Aliens Cause Global Warming: A Caltech Lecture by Michael Crichton

http://www.seattlepi.com/dayart/20090208/Cartoon20090208.jpg

Originally published on Sunday, February 08, 2009 in Seattle PI by David Horsey - click for more

The “exoneration” by Climategate investigations (like Muir Russell) that never bother to talk to skeptics, create an impossible conundrum of having essentially a trial with judge, jury, reporters, spectators, and defendant, but no plaintiff. The plaintiff is locked outside the courtroom sitting in the hall hollering and hoping the jury hears some of what he has to say.

Given this, I thought it valuable to revisit this Caltech lecture on the state of science and consensus by the late Michael Crichton.

– Anthony Watts


Caltech Michelin Lecture – January 17, 2003

My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming.

Charting this progression of belief will be my task today. Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do.

Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.

I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.

It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.  Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears, of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind.

The world might not be a very good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world. But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed the hungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones.

I also expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudice and superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expected science to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demon haunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact of science. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity.

Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years are invented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permitting these demons to escape free. But let’s look at how it came to pass.

Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president, commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest university mainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at the new National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist named Frank Drake runs a two-week project called Ozma, to search for extraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. It turns out to be false, but the excitement remains.

In 1960, Drake organizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famous Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL
[where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-just so we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice.

Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard view that science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion.

Faith is defined as the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is the word of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created the universe in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there are other life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty years of searching, none has been discovered.There is absolutely no evidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.

One way to chart the cooling of enthusiasm is to review popular works on the subject. In 1964, at the height of SETI enthusiasm, Walter Sullivan of the NY Times wrote an exciting book about life in the universe entitled WE ARE NOT ALONE. By 1995, when Paul Davis wrote a book on the same subject, he titled it ARE WE ALONE? ( Since 1981, there have in fact been four books titled ARE WE ALONE.) More recently we have seen the rise of the so-called “Rare Earth” theory which suggests that we may, in fact, be all alone.

Again, there is no evidence either way.

Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not among astrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologists were harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI was a “study without a subject,” and it remains so to the present day. But scientists in general have been indulgent toward SETI, viewing it either with bemused tolerance, or with indifference. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s kind of fun. If people want to look, let them. Only a curmudgeon would speak harshly of SETI. It wasn’t worth the bother.

And of course, it is true that untestable theories may have heuristic value. Of course, extraterrestrials are a good way to teach science to kids. But that does not relieve us of the obligation to see the Drake equation clearly for what it is-pure speculation in quasi-scientific trappings.

The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage-similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationist new claim, for example-meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.

Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter. In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences reported on “Long-Term Worldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations” but the report estimated the effect of dust from nuclear blasts to be relatively minor.

In 1979, the Office of Technology Assessment issued a report on “The Effects of Nuclear War” and stated that nuclear war could perhaps produce irreversible adverse consequences on the environment. However, because the scientific processes involved were poorly understood, the report stated it was not possible to estimate the probable magnitude of such damage.

Three years later, in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Sciences commissioned a report entitled “The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon,” which attempted to quantify the effect of smoke from burning forests and cities. The authors speculated that there would be so much smoke that a large cloud over the northern hemisphere would reduce incoming sunlight below the level required for photosynthesis, and that this would last for weeks or even longer.

crichton and drake equation
The Drake Equation. Pure science -or Pure Hooey?

The following year, five scientists including Richard Turco and Carl Sagan published a paper in Science called “Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions.” This was the so-called TTAPS report, which attempted to quantify more rigorously the atmospheric effects, with the added credibility to be gained from an actual computer model of climate.

At the heart of the TTAPS undertaking was another equation, never specifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:

Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr Pe etc
(The amount of tropospheric dust = # warheads x size warheads x warhead detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burn duration x Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity x Particle endurance, and so on.)

The similarity to the Drake equation is striking. As with the Drake equation, none of the variables can be determined. None at all. The TTAPS study addressed this problem in part by mapping out different wartime scenarios and assigning numbers to some of the variables, but even so, the remaining variables were-and are-simply unknowable. Nobody knows how much smoke will be generated when cities burn, creating particles of what kind, and for how long. No one knows the effect of local weather conditions on the amount of particles that will be injected into the troposphere. No one knows how long the particles will remain in the troposphere. And so on.

And remember, this is only four years after the OTA study concluded that the underlying scientific processes were so poorly known that no estimates could be reliably made.

Nevertheless, the TTAPS study not only made those estimates, but concluded they were catastrophic. According to Sagan and his coworkers, even a limited 5,000 megaton nuclear exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35 degrees Centigrade, and this change would last for three months.

The greatest volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperatures somewhere between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed global temperatures by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change three times greater than any ice age.

One might expect it to be the subject of some dispute. But Sagan and his coworkers were prepared, for nuclear winter was from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign. The first announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan in the Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized, high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear war was held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, the most famous and media-savvy scientists of their generation.

Sagan appeared on the Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times. Following the conference, there were press conferences, meetings with congressmen, and so on. The formal papers in Science came months later.

This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold. The real nature of the conference is indicated by these artists’ renderings of the effect of nuclear winter. (Not Shown)

I cannot help but quote the caption for figure 5: “Shown here is a tranquil scene in the north woods. A beaver has just completed its dam, two black bears forage for food, a swallow-tailed butterfly flutters in the foreground, a loon swims quietly by, and a kingfisher searches for a tasty fish.” Hard science if ever there was.

At the conference in Washington, during the question period, Ehrlich was reminded that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were quoted as saying nothing would grow there for 75 years, but in fact melons were growing the next year. So, he was asked, how accurate were these findings now?

Ehrlich answered by saying “I think they are extremely robust. Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places. What we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group of scientists”

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. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let’s review a few cases.

In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever following childbirth. One woman in six died of this fever.

In 1795, Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes, and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no.

In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presented compelling evidence. The consensus said no.

In 1849, Semmelweiss demonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperal fever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was a Jew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact no agreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century. Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive at the right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics” around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despite the constant ongoing deaths of women.

There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America, tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a disease called pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious, and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The US government asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucial factor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory.

Goldberger demonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. He demonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the blood of a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and other volunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, and swallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what were called “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra.

The consensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, a social factor-southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as the cause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continued to deny it until the 1920s. Result-despite a twentieth century epidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.

Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africa seem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in 1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensus sneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was most vigorously denied by the great names of geology-until 1961, when it began to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it took the consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.

And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.

Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.

Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

But back to our main subject. What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was a meaningless formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. It was political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated media campaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance.

Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can be found in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman was characteristically blunt, saying, “I really don’t think these guys know what they’re talking about,” other prominent scientists were noticeably reticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying “It’s an absolutely atrocious piece of science but who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?” And Victor Weisskopf said, “The science is terrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.”

The nuclear winter team followed up the publication of such comments with letters to the editors denying that these statements were ever made, though the scientists since then have subsequently confirmed their views. At the time, there was a concerted desire on the part of lots of people to avoid nuclear war. If nuclear winter looked awful, why investigate too closely? Who wanted to disagree? Only people like Edward Teller, the “father of the H bomb.”

Teller said, “While it is generally recognized that details are still uncertain and deserve much more study, Dr. Sagan nevertheless has taken the position that the whole scenario is so robust that there can be little doubt about its main conclusions.”

Yet for most people, the fact that nuclear winter was a scenario riddled with uncertainties did not seem to be relevant. I say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence to what science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a press conference, then anything is possible.

In one context, maybe you will get some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, you get Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger is always there, if you subvert science to political ends.

That is why it is so important for the future of science that the line between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot, be drawn clearly-and defended.

What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, its robust scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor of Nature, repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, Stephen Schneider, one of the leading figures in the climate model, began to speak of “nuclear autumn.” It just didn’t have the same ring.

