Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In Defense of Science -

(I would like to thank Mr. Roy Tucker for his permission to publish his commentns. Mr Tucker was a member of the Memphis Astronomical Society, received a Bachelor's degree in Physics from Memphis State University (now The University of Memphis). He received his Master's degree in Scientific Instrumentation from The University of California, Santa Barbara and a was graduate student for three years in Planetary Sciences at The University of Arizona. RK)

by Roy Tucker

It has been my experience that serious discussions should be preceded by definitions of important words that will be used in those discussions so that all of the participants will be using those words with a common understanding of their meanings. I have found that many disagreements have originated from people using the same words but with differentunderstandings of their meaning.

Science

Definition from the Random House College Dictionary - "Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world". This word is derived from the Latin, "scio scire scivi or scii scitum, to know, understand" (Cassell's Latin Dictionary). The most successful acquisition of this knowledge has been through the application of the Scientific Method. Generally, this method consists of the following steps:

(1) Observation of a natural phenomenon.
(2) Clear statement of a hypothesis that may perhaps explain that
phenomenon.
(3) Development of a test to disprove or falsify predictions based upon that
hypothesis.
(4) If the hypothesis is disproven, go back to step one or two. If repeated
efforts to disprove a hypothesis fail, then it may possibly be correct.

A hypothesis that stubbornly refuses to be disproven may even be dignified by calling it a "theory". To assert that anything is a "fact" or "proven" is very risky. Consider the example of Newton's "Laws of Motion". Repeated experiment and successful use of these "laws" in mechanics and the description of the motion of celestial bodies gave physicists, engineers, and artillerymen great confidence that the velocity of a body was a simple function of the force applied to it and the duration of that force. Newton's laws became accepted as a proven fact. That is, until Einstein began to ponder what happens as the body's velocity began to approach the speed of light. According to his 'hypothesis', it is the momentum of an object that increases as long as a force is applied to it. Newton's Laws are but the low-speed approximations of Einstein's relativistic expressions. Is Einstein's Theory of Relativity a fact? Is it proven? Not if some experiment in the future falsifies it and leads to an even better understanding of how the universe works.

My education has been in science and engineering. I have a great reverence for the Scientific Method because I know the history of how humanity has laboriously, painfully gained the body of knowledge upon which our civilization is founded. The Scientific Method has been our most powerful tool in learning how the universe works. There is one very important thing required of those who would seek knowledge by means of the Scientific Method and that is honesty. If one cannot report the results of observation accurately, how can ignorance be dispelled? How can a hypothesis be falsified?

Climate science has become politicized. People who profess to be practitioners of science are using the authority of their offices to assert that "the debate is over" and "the science is settled" when it never is in the proper conduct of Science. People who claim to be educators of the public dismiss inconvenient facts and propagandize in support of the "politically correct" dogma.

In the January 16th CCNet, Dr. David Appell, who describes himself as a "science writer", suggested that readers of CCNet might find his article, "Climate change: The last, final problem", of interest. Indeed I did. I consider it an excellent example of the environmentalist propaganda pervading the media these days that seeks to persuade scientifically unsophisticated readers that anthropogenic global warming is absolutely a fact and we must all sacrifice our hopes and dreams to "save the planet" from a hellish future. It was quite a remarkable screed, a recounting of all of humanity's alleged environmental sins, totally devoid of any real discussion of scientific issues or comparison of competing explanations of climate variability. This is a continuing pattern since Dr. Appell has also written in defense of the thoroughly discredited Michael Mann "Hockey Stick" temperature curve and has claimed that the Medieval Warming Period and the Little Ice Age were localized events.

Let us compare two of the current competing explanations of climate variability: Anthropogenic Global Warming as the result of human combustion of fossil fuels and the Svensmark hypothesis that suggests solar activity and the galactic cosmic ray environment modulates cloud formation in the lower atmosphere and therefore the earth's albedo. "In astronomy albedo is the ratio of the light reflected by a planet or satellite to that received by it. Editor"


In its early documents, the IPCC asserted that solar activity is of no significance in determining earth's climate and has concentrated on claiming that increasing levels of CO2 raise the temperature of the earth by reducing the radiation of thermal infrared energy. Computer models have been concocted that supposedly support this hypothesis. These computer models are tremendously simplistic compared to the complexity of the actual climate system of the earth. They do not reproduce some of the very robust oscillatory variations of the earth's climate such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or the El Nino - Southern Oscillation. If they are run backwards, they fail to accurately reproduce past climate states. They predict a warming of the equatorial mid-troposphere but such warming is not seen. Those who argue in favor of the AGW hypothesis use the output of these models as if it was real data and ignore the actual measurements from satellite microwave radiometers which show no warming at all in spite of the increasing abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Svensmark's hypothesis

says that as solar activity declines the interplanetary magnetic field weakens and galactic cosmic rays penetrate more deeply into the inner solar system and eventually into the lower atmosphere of earth where they produce cloud-seeding ions. These ions promote a greater abundance of clouds, raising the earth's reflectivity and reducing the warming of the surface of the earth by sunlight. Solar activity has been falling in recent years. Today, the 19th of January, a small sunspot was seen near the sun's equator, an indication that it may be a remnant of the old Cycle 23. If so, then Cycle 23 is 19 years old. Long cycles precede weak cycles, suggesting continued low solar activity. The interplanetary magnetic Ap index is the lowest that it has been in many years and the neutron count from cosmic rays has increased as expected. The earth's temperature has been either steady or declining for the past eight years. Based upon the data, there is more falsification of the AGW hypothesis than of the Svensmark solar activity hypothesis.

Dr. Appell, the above is an example of real "science writing". I have presented an explanation of the Scientific Method and I have presented information about two conflicting hypotheses in an effort to educate the readers so that they may make better decisions. Any presentation of "Gloom-and-Doom" has been with regard to the politicization of Science and is indisputably a valid concern. I encourage you to return to the practice of science writing instead of environmental propagandizing. You would better serve your readers.

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