lie about something you will eventually be found out and lose credibility to their cause.

A classic example of misleading propaganda is the infamous Hockey Stick diagram produced in 1988 by pro-AGW scientists Mann, Bradley and Hughes. In that case they cobbled actual thermometer temperature records to the foot of estimations of temperatures calculated from proxy data over the past 1000 years and then extrapolated global warming out to the year 2000.  Then it was promulgated with a 95% high probabilty in being correct. In this case one of the major flaws in statistical calculations was to add real temperature records to assessed or calculated historical records using proxy data.

The Real Argument About AGW

For a scientist to formulate a reasonable hypothesis about AGW he/she would need to have some level of familiarity in all three groups - something which is nigh impossible. It's therefore not surprising that there are differences between the various scientists and scientific fields using different "best probable" data so it should never be said that the science is "settled". 

It isn't. Not unequivocally - even though the IPCC offers what some might consider to be reasonable answers. Ultimately  the theory of AGW is still based on circumstantial evidence including calculated probabilities.

Apart from that all three groups of scientists generally DO agree that the Earth's climate has always changed, that human emissions affect local climates e.g. urban areas and have a summed potential to affect climate globally, and that carbon dioxide is a mild greenhouse house - note the word "mild".

The real argument then is not about whether the Earth is heating up, but about how relevant is AGW when considered against natural climate change processes.

Source: Climate: The Counter Consensus 2010, Professor Robert M. Carter.

Note: A version with supporting images is available at:
Nice one rwswan. I've given up trying to teach people. If they come over heavy I ask them:

“Please explain to me the science of how a trace radiative gas in the atmosphere traps heat."

Invariably they haven't a clue, so I offer them a look at my copy (on disk) of

"Principles of Modern Chemistry, 7th Edition" .

Environmentalism is based on lies and the lies reflect an agenda that regards humanity as the enemy of the Earth. - Alan Caruba

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