A final media embarrassment came in 1991, when Carl Sagan predicted on Nightline that Kuwaiti oil fires would produce a nuclear winter effect, causing a “year without a summer,” and endangering crops around the world. Sagan stressed this outcome was so likely that “it should affect the war plans.” None of it happened.

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact.

After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it ” impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.)

Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun”, and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.”

The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science; there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems.”

Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions.

And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection between hard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. In part this was possible because of the complacency of the scientific profession; in part because of the lack of good science education among the public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groups which have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shaping policy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as an independent assessor of fact.

The deterioration of the American media is dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like the New York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content and editorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, then who will hold anyone to a higher standard?

And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-or non-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arrive at last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash the details of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. I would just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these things are established.

Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in the unseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support the policy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron.

Next, the isolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and the characterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” in quotation marks-suspect individuals with suspect motives, industry flunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nut-cases.

In short order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists are uncomfortable about how things are being done. When did “skeptic” become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.”

But now, large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world-increasingly, models provide the data.

As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs. This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well.

Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands. Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?

And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the model-makers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horse****?

Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport.

And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was.

They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS. None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it.

I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”

Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever going to happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago.

In 1990, climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows for sure. But it is impossible to ignore how closely the history of global warming fits on the previous template for nuclear winter.

Just as the earliest studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties were so great that probabilities could never be known, so, too the first pronouncements on global warming argued strong limits on what could be determined with certainty about climate change.

The 1995 IPCC draft report said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It also said, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part of observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes.”

Those statements were removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on climate.” What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policy have become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outside observer to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigations into global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps to improve the quality of our observational data records, whether we are systematically obtaining the information that will clarify existing uncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism to direct research in this contentious area.

The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t. In trying to think about how these questions can be resolved, it occurs to me that in the progression from SETI to nuclear winter to second-hand smoke to global warming, we have one clear message, and that is that we can expect more and more problems of public policy dealing with technical issues in the future-problems of ever greater seriousness, where people care passionately on all sides.

And at the moment we have no mechanism to get good answers. So I will propose one. Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them.

The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations that all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups.

In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore with what seriousness we must address this.

I believe that as we come to the end of this litany, some of you may be saying, well what is the big deal, really. So we made a few mistakes. So a few scientists have overstated their cases and have egg on their faces. So what?

Well, I’ll tell you.

In recent years, much has been said about the post-modernist claims about science to the effect that science is just another form of raw power, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivity that really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no better than any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and they anger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct.

We can take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danish statistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The scientific community responded in a way that can only be described as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complained he had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. His publisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that the editor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists should shun the press. The past president of the AAAS wondered aloud how Cambridge could have ever “published a book that so clearly could never have passed peer review.” (But of course, the manuscript did pass peer review by three earth scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and all recommended publication.)

But what are scientists doing attacking a press? Is this the new McCarthyism-coming from scientists? Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, which seemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all about power, not facts.

The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”

It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.”

Really. Science has to defend itself? Is this what we have come to? When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given only a page and a half. When he said it wasn’t enough, he put the critics’ essays on his web page and answered them in detail.

Scientific American threatened copyright infringement and made him take the pages down. Further attacks since, have made it clear what is going on. Lomborg is charged with heresy. That’s why none of his critics needs to substantiate their attacks in any detail. That’s why the facts don’t matter.

That’s why they can attack him in the most vicious personal terms. He’s a heretic. Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just never thought I’d see the Scientific American in the role of Mother Church.

Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it will become, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists to aggressively separate science from policy.

The late Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that “Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference– science and the nation will suffer.”

Personally, I don’t worry about the nation. But I do worry about science.

Sources:

Michael Crichton’s speeches and essays at these two URLs

http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-Speeches

http://www.fileindexer.com/find/Michael-Crichton-essays

Crichton’s official web page:

www.crichton-official.com

About these ads

298 thoughts on “Aliens Cause Global Warming: A Caltech Lecture by Michael Crichton

  1. That’s my favorite MC speech.
    If you’ve got time check out the Michael Crichton interview on Charlie Rose (youtube has it). He touches on genetics, and all sorts of things, but he spends a good deal of his time discussing AGW. It’s very good.
    HB

  2. “The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”

    It was a poor display, featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparing him to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defends itself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.””

    And it didn’t even register with them that Lomborg believes in AGW. The stupid moves of ‘Science’, surely on their way to irrelevance.

  3. The cartoon is superficially funny, but it inverts reality: the conservatives are the ones for national defence, and the liberals are appeasers.

  4. Does anyone know the copyright status of this? Can one print it out and distribute in a non commercial way (under the fair use doctrine)? Or does CalTech have a claim to it and require permission?

    REPLY: This is distributed on other websites also. Since it is a transcript of a lecture given in a public forum, at a publicly funded institution, I see no issues with it. – A

  5. This is the clearest exposition of the ethics and dangers of consensus-“science” that I have yet read. Please keep this in the Archives of this site permanently! I have read Crichton’s novel _State of Fear_; the novel explores in fiction what the above essay details in history and fact. Thank you for publishing this essay! Please spread it as far abroad as possible.

  6. Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.

    But that is because a lay debate, or a lecture, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.

    It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent as Crichton, who produced some good work in his lifetime, ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful book, State of Fear.

  7. I recall visiting Hiroshima in 1993, and seeing modern apartment buildings all around, and Disneyland like tours for school kids going on in what was once ground zero..

    I was astonished. Do I believe the scientists and environmentalists who talk about radiation contamination for eons.. or do I believe my lying eyes?

    Now I know I must NOT accept scientific statements as valid, especially coming from NAS, Scientific American and Nature, but must do my own fact checking on the internet.

  8. Excellent article. Politics has always made the decisions with few of those in power having any real knowledge of science or math just like today.

  9. It would be nice to imagine a world where school children, instead of being forced to sit through multiple showings of AIT, were treated to a video of this lecture and for good measure a full selection of the many wonderful videos Richard Feynman produced on science.
    The clarity of thought in this piece highlights the magnitude of the loss the world suffered with the untimely demise of Mr. Crichton.

  10. Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors. Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!

    REPLY: Yeah sure, whatever. Gore sold fiction too. Pachauri wrote a smutty sex novel, guess we’ll have to throw them out too. – A

  11. Wow, that man is an excellent writer !
    To draw all of these related ideas together, with such precise language, putting his thumb on the pressure points.

    Wow, every CAGW partisan should read this.

  12. Best lecture ever, regarding the state of science. 7 years have passed, and it is still so damn right.

  13. I love this lecture. It should be required reading for all new students in science MS/PhD programs. It’s such a shame that Dr. Crichton didn’t survive to see today. Where are today’s Feynmans, Handlers and Crichtons?

  14. Anthony,
    Thank for posting this great article. I work in area of corporate energy research and I am stunned by the attempt of management’s insistence that the researcher must assign a probability of technical success and commercial success to their proposed project prior to approval. Unfortunately, these numbers have no real basis of fact since the critical experiments have been yet been run. For some reason, it seems as if a generation of people have lost sight on how to “reason”, and easily swallow pseudo-scientific equations like the Drake equation as providing a logical basis of support, when in reality none exists.

  15. Absolutely brilliant! These are the kinds of articles that keep me coming back.

    I’ll note that that the Scientific American response to Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist was precisely what made me buy the book. It was soooo over the top ridiculous…as a result I’ve become a skeptic.

    MikeEE

  16. Great read! When someone who tries to explain the “theory” of man-made global warming, I rebut by asking them to explain the Coriolis effect to me. My point, if they can’t explain a simple atmospheric process, how can I listen to their ramblings on something I consider too complex? It sure is consensus science. It sucks, since most kids in college are told “temperatures are rising; it’s caused by CO2 emitted by man kind; end of story”.

