John Steele Gordon has penned an excellent column
in the Wall Street Journal discussing how saying something is "settled science" and beyond challenge is, in fact, unscientific:
Are there any phrases in today’s political lexicon more obnoxious than “the science is settled” and “climate-change deniers”?
The first is an oxymoron. By definition, science is never settled. It is always subject to change in the light of new evidence. The second phrase is nothing but an ad hominem attack, meant to evoke “Holocaust deniers,” those people who maintain that the Nazi Holocaust is a fiction, ignoring the
overwhelming, incontestable evidence that it is a historical fact. Hillary Clinton’s speech about climate change on Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, included an attack on “deniers.”
The phrases are in no way applicable to the science of Earth’s climate. The climate is an enormously complex system, with a very large number of inputs and outputs, many of which we don’t fully understand—and some we may well not even know about yet. To note this, and to observe that there is much contradictory evidence for assertions of a coming global-warming catastrophe, isn’t to “deny” anything; it is to state a fact. In other words, the science is unsettled—to say that we have it all wrapped up is itself a form of denial. The essence of scientific inquiry is the assumption that there is always more to learn.
Gordon then proceeds to talk about another scientific theory that for nearly a quarter of a millennium was accepted as true, only to be proven incorrect:
[T}here has never been so settled a branch of science as Newtonian physics. But in the 1840s, as telescopes improved, it was noticed that Mercury’s orbit stubbornly failed to behave as Newtonian equations said that it should.
It seems not to have occurred to anyone to question Newton, so the only explanation was that Mercury must be being perturbed by a planet still closer to the sun. The French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier had triumphed in 1846 when he had predicted, within one degree, the location of a planet (later named Neptune) that was perturbing Uranus’s orbit.
He set out to calculate the orbit of the planet that he was sure was responsible for Mercury’s orbital eccentricity. He named it Vulcan, after the Roman god of fire. Once Le Verrier had done the math, hundreds of astronomers, both amateur and professional, searched for the illusive planet for the next few decades. But telescopic observation near the immensely bright sun is both difficult and dangerous. More than one astronomer injured his eyesight in the search.
Several possible sightings were reported, but whether they were illusions, comets, or asteroids is unknown, as none could be tracked over time. After Le Verrier’s death in 1877 the hunt for Vulcan slacked off though it never ceased entirely.
Only in 1915 was the reason no one could find Vulcan explained: It wasn’t there. Newton had written in the “Principia” that he assumed space to be everywhere and always the same. But a man named Albert Einstein that year, in his theory of general relativity, demonstrated that it wasn’t always the same, for space itself is distorted by hugely massive objects such as the sun.
When Mercury’s orbit was calculated using Einstein’s equations rather than Newton’s, the planet turned out to be exactly where Einstein said it would be, one of the early proofs of general relativity.
Einstein was able to professionally challenge Newton precisely because, back then, the phrase "settled science" was considered an oxymoron. A scientific theory, by its nature, is never settled and always open to challenge. Today though Einstein would suffered professional and political ridicule for challenging Newton and had his funding cut.
The models used to predict anthropogenic global warming are increasingly being proven to be inaccurate. Is it possibly time to consider those scientists predicting an ever increasingly warmer planet that will doom mankind to a horrible future might just be wrong?
Thank you for composing and publishing this piece. I've for years found the phrase "settled science" to be a reliable indicator that the speaker of the phrase was uneducated, unenlightened, and a denier of truth itself.
In short, yes, science is never "settled" nor are scientific facts derived from "consensus". Perhaps individuals believe spouting these PC nonsense phrases make them sound "intelligent" and "cerebral". Partisan liberal Democrats such as Al Gore and Barak Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton spew this false nonsense about global warming....oops, it's "climate change" now, isn't it?...under their guises of "settled science and consensus". PC left liberals love to toss about "their" fact [untrue as it is] that if a "consensus of scientists" agree on something it just "has" to be true.
A consensus of the Heaven's Gate cult believed committing suicide was the only way to cleanse themselves as they awaited the aliens to arrive on earth. Did that make their "consensus" accurate? Perhaps the only difference between Heaven's Gate's certifiably mentally ill Marshall Applewhite and Gore, Obama, and Hillary Clinton is that Applewhite actually self-admitted into mental institutions.
But, I guess, if the persistently angry but privileged Michelle Obama can dictate what foods your children may and may not eat even though the woman has not one academic certified dietary credential to her name, well, anything can happen....
We can see that liberals are in fact the deniers of truth on many fronts, not just this "settled science" lie and that is why "liberalism" is a form of mental disorder in my book.
Yes, the notion of "settled" is designed to quell disagreement; rather than competently & responsibly engage it. Does anyone think recent rulings by the SCOTUS are "settled law?"
