Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest blog: How science works: or why climate change is not a religion

The following comes from Watching The Denier blog, out of Australia.

It does a nice job of addressing the charge of AGW science being a religion.
I'll admit I would have preferred a different example of hard science accommodating new data, still Watching the Deniers does get the point across - that claiming science is a religion, reflects a deep unfamiliarity with what science is or how it works.

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“Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from.” – Wikipedia

Is climate science a religion?

One of the most commonly charged insults thrown at scientists and activists such as myself is “Climate change is your religion!” (or that more generally, science is “your religion”).

The charge is frequently hurled at us because of our unwillingness to accept anecdotal or suspect evidence. The reason I don’t accept the evidence of climate change sceptics is not because I’m opposed to them purely on ideological grounds, but because the counter-evidence they offer to disprove climate change is so poor.

Science is not set of preconceived positions or facts.

Science is a methodology that allows us to investigate the natural world.

I trust the methodology, even with it’s well known flaws.

Science is not dogma: how a scientist can change their mind on a climate change issue
When the facts change, change your theory.

No better example of this can be doing than recent research into somewhat controversial question of climate change as a driver on conflict in Africa. Previous studies had indicated that climate change was a driver of conflict in Africa, however recent research has downplayed the link as New Scientist reports:
“THE idea that global warming will increase the incidence of civil conflict in Africa is wrong, according to a new study. What’s more, the researchers who previously made the claim now concede that civil conflict has been on the wane in Africa since 2002, as prosperity has increased. If the trend continues, a more peaceful future may be in store…”
The scientists who originally published the research have acknowledged they where wrong and have revisited their research:
“…We’re trying to disentangle this,” says Burke. He and Lobell have reworked their calculations with climate data extending to 2008 and found that the relationship with temperature disappears. “We hope there has been a fundamental shift and that our earlier results are wrong.”
Should this be cause for embarrassment?

Not at all: this is how real science works.

Indeed, the scientists whose conclusions have been overturned have not resorted to screaming about conspiracy theories or the malevolent machinations of shadowy cabals. Instead they’ve accepted the results, revisited their previous work and moved on.

Adherence to the scientific method promotes scepticism – real scepiticism - and previously held conclusions are adjusted in light of new data and research.

Climate change as a religion?
Apparently, activists such as myself have an unswerving faith that is impervious to logic, reason and evidence.

However the above is a perfect example of good science: assumptions are tested and conclusions adjusted in light of evidence.

Such an approach requires mental flexibility and intellectual honesty. Science is after all a methodology, not a set of facts.

One cannot worship a tool: one can only trust that it works.

Which is the key difference between accepting the results of science and adhering to dogma.

Dogma allows no error. It does not allow one to change ones opinion on an issue. Indeed, should the scientific consensus on climate change shift – that is to say it is conclusively proven that AGW is not a serious threat – I’d {all of us would} happily accept the consensus of mainstream science.

Can the so called climate change sceptics demonstrate such intellectual honesty?

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