  17. Not only are human beings wealthier, they are also healthier, wiser, happier, more tolerant, less violent, more equal. Check it out – the data is clear. Yet if anything the pessimists had only grown more certain, shrill and apocalyptic. We were facing the `end of nature’, the `coming anarchy’, a `stolen future’, our `final century’ and a climate catastrophe. Why, I began to wonder did the failure of previous predictions have so little impact on this litany?

    I soon found out. Like others who have tried to draw attention to improving living standards – notably Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg – I am beginning to be subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification by the pessimists. They distort my argument, impugn my motives and attack me for saying things I never said. They say I think the world is perfect when I could not be clearer that I advocate progress precisely because we should be ambitious to put right so much that is still wrong. They say that I am a conservative, when it is the reactionary mistrust of change that I am attacking. They say that I am defending the rich, when it is the enrichment of the poor that I argue for. They say that I am complacent, when the opposite is true. I knew this would happen, and I take it as a back-handed compliment, but the ferocity is still startling. They are desperate to shut down the debate rather than have it.

  18. Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.

    Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

    I was going to make several comments but Crichton hit the nail on the head with his last 2 paragraphs. Need I say more? I wish more alarmists would read his lecture. :o(

  19. Thank you for reposting this.
    Dr. Crichton was a true visionary and accomplished in many areas of life.
    His most damning point is the one about when consensus is invoked.
    We lost him far too soon.
    Scientists deserve the negatives they are going to experience by embracing CAGW/AGW.

  20. WOW! What more needs to be said. We need to act. This needs to be published far and wide. Everyone must read this.

  21. The most reasoned and rational comments that have been written on the subject, this must stand as one of the great speeches of modern times.

  22. I knew I’d be back.

    Remember Bikini Atoll and the nuclear blasts that detroyed the corals? The Earth is more resilient than previously thought.

    “Bikini Atoll coral biodiversity resilience five decades after nuclear testing.”
    “Five decades after a series of nuclear tests began, we provide evidence that 70% of the Bikini Atoll zooxanthellate coral assemblage is resilient to large-scale anthropogenic disturbance. “

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18187160

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13668-nuked-coral-reef-bounces-back.html

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080415101021.htm

  23. Thanks for posting that. I’ll be using that in class next semester in my on-going attempt to get my students to bloody well THINK.

    I wish he were still in the game. He was a powerful ally and a good writer. (I did, however, think his use of chaos theory in Jurassic Park was misapplied — to say the least.)

  24. “Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places.

    Ehrlich should know, since he’s made enough of them…

    — Millions will die every month of starvation in the 1970s, and it’s already too late to save them.
    — The Third World will be decimated by plagues in the 1980s.
    — We’ll be out of oil and freezing to death in the dark by 1990.
    — America’s air will get worse and worse as long as we continue to use internal combustion engines, and there’s nothing we can do short of banning the automobile.

    Gloom, despair, and agony — oh, my!

    Of course, whenever he’s been asked why none of his predictions ever came true, he merely claimed he was right, but underestimated the timeline. Or that he was misquoted. Or that he never made the statement.

  25. I love Crichton. He was possibly the most rational man in the last hundred years. I miss him.

  26. There are other forces at work in this debacle. “Publish or perish” ensures that teaching is subordinate to grant begging. To obtain funding, the line between science and mendicancy has been crossed more and more. The sure way to gain MSM attention and journal publication is to deny the truth of a seminal work in an established field of study. No field should be sacrosanct, but these attacks are often based on extremely poor science, with little genuine content, mostly blatant assertions and staunch denial of earlier findings. This process has worsened and has resulted lately in widespread passage from academic mendicancy to thoughtless whoredom. Science is dying.

  27. Impressive, most impressive.

    ‎”Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well.”

    Ironic that the blind climate scientists will be able to see more clearly being double blinded! [:)]

  28. That´s what I feel every time I see Al Baby. Perhaps the Rosswell thing really happened, and from then on. Do you really know his biography? Because he´s really a very weird guy. ☺☺☺

  29. I think the independent research institute is a great idea. If there was research, done with open access to data sets and methods, that both ‘warmists” and “skeptics” could agree was rigorous and free from bias… well, we might actually get somewhere.

    REPLY: No argument there, but keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world. -A

  30. I had my kids read this shortly after I first ran across it, oh five years or so ago. My daughter recently graduated college with her BS in Astrophysics, also a graduate of Paradise High School, not far from Anthony’s home town. My son is close to his computer science degree at UCLA. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

  31. It would appear that a scientific consensus can lead to ill health and deaths in the general population. Perhaps a consensus requires a health warning.

    Warning – A consensus can damage your health.

    I’m sure that there is a consensus among the those who frequent this site.

  32. This piece should have been compulsory reading for all those panelists reviewing Climategate.

  33. I also recommend that folks go to Michael Crichton’s web site and read his essays. They are well worth reflecting on in these troubled times for science…

  34. It is easy to see a central theme to these hoaxes. Read and judge for yourself.

    You are a brave man Anthony, you will be burned at the stake some day but there will be a statue of you outside the Watts Institute in about 60 years.

    Keep up the good work and stick to your guns!

  35. Excellent reading.
    What was behind the nuclear winter scare? It seems to me like “let the Soviets swallow the Europe without fight”.

  36. keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world.

    It would seem like the pooled funds would make influence like pushing a rope. I’d say transparency, transparency, transparency should be the mandate of this institute.

    It seems like it’d be valuable for issues other than climate as well. If there are concerns about the independence of researchers on issues like, say, stem cells, this would be a valuable corrective.

    I’m all in favor of doing pretty much anything other than two sides yelling at each other.

  37. WOW!
    This gets bookmarked.
    I would like to print the article out and hand it to every school and University science teacher to remind them exactly what science IS.

  38. Thank you, Anthony, for drawing this to our attention. Here is one predictive model (of human behaviour) that has subsequently proved only too correct.

    I defy any warmist to read it and not feel shame.

  39. What a read!

    There are those few people ahead of their time and able to grasp the big picture rising above petty selfish desires and there are those mired in their present unable to see beyond their own limited comprehension of limited penned in by self interest and cowardice.
    We have visionaries so few in number that they are more precious to humanity than any amount of money because they show us an overarching vision of what is and what could be, they are the sign posts to a better future and they are almost universally despised and hated and shunned by the small blinkered petty majority who guard their status with supreme jealousy.
    If you are beyond your time and you clearly see the small minded games around you and you dare to speak out then your name becomes despised, many are those who cannot admit error and cannot reform their beliefs and so few are those who can admit error.
    In a decade Chrichtons memory will honoured where it was despised, his works will be praised by those who now decry it, he will be seen for the visionary he is and that is the tragedy isnt it?
    The establishment heaps praise on false prophets and hurls mud at the real prophets, those who could change the world for the better cling to old certainties and prejudices and hide their ignorance by attacking others.

  40. A very well presented analysis of how science has lost its way in the early 21st century. It almost reads as a reflective comment from a 22nd century historian! I am a physics graduate and I find it incredible how politically correct the whole process of scientific research has become.

  41. “…but even as a child I believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind.”

    That takes me back. As a kid I enjoyed the Lucky Starr series of sci fi novels by Isaac Asimov (writing as “Paul French”) in which the solar system was governed by a “Council of Science”: dispassionate scientists who ruled unselfishly with logic, wisdom, and justice. Yes, yes, but I was a kid, OK?

    “Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter.”

    I remember this one, too. Any illusions I might have retained about “dispassionate scientists” were utterly dispelled after this. I also recall that every time the (ugh) models were improved and refined, the scenarios became less and less scary, finally becoming the politically less useful “nuclear autumn”. Now, having survived every doomsday prediction so far, I tend to take ‘em in stride.