The work of Donald P. Hayes who demonstrated that K-12 textbooks were dumbed down THREE TO FOUR GRADES between 1945 and the early 1990's. So, your basic Indiana high school diploma from the 1990's amounts to no more student accomplishment than a 1945 grade school graduate.
One can speculate about the quality of the teachers but it becomes harder and harder to avoid Stotsky's thought.
Paul you have rehashed the Wall Street journal piece very well. And it's author rehashed the theory and history of the "missing planet" well. But unfortunately you have shed no additional light on the global warming debate. Isn't that a bit like stoning the "witches" in Salem. Nobody liked those evil witches. Everyone knows they deserved death by stoning. Except that they weren't witches they were mere mortals. You argument is a "me too lets get em" ad hominem attack. Surely there's more to the debate on global warming then that. Isn't there?
Stuart: This "debate" is framed in myopically minded, politically narrow or narrative & therefore fraudulent terms (exclusive to warming); excluding other possibilities like cooling. This narrow discussion has evasively shifted from "warming" to the term climate change; as confirmed by a geologist friend (PHD); who can't stop swilling the koolaid or is it kookaid now?
Widely exposed & acknowledged fraud has already discredited this statist narrative (a distraction from discussion of real problems & solutions). The warming narrative is the stillbirth of statism; a regressive, self imposed / impaired, anti-standard of arrested development.
How do you know they were not witches? Worse, Arthur Miller was trying to make a point in favor of the American Communists and against Senator McCarthy. Most sentient beings now know that McCarthy vastly underestimated the communists in the State Department and in the Armed Forces (if you include our so called intelligence service with them). Did he succeed with his tale and give cover to what are now known soviet agents in the media? I.F. Stone comes to mind....Prominent Liberal...took soviet geld. Hollywood 10? Guilty as charged and they lied about it. Various "professors" ? Still in those zoo like places we call colleges where they spew their lies.
But, I'm glad to see someone reads the WSJ...quite a liberal paper except for the editorial page which is tending towards corporate amorality. See the A3 whitewash of body parts in today?
"Are there any phrases in today’s political lexicon more obnoxious than “the science is settled” and “climate-change deniers”? "
Yes, the idiotic attempts at closing discussion with the anti-intellectual terms of "settled law" and "Holocaust deniers."
There is more actual science than anyone can handle in the 3 1,000 page volumes of Climate Change Reconsidered II published by Heartland Institute over past year. This will be a winning issue for Republicans in 2016, with states already flipping from blue to red over it. Pro climate change mythology is all 100% based on ad hominem name calling. I will prove it.
Stuart Bagley, There is more science than you can handle in the 3 1,000 page volumes of Climate Change Reconsidered II, published over the last year by the Heartland Institute. This will be a winning issue for Republicans in 2016, with several states already flipping from blue to red. The only science supporting theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is political science, backed by world class, fascist style name calling and calumny. I will prove that.
Nuts to the nuts. Indiana is loaded with them. Conspiracy theorists and right wing loonies all. You all belong in your self-imposed cages. Now all I ask is that you stay there and please do not multiply, Vern.
I am willing to wager Anon 6:56 also trolls Gary's column. I profoundly pity such a closed minded, self-important, churlish, and disturbed mentality where hate remarks and bigotry against the truth rule. Bullying others with intolerance does nothing to advance truth but sure does much to stifle honest, substantial discussion. I've read and heard liberalism described as a mental disorder and I am now more inclined than ever to believe that is indeed the case.
Science does allow for correction and innovation. We had the acceptance several hundred years ago the Geocentric model of the universe, that is earth centered. We have had out right fraud such as the Piltdown Man. We now know the continents move and have moved through out earth's history. We know of certain catastrophic events such as the asteroid struck the earth 65M Years Ago and ended the rule of the dinosaurs. Mount Tambora erupted in 1815 and led to the Year without a Summer in 1816.
I have met people that believe Neil Armstrong never walked on the Moon (If God had intended for us to be on the Moon he would have put us there is the "reasoning".) I have met others that do not believe in evolution and subscribe to a sudden appearance of Humans 10,000 year ago. Others I have met believe the whole universe is about 10,000 years old.
I think it is possible human activity could effect climate. Humans have had a drastic effect on the earth. We certainly have managed to pollute the earth. We have rivers, streams and lakes clogged with human pollution. It certainly is a possibility human activity can effect climate. The US publisher Ward's, estimates that as of 2010 there were 1.015 billion motor vehicles in use in the world. That is one Billion more than existed in the late 19th Century.
The main trouble with global warming/climate change is that predicting the future is being done using temperature records that have been created using proxies. The past temperature records have been estimated using tree ring data and other methods that are not the same as more modern data. The amount of error in these proxies is about the same magnitude as the estimated future change.
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