    BTW, this is the third time I’ve read this lecture, and it still gives me goose bumps. It should be required reading in our schools.

  42. Good points. I’ll take this a step further and say that even hard science is limited to consensual reality, because of the need to verify tests/observations. The lack of verification does not prove that individual unique observations are false, however extraordinary they are. Even the direct witness of the extraordinary has trouble believing the experience, hence the “doubletake” response.

  43. What a fantastic piece, Anthony thanks for posting.

    The following is an excerpt from a novel called ‘Ghostwritten’ by David Mitchell. I thought it was apt given the critique of models above:

    “We create models to explain nature, but the models wind up gatecrashing nature and driving away the original inhabitants.”

  44. Jokes apart:
    Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them.
    Or…individual ingenuity and research, which made possible almost everything we have around us. From the airplane to the copier.
    We must recognize that we are afraid of what “consensus” may say about anything we could find or say, because consensual “scientists” behave very agressively, as kids when someone menaces to take away their favorite toys: We have seen it right here in WUWT.
    The new paradigms in science are strongly rejected and its proponents are anathemized (*) and perhaps even their PC’s IP traced and followed as they could represent a socio-political danger. …”I know you, I know where you live..”
    To be a respected individual you must be “robustly”respectful of consensus.
    (*)Threaten with divine punishment

  45. Thanks for posting this great essay.

    The church of Big Science seems to be focused on pleasing its benefactors instead of searching for Truth.

  46. “Where are today’s Feynmans, Handlers and Crichtons?”

    You are reading one of their blogs right now.

  47. Wow. I want to give Crichton a standing ovation from my office chair, seven years after the fact.

  48. GeoFlynx says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am:
    “Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors.”

    Name the errors. Name the ‘climate scientists.’

    And Prof Freeman Dyson wrote science fiction novels; quite a few of them. Is his skeptical view of CAGW also ‘riddled with errors’?

  49. There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.

    If scientists didn’t demand data and tried to replicate Ponns and Flieschman’s ‘experiment‘ we would today be ‘using‘ cold fusion. And the list goes on……. :o)

    This lecture deserves an internal link on the right-hand column called “Why be sceptical?” I have bookmarked this page for quick reference and excellent quotes.

  50. Two minor nits: First, “Caltech” as it appears in the headline is correct. There is no hyphen (as it is spelled in your intro) or capitalized T (as appears in some comments) in the nickname for the school. Second, Caltech is a private college, and not a publicly funded institution, although they do accept the usual number of research grants.

  51. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
    Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.

    But that is because a lay debate, or a lecture, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.

    It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent as Crichton, who produced some good work in his lifetime, ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful book, State of Fear.

    Would this be more acceptable as a scientific lecture if Crichton had included an equation for determining how to recognize junk science?

    Can you offer some specific criticisms?

  52. A long time ago I was a regular listener of Talk of the Nation: Science Friday on NPR. I generally enjoyed the show, which features in-depth discussions and interviews on various scientific topics, but I found myself increasingly irritated with the tendency for global warming — and the horrors thereof — to make an appearance on every single broadcast.

    Then Michael Crichton was on.

    He was on, I believe, to discuss his then new book State of Fear and the science of climate change. (The book, though not his best in my opinion, does a great job of describing the science and what should be understood as both its uncertainties and limitations.) The host, Ira Flatow, was incredibly dismissive of and disrespectful to Dr. Crichton during the course of the interview, owing to Crichton’s willingness to actually question AGW orthodoxy. Flatow ended the interview by sneeringly asking Crichton if his next book would be about creationism and how the theory of evolution is all wrong.

    That was the very last time I ever tuned into Science Friday.

  53. 1. Today’s faith/religion might just become science in future centuries/millennia. Or it might not be.
    2. Scientists are not calm, rational, cool people in my experience. Some are extremely political, spiteful, greedy, hate-filled and jealous. To presume science does not enjoy some aspects of politics is to presume a black and white world, when the reality is shades of grey.
    3. Most scientists are not paradigm shifters for the simple reason that to understand when paradigm shifting is timely requires a great deal of insight, luck or both. Which means you are either a world-leading professor or a young arrogant know-it-all. Usually. So I wouldn’t trash all those who aspire honestly but won’t be Einsteins, Cricks or Krotos.
    4. If scientists are funded by politicians, then usually when the chips are down, the politicians win in the short term. It’s only if scientists are funded by independent wealth/foundations that true independence is possible. And those organisations too are not free of ego, agendas and power battles…..
    5. It’s possible to use scientific thought in politics. But only if you play the long game and are extremly astute in measuring the public mood. And if you are prepared to forgo personal power to remain true to science if the mood changes……
    6. When science is clearly applicable in society, business comes in in the way it should.
    7. But when the science is too early and may be for a whole generation, it is tempting to ‘find a way to the end of the rainbow’. Particularly if the ICT and life sciences guys are now multimillionaires……
    8. Science sometimes goes down blind alleys. And if the powers that be did that, then as a young scientist you’d be courageous not to follow them if you want that postdoctoral fellowship.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, the scientific method is imperfect and imperfections can last a generation or more sometimes.

    But usually, in the end, science wins.

    Unless totalitarian states return.

  54. Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Hmm, well its a long speech and its been analysed thoroughly elsewhere over the years – I imagine anything I say here will be lost in the noise so I’ll keep it brief. Personally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.

    > Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.

    Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.

    > If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?

    What he says is easy rhetoric that sounds nice, and plays to the Galileo complex, but has little to do with the real world. Adding “period” at the end of the sentance gives his words the sense of utter concreteness that is anathema to the scientific viewpoint.

    Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted. This is *exactly* what has happend with AGW, a fringe theory that has become more and more accepted over the last century or two. Citing a couple of instances where consensuses have been wrong in the past does not logically invalidate all consensuses forevermore – indeed it is *the very existence* of new consensus that lets us see how the old ones were inaccurate.

    > Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.

    Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc. Its an illogical argument that’s easy to say and sounds nice to those inclined to believe it, but one that I find simplistic and political rather than logical and scientific.

    And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.

  55. I was unable to locate this article on the official Crichton site, however I did locate a pdf version here:

    http://www.tsaugust.org/images/Lecture_by_Crichton_at_Caltech.pdf

    This makes it a lot easier to print, it’s 11 pages including a cover sheet.

    This lecture was brilliant, and I wish more people had seen it, or read it. I also bought into the whole “nuclear winter” thing, for the exact same reasons. It seemed that anyone in a scientific position who would stand up and express these kinds of concerns MUST know what they’re talking about, right? It’s inconceivable that they would be lying, or stretching the facts, or even using it for political objectives.

    Freeman Dyson’s question: “who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?” sums it up perfectly. Who wants to be accused of being in favor of destroying the planet, via overpopulation, CO2 emission, environmental destruction, or nuclear war??? Unfortunately, that is how the whole issue is framed.

    So here’s a story. Some years ago someone came to my house looking for donations to some kind of kid’s program… I don’t remember exactly what it was. I informed him that I don’t give money to people who come to my door, and closed the door. He stuck his foot in my door and said “What? Don’t you care about kids?”

    Now, this is an absurd thing to say. My nephew spent years in the Children’s Hospital undergoing painful procedures. I have been involved in campaigns to raise money for that hospital and for kids in general. At one point someone calculated that our family’s fundraising and events have raised over $20M for that hospital. But some guy with his foot in my door claims that I don’t care about kids. That’s the way he framed my refusal to give money to a stranger at my door.

    Its the same. My realization that the whole cAGW movement is bunk can be framed as “what, so you’re FOR the destruction of the planet?”

    Anyway, I’m glad this was posted, it’s a good read for people who might be sitting on the fence.

  56. Frank Lee MeiDere says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I wish he were still in the game. He was a powerful ally and a good writer. (I did, however, think his use of chaos theory in Jurassic Park was misapplied — to say the least.)

    That was always my issue – as his Jurassic Park was one of my first introductions to his work, it always left me feeling a bit skeptical about his fiction writing. This speech, however, does not fall into either of those categories (fiction or writing)… :-)

  57. From “Dealing” to the day he died, and beyond, Michael Crichton has made good sense.

    Thank you Mr Watts for publishing this again. I have successfully convinced my children and those who love me to read this.

    Consensus in science is just snake oil.

  58. A very eloquent speech.

    It brought up another point though: proper science and scientists really miss Richard Feynman.

  59. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Crichton gave us the warning signs of the past and here we are today like Galileo against religious consensus.

    WUWT once posted “Historic parallels in our time: the killing of cattle -vs- carbon”. This was seen as a sign by many of where we might be heading and was almost as instructive as Michael Crichton’s lecture.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/06/20/historic-parallels-in-our-time-the-killing-of-of-cattle-vs-carbon/

  60. Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Hmm, well its a long speech and its been taken to pieces thoroughly elsewhere over the years. PErsonally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.

    > Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.

    Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.

    > If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?

    What he says is easy rhetoric that sounds nice, and plays to the Galileo complex, but has little to do with the real world. Adding “period” at the end of the sentance gives his words the sense of utter concreteness that is anathema to the scientific viewpoint.

    Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted. This is *exactly* what has happend with AGW, a fringe theory that has become more and more accepted over the last century or two. Citing a couple of instances where consensuses have been wrong in the past does not logically invalidate all consensuses forevermore – indeed it is *the very existence* of new consensus that lets us see how the old ones were inaccurate.

    > Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough.

    Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”.

    And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.

    Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:58 am

    > There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.

    That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.

  61. As an “amateur” scientist, I’m speechless. What a wonderful read. Thanks, Anthony, I’ll be sharing this.

  62. I keep thinking of two laws of Economics:
    You get more of what you pay for, and less of what you tax. These apply across the board to what is happening in the world today.

    Scientists are just following the money. The poor honest scientist laboring in his (or her) garret, living off alms, is an almost extinct species. The survivors contribute to this blog and others like it.

    Most of the current crop of “CAGW climate scientists” are bought and paid for. This also applies to the journalists that report on them. They have joined the “world’s oldest profession”. They are no longer scientists.

  63. Dave H might have said:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
    Gore was a charismatic and knowledgable (sic) public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.

    But that is because a lecture, or a popular movie, is not a format where scientific matters can be examined with any precision. Science requires rigorous and detailed back and forth, and some level of quality control to weed out eg. (sic) basic falsehoods. In an environment like this, Gore was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His selective use of poorly derived statistics is disgracefully biased, and his Photoshopped scenes of impacts not forecast by any model shocking and arrogant. Presenting a movie like this as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period is a pretty poor show, but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Gore’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.

    It is a shame that someone so intelligent and eloquent famous as Gore, who produced some good work in his lifetime(?), ended up doing so much harm to public understanding and acceptance of science through his advocacy, and his dreadful movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

    I would have loved to have seen Dr. Crichton and Mr. Gore debate.

  64. A great essay. No wonder the guy makes a fortune on his books.

    By Steve Fitzpatrick on July 9, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Made….

  65. Crichton makes a superb argument regarding the nature of the science of the subject. But I came to the realization a couple of years ago that it is not at all about the science, but rather a political ideology. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was with the skeptics who drew attention to the huge body of evidence of climate change in the past and, in particular, the Medieval Warm Period. As was revealed in the CRU emails, the ideologues endeavored to “revise” the good science of the past and replace it with their computer models designed specifically to forward an agenda. As I read and discover more about Maurice Strong, “environmental justice,” and cap and trade, I am further convinced it is not a reasonable fight centered in knowledge, but a committed effort by a faction driven by a political ideology. These people will not listen to reason; follow Alinsky’s rules like a bible; and exploit those “useful idiots.”

  66. OT:
    UN chief sends SOS on poverty, climate, Haiti

    http://broadband.msnbc.com/id/37975453/ns/37602713

    “Specifically, he called on rich nations to make “concrete progress” in grappling with rising temperatures from greenhouse gases. He said they must honor their commitments at the Copenhagen climate summit last December to provide $30 billion by 2012 in “fast-start” aid for developing nations to deal with climate change.”

    Germany setting up $500 million climate fund

    http://www.napoli.msnbc.com/id/37991680/ns/business

    “BERLIN — Germany says it is setting up a $500 million fund to provide micro-finance loans to developing countries for projects such as new supermarket freezers and biomass heating to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

  67. So essentially snake oil hawkers will have the upper hand in believing in their own snake oil until 50-150 years has passed and even they’ve had time to tire of their own insanity.

    Heh but look now, for that’s just what’s taking off, the insanity part amongst the infamous climatic nutties. Jones, Mann, et al, now feel liberated enough to peddle any kind of snake oil they choose. Funniest thing probably is that they themselves don’t truly believe in their own snake oil or their snaky reasoning, however, they’re now so firmly in the land of belief of cry wolf again and again to get government funding that they can’t do nothing but.

  68. Thanks again Anthony for reminding us what the debate is really about. Still, its a shame to have lost such a valiant defender of science.

  69. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am

    >> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.

    >Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a >variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.

    I think you’re applying too broad of a definition to the word “consensus”. What I took from Chrichton’s essay was that “consensus” meant agreed upon notions without the benefit of factual support through the repeatibility of an experimental method. Which is my perception of the state of the AGW science.

    Where you claim concensus exists in science, it is not “concensus” but the agreed upon results from a repeatible expiremental method.

    The difference as I see is that one is based solely on agreement, the other on fact.

  70. Disinformation about Michel Crichton in Spanish Wikipedia:
    (Google translated)
    Message from author:

    Page 643: “The carbon dioxide present in the Earth rises and human activity is the probable cause. ”
    Page 644: “Nobody knows to what extent the current warming trend could be due to human activity. ”
    Page 644: “I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributed to human activity .
    I suspect that the principal human effect resulting from the use of the Earth, and that the atmospheric component will be less. ”
    P. 644: ` We can not assess the future , nor can we predict. These are euphemisms. We can only make assumptions . A well-founded assumption is still just a guess. ”

  71. “a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted.”

    Yes Dave, and Crichton most excellently points out, through examples, how the process going from a universally accepted false consensus works.

    And most excellently points out how those same examples are paralleling what we are witnessing now.

  72. 1DandyTroll says:
    July 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm
    If things change, THEY will change accordingly….and swiftly. Remember this.

  73. Aliens and smelly cows. Someone will soon say these are isolated examples and not to worry.

    As silly as aliens being the cause of global warming sounds, it has not been unusual in the past for wars to start just so public coffers can be added to. The believed reason (my country can whip your country) is not the ultimate reason. Nothing like getting people ready to fight the cause by getting an economy perking so that taxes can be collected so that the powers that be can be sustained once again. That’s the ultimate reason. And there are many that believe this is a good way to start an economy perking. If you can get the people to believe, anything goes. No sacrifice is too small. Especially if the sacrifice is forced upon people you don’t like. Trouble is, in a war against a slow economy (whether by enacting green jobs or actual war and with green taxes or war bonds), friendly fire and collateral damage is the rule of the day if the true goal is to rebuild an economic base to uphold the rulers in power. Under those circumstances, every casualty, friend or foe, of a green economy or a war is due to friendly fire and collateral damage. And after the people you don’t like are done away with, the ruling power will come after you too.

    So you say that forcing a green economy on us will be good and that these extreme examples are jot not reality? Sounds absurd you say? Too silly? Never will happen? Hardly. The company that made vanilla wafers in Portland were fined because of pollution. Apparently the smell of cooking vanilla wafers added particulate air pollution to the city of Portland. So they had to put air scrubbers in place to remove all vanilla wafer odor from the air. If you can be fined for baking cookies, farmers and ranchers don’t have a chance in hell. In fact none of us do.

  74. As the AGW crowd increases its shrillness and doomsday scenarios daily – “it’s worse than we thought,” the loss of Michael Crichton with his rationality and intellectual clarity is felt even more dearly.

    Dave H, atmospheric CO2 levels were 10 times or more higher than today’s levels in the past according to ice core samples, please explain to me why runaway global warming did not occur then, but is now “certain” to occur in the 21st century according to climate models .

  75. Dave H

    I suggest you read the lecture again. He is saying that science is about testable hypotheses and that consensus without proof is not science. By quoting examples of cases where there is consensus based on exaustive experimentation you are not contradicting him. He does oversimplify the point he is making with his “science is not consensus etc” but he doing this for effect. I suspect you know this but are just trying to create a smoke screen.

  76. GeoFlynx says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am
    Michael Crichton was a science fiction writer and often confused consensus with policy. His anti-global warming novel “State of Fear” made him the darling of the “skeptic” crowd, although climate scientists found the work to be riddled with factual errors. Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!”

    Crichton was a medical doctor with scientific training. And you?

  77. John Whitman says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Half a century before, another wise man, marginalized for his anti-establishment prophecies, was President Eisenhower. Perhaps Crichton had read and been inspired by Ike?

    Here is an excerpt of his Farewell Speech at Dartmouth College in 1953. His final warning:

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present,

    • and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

  78. Micahel Crichton was true believer in his own deluded ideas, on all sides. He also thought the patents on genes were kiling innovation in medicine (the opposite is actually true). LEts not get too excited about any position Crichton took, for or against us.

  79. Dave H

    I’m an experimental physicist and I have felt the urge to respond to what I think is your confusion on an issue you brought up

    Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?

    To be frank: no there isn’t a consensus on Newtonian mechanics and relativity, because one replaces the other. There is still doubt about relativity from some quarters, even how it was first formulated but because a lot of people have verified by TEST that the theory gives some results..it will do for now. And people are still testing it. That isn’t consensus on the theory its consensus on that it will do for now but we will keep testing the fundamentals of it.
    The periodic table was an idea based on chemistry – some parts were a guess, an extrapolation, a lot was tested and re-tested. But still it has been modified: atomic weights changed. It was only after quantum mechanics could the idea be really investigated. And you know what, people are still adding to it..but no one really minds because it will do for now.
    Plate tectonics – there are two competing theories that even I know about – one is the idea of solid plates, the other is of a superviscous liquid – the physics looks similar but long term effects are different – people are still testing it but you know what…it will do for now.
    You really want to do natural selection? Darwin’s theory was very vague. It talked about the fittest species surviving which made some sense. Yet it does not explain any reason at all why we still have junk genes or why some species never seemed to evolve but are still here. It was only in recent years with the ideas, yes of evolutionary biology, that a theory like The Red Queen came up..but it is still decisive. Still you know what it will do for now.
    BTW ‘it will do for now’ does not mean consensus – it means we are only as good as what we know and have tested. Or in layman’s terms: you are only the sum of your experiences up until now. Tomorrow, if it exists for you, is always a guess.
    The only people who think that science deals in consensus are lazy people who don’t actually go and ask a real scientist what the state of affairs is. And then ask a lot more.

    Oh wait, doesn’t Anthony kind of do that already?

    Go. Figure.

  80. Dave H says: July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Dave H It seems to me by your comment that you prove the thrust of one limb of Crichton’s argument.

    Doug

  81. I remember picking up a copy of ‘State of Fear’ in an airport when it came out (in paperback I suppose) and reading over the course of my trip.
    I can pinpoint that as the time I awoke to the reality of this nonsense, as until then I was a confirmed ‘believer’.

    I seem to remember a preface or addendum with very similar content to this speech – can anyone confirm if it was this actual speech at Caltech?

    RIP Michael – thank you for setting me on the right path.

  82. There is some criticism of the use of the word consensus and I think this may be as a result of confusion between two definitions of consensus (Merriam-Webster).

    In one case it means general agreement, unanimity, and in science there are innumerable instances of consensus over what is accepted generally as scientific fact.

    Its alternative meaning is group solidarity in belief or sentiment. To me, it is clear that it is this mode of consensus that Crichton was referring to.

  83. michaeljgardner says:
    July 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    > I think you’re applying too broad of a definition to the word “consensus”. What I took from Chrichton’s essay was that “consensus” meant agreed upon notions without the benefit of factual support through the repeatibility of an experimental method. Which is my perception of the state of the AGW science.

    In my opinion, you just responded by defining the terms “consensus” and “AGW science” yourself, in a specific way that allowed you to dismiss my argument.

    I believe that is known as “begging the question”.

    > The difference as I see is that one is based solely on agreement, the other on fact.

    There is this false framing going on, where some science is “fact” and other science that you happen not to agree with is “based solely on agreement”, thus putting it on an unsound basis you can dismiss.

    I don’t see any useful way we can have a reasonable discussion on those terms. I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations, and simulations. However, unless you also accept the validity of this foundation, I *cannot* make a point that you cannot counter by dismissing AGW as “not fact” on your terms. Unless you accept that there is a sound, testable, physical scientific basis to work from, I can’t make any further contribution on the “consensus” issue.

    What I would say is that:

    > Where you claim concensus exists in science, it is not “concensus” but the agreed upon results from a repeatible expiremental method.

    The consensus exists around the explanation of those results and observations. We observe perturbations in Mercury’s orbit – do we attribute those to epicycles or relativistic effects? We cannot account for rotational speed of distant galaxies – do we need to revise relativity, or attribute it to dark matter? We carry out an experiment demonstrating what appears to be speciation on a small scale – do we attribute that to evolutionary processes, or the unseen hand of a divine creator? The consensus forms – with a lot of kicking and screaming in the journals – around what is the best explanation for observations, and what has the best predictive power for future events.

    The only reason you hear about a “consensus” on AGW more than any other science is that it is a subject that has become very publicly steeped in political controversy, and because the implications are far reaching and serious. Evolution suffered the same controvery, and “consensus” was mentioned there frequently. There was a consensus on CFCs and the Ozone layer, and acid rain, and many of these anti-consensus arguments were trotted out then as well by those that sought to preserve the status quo. Likewise relativity – you don’t hear “consensus” bandied about much, unless you encounter the anti-relativity fringe.

  84. This is what James Lovelock thinks of modern science.

    On Climategate:

    “I was utterly disgusted. My second thought was that it was inevitable. It was bound to happen. Science, not so very long ago, pre-1960s, was largely vocational. Back when I was young, I didn’t want to do anything else other than be a scientist. They’re not like that nowadays. They don’t give a damn. They go to these massive, mass-produced universities and churn them out. They say: “Science is a good career. You can get a job for life doing government work.” That’s no way to do science.

    I have seen this happen before, of course. We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done.”

    plus

    “If we had some really good scientists it wouldn’t be a problem, but we’ve got so many dumbos who just can’t say anything, or who are afraid to say anything. They’re not free agents.”

    and

    “We haven’t got the physics worked out yet. One of the chiefs once said to me that he agreed that they should include the biology in their models, but he said they hadn’t got the physics right yet and it would be five years before they do. So why on earth are the politicians spending a fortune of our money when we can least afford it on doing things to prevent events 50 years from now? They’ve employed scientists to tell them what they want to hear.”

    From “James Lovelock on the value of sceptics and why Copenhagen was doomed”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/mar/29/james-lovelock

  85. That, to me, is the best I have ever read.
    I had all but given up on my politicians, but this just has to be sent to my
    Member of Parliament; my Environment Minister; my Member of the Legislative Assembly; my Mayor; and The Alberta Premier.
    Every time I send them something they send me back the same stock letter that goes to the media, or anyone else.
    “We are committed to …. blah blah blah… Carbon Capture and Storage .. blah blah blah, and $2billion dollars of taxpayers funds to climate change strategy to reduce emissions”
    They, being politicians, believe the avowed consensus. [the recent poll shows 55% do NOT believe in CAGW vs 45% who do].
    I am totally disgusted that they will not even say that the CCS program should be put on hold because of Climatgate. AND they are supposedly Conservatives.

  86. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm
    If kids are to play they need a consensus among them, those not sharing the same toys/games are the “bad kids”.

  87. Dave H says,

    “Crichton then goes on to undermine his own point with respect to AGW. Yes, science has been wrong in the past, and consensus viewpoints have been wrong in the past – but the progression is almost always from worse understanding to better – a *new* consensus forms around the new ideas and they become accepted.”

    How is Crichton undermining his own point? Those erroneous hypotheses are not refined into “new” correct ideas as you seem to be implying in your post: whether we are talking about the bad air theory of disease, germ theory of pelagra, eugenics, piltdown man, rejection of continental drift, stress causation of stomach ulcers, nuclear winter. They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong. And the point he was trying to make most strongly, is that the consensus views that persists the longest in the face of contradictory evidence, are those embellished in some political or social narratives. Eugenics, nuclear winter and AGW are the most notable examples and AGW is the most extreme of them all. So AGW, will eventually join eugenics and all the others in that metaphorical garbage can.

    “Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc. Its an illogical argument that’s easy to say and sounds nice to those inclined to believe it, but one that I find simplistic and political rather than logical and scientific.”

    It is a straw man argument to counter that the rejection of an old hypothesis is also a consenus – and must therefore invalidate itself. Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false. What seems to be clear to everyone on this blog but you, is the idea that a consensus adds nothing to the value of a scientific postulate and it does not make that postulate more likely to be true. Thats it. No need to tie yourself up in knots with “all Cretans are liars,” type fallacies.

    “And I already mentioned his biased misrepresentation of Bjorn Lomberg.”

    So reject the Bjorn Lomberg incident as “biased misrepresentation”. Biased how? Show us some facts instead of just arm waving.

  88. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I don’t see any useful way we can have a reasonable discussion on those terms. I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations, and simulations. However, unless you also accept the validity of this foundation, I *cannot* make a point that you cannot counter by dismissing AGW as “not fact” on your terms. Unless you accept that there is a sound, testable, physical scientific basis to work from, I can’t make any further contribution on the “consensus” issue.

    Thanks for the reply.

    In short, I’ve yet to see any sound science that proves AGW, but I have heard a lot about the consensus. I’m open to having a reasonable discussion with you though. Maybe you can help me with the “sound, testable, physical scientific basis” part.

    Cheers,
    Michael

  89. MC was clearly one of the cleanest thinkers of our time.

    If the general public can’t tell the difference between science & politics, then real science has little chance of adding real value to society and that is a net negative to everyone, regardless of your politics.

    All scientists need to be aware of their duty to provide objective analysis to society. Period. If they feel inclined to make political statements, they need to get out of science for the benefit of science. Period.

    Unfortunately, I only see the problem getting worse.
    Everything has become politicized.
    “AGW” = politicized weather.
    “Organic” food = politicized eating.
    “Naturopathic” = politicized medicine.
    ” Hybrid cars” or “SUV’s” = politicized driving.
    “Green” , “Sustainable” = politicized living.
    I could go on & on (please add your own examples).

    The common theme with all of these is you can find “scientific” research to support these subjects, but the reality is that it is just politics , policy & personal bias parading as science. And because of examples from the past, such as those listed by MC, it is now accepted practice to represent politics as “science”. And because scientists are allowing this to happen, science as a whole is failing society.

    Universities should be teaching students about their moral obligation to give objective analysis to society. Yet I do not see this happening. In fact, I have an example from my own alma mater doing just the opposite – encouraging students to cast their science in a non-objective framework to the community. It is a sad state of affairs & I think this period of time will be judged harshly by the future.

  90. May I remind everyone of the hazard of playing catch as catch can with snout nosed ungluates in slurried soil or clay!

    (Do you understand this? The ungluate has great joy, and YOU end up in need of sanitary renovation…)

  91. micky c says:
    July 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    > I’m an experimental physicist and I have felt the urge to respond to what I think is your confusion on an issue you brought up

    No confusion, I was actually hoping to lead into some of the issues you raised.

    > To be frank: no there isn’t a consensus on Newtonian mechanics and relativity, because one replaces the other.

    Yes – hence the past tense when referring to Newton in my original comment. There *was* a consensus that Newton best explained the movement of celestial bodies. That’s not really the case any more.

    > There is still doubt about relativity from some quarters, even how it was first formulated but because a lot of people have verified by TEST that the theory gives some results..it will do for now. And people are still testing it. That isn’t consensus on the theory its consensus on that it will do for now but we will keep testing the fundamentals of it.

    This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works. We can use relativity because it has predictive power – but there is still room to argue about details within that larger framework.

    > The periodic table was an idea based on chemistry – some parts were a guess, an extrapolation, a lot was tested and re-tested. But still it has been modified: atomic weights changed. It was only after quantum mechanics could the idea be really investigated. And you know what, people are still adding to it..but no one really minds because it will do for now.

    Exactly – its the progress from less knowledge to more. It had predictive power because it had *gaps* that allowed us to guess the properties of the elements we were yet to discover – yet we could still argue about details within a broader consensus that it was describing a useful chemical model.

    > You really want to do natural selection? Darwin’s theory was very vague. It talked about the fittest species surviving which made some sense. Yet it does not explain any reason at all why we still have junk genes or why some species never seemed to evolve but are still here. It was only in recent years with the ideas, yes of evolutionary biology, that a theory like The Red Queen came up..but it is still decisive. Still you know what it will do for now.

    I’d go further than that. Darwin’s theory is in no way some sacrosanct thing that has remained unchanged – it has grown and adapted (dare I say, evolved?). There is huge argument over some of the detail, and things like cross-gene transfer really shake up our understanding of what’s possible and how things work. But where there *is* a consensus is that speciation can be explained by natural processes like selection, and that the existence of evolution is not in any doubt. So, we came along, carried on Darwin’s work, fixed it where it was wrong, developed new, more detailed theories to explain new observations – do we ever refer to his work as “discredited”? No, we accept it as a foundation upon which we build better knowledge.

    This is precisely the same terms as the consensus for AGW. There is broad agreement that observational data shows the earth is warming, and that the principle cause is human emissions of CO2. The rest of the detail? massively debated. What’s the precise climate sensitivity? How best can we reconstruct the paleoclimate? How unprecedented is the warming? What’s the precise contribution of Solar and ENSO cycles to the 20th century trend? These are all issues with greater or lesser degrees of agreement around them.

    So I would say – representing the notion of a scientific consensus as complete agreement in all details across the entirety of a scientific field is an unrealistic strawman.

  92. @Dave H:

    Consensus is a political term, not a scientific term.

    Consensus is not how science is done. Scientists don’t get together and vote on the facts. The chemical formula for water is not determined by consensus.

  93. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

    [...]
    “In an environment like this, Crichton was free to say what he liked without fear of a detailed rebuttal, and that included thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies. His framing of the criticism of Bjorn Lomberg is disgracefully biased, and his leap to the Galileo defence shocking and arrogant. Presenting a lecture like this from 7 years ago as if it has not been dissected and shown to be unsound rhetoric in so many ways in the intervening period [...]“

    Dave H, I’d be interested in reading the dissection of this lecture showing the unsound rhetoric. Would you please point me to the source(s) you’re referring to so I can do some further reading? Thanks in advance.

    H.R.

  94. Wow. Absolutely WOW.
    And to think he said it 7 years ago…
    Thanks Anthony for posting this.
    I am going to circulate it to as many people as I can.

  95. Are we alone?
    I cannot know the numbers of any certainty as to how many planets are in this Galaxy having life as we know it.
    I can tell you that with our fastest rocket presently, it will take roughly 60,000 years to get to Beta Centauri.
    Unless there is intelligent life hiding on another planet in our Solar System, we are alone in Space & Time.

  96. There is the bright, shiny, beautiful, wondrous side of the force of science and every other field of human endeavor; and there is the dull, scheming, treacherous, political, ugly, dark side of the force of science, and every other field of human endeavor.

    The majority of ‘adults’ -shall we say- were bright eyed children who wanted to achieve great things for the benefit of all mankind. The vast majority of them lost their dream along the way in the ‘real‘ world. They became pragmatists. They learned that if you want to get along, you gotta’ go along.

    Oh, for the return of the Jedi…

  97. Vincent says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    > They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong.

    And a *new* consensus formed around the better explanation – so why should we distrust consensus again?

    > And the point he was trying to make most strongly, is that the consensus views that persists the longest in the face of contradictory evidence, are those embellished in some political or social narratives. Eugenics, nuclear winter and AGW are the most notable examples and AGW is the most extreme of them all. So AGW, will eventually join eugenics and all the others in that metaphorical garbage can.

    Or alternatively, the *social and political resistence* to the increasing scientific evidence for AGW will be consigned to the garbage can.

    > Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false.

    No, in fact what he said was:

    > If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer? Do you disagree that much of the health legislation surrounding smoking emerged precisely because there was a broad consensus on this issue, despite disagreement and uncertainty about specific details and risks? Should climate scientists pretend that there *isn’t* a consensus about the basics of AGW? Would that make the science more sound?

    The existence of a consensus is not a sound basis for rejecting science.

    > So reject the Bjorn Lomberg incident as “biased misrepresentation”. Biased how? Show us some facts instead of just arm waving.

    Its hard enough sticking to just the consensus issue on this thread. In my view, Crichton’s interpretation leaves absolutely no room for Lomberg to be in the wrong. He describes the reaction as “disgusting” and presupposes much based on his acceptance of Lomberg’s opinion. He describes Lomberg solely as someone who dared to challenge an orthodoxy and was attacked for it – whereas based on the evidence you could equally describe him as someone who thoroughly misrepresented the available science for political and financial capital, and received precisely the reaction one would expect from the scientists he had misrepresented. Crichton does not supply any real evidence to weight the argument to his side, just asserts it in emotive language really – and if you’re predisposed to believe him you will, but that doesn’t necessarily make him *right*. And his complaint that the published critique *only* mentioned 9 errors – well, could it not equally have been listing 9 example errors? Crichton doesn’t make this clear, just slants his reportage of the incident to what he wants you to believe.

    But the substance of Bjorn Lomberg is a different issue – that’s just my opinion of the biased way Crichton described the events. And actually referencing Galileo in this context is offensive.

  98. It is a consensual truth that wherever there is consensus, nature behaves in an unexpected by the consensus way. What a pity!
    One major example: THE SUN

  99. There is at least one thing we can all have consensus on and state of fear is a good enough way to describe it.
    There are certain personalities that seem to need fear. Fear about something.

    and there are people that are aware of that fact and use it

    Once you convince that type of personality to be fearful of something, it’s almost impossible to change their minds. No matter how irrational it may look to a rational person, to the person convinced that they should fear this thing, anything, it is real.

    Crichton was well aware of that and did an excellent job of portraying it in his writings.

  100. GeoFlynx says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:21 am

    “Interestingly enough the premise of Crichton’s climate tome is that scientists are using fear to alter global climate policy – this from a fiction author who used revived “toothy dinosaurs” to sell movies!”

    The very significant difference is that no one came around to put a gun to your head to make you go see the movie. And if you find that comparison over the top, I can pretty much guarantee that, if these “climate management” policies are fully enacted and anyone decides to take a stand in defiance of them and persists in that stand, there will be men with guns showing up on their doorstep. There is no question of if on this , only how long.

  101. latitude says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:49 pm
    One the the most dreadful things for a kid is somebody taking away their favorite toys.

  102. Dave Wendt said:

    ” I can pretty much guarantee that, if these “climate management” policies are fully enacted and anyone decides to take a stand in defiance of them and persists in that stand, there will be men with guns showing up on their doorstep.”

    I don’t know where you live, but here in Canada our version of Al Gore (David Suzuki) is already promoting jail time for any politician who doesn’t follow the party line on global warming.

  103. Anything that cannot be replicated/tested in a lab is…pure magic, twilight zone, metaphysics (and metaphysics doesn’t exist because it is “beyond the physical realm”).

    Hey, Hey baby!, don’t cry baby, don’t cry!…wanna pee?

  104. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    > There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.

    That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.

    The first succesfull cloning of a multicellular organisms took place in 1952 when Robert Briggs and Thomas King cloned tadpoles. There is still controversy about the results and what actually happend during the experiments, but it sure shows that people where working on cloning more than 60 years ago, well before Dolly was born in 1996.

  105. You do have to be careful with Crichton – will never forget how I burst out laughing when on some psi-farm where he went to learn to see auras, he kneeled on the ground and offered his apologies to a cactus plant for having had bad thoughts about him.
    Which is not saying he’s all bad. Just be careful.

  106. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm
    Karl Maki might have said:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

    > Hey, look over there!

    My point — I apologize if it was too oblique — is that your 9:15a post was little more than an ad hominem attack on Dr. Crichton, as evidenced by the fact it was easy to substitute one name for another and make it, with minor cosmetic changes, an attack on Mr. Gore. One concludes that you believe Crichton to be either a shill or prone to fuzzy thinking, which leads me to a question:

    Why?

    Crichton was a polymath who spent his entire life gathering knowledge, learning new things, and thinking in novel ways, so to speak. He was not a politician or a corporate head or an activist or anyone who stood to gain or lose from whatever direction the debate on climate change might go. He was just a man who thought much of and a lot about technology, science and the scientific method. (One might note that the heroes in his books are almost always scientists.) Why would Crichton, already wealthy in the extreme when State of Fear was published, go out of his way to misrepresent climate science?

  107. Dave H
    Hi
    Your eloquence, succinct to the point mastery and articulation of a scientific matter and a short and snappy rebuttal of opposition makes me think we met on these pages before.
    Do I need to translate?

  108. Must resist temptation to photoshop Al Gorge into cartoon instead of alien. Must resist urge, must.

  109. Jeff L says: July 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm
    MC was clearly one of the cleanest thinkers of our time. If the general public can’t tell the difference between science & politics, then real science has little chance of adding real value to society and that is a net negative to everyone, regardless of your politics.

    I agree with Jeff L but the trouble is that science and politics have been hijacked by commercial interests. If you need to see the power behind the ‘Climate Science’ follow the money as they say. It is important to have a flock of sheep to ensure the politicians under control and in your pocket – hence the scare tactics for the sheep. The ‘climate scientists provide the scare tactics. The politicians provide the shears for the sheep and – voila!

  110. I must have read his book “The Andromeda Strain (1969)”, at least 5 times in my youth. Now I know why.

  111. John from CA says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:59 am
    “BERLIN — Germany says it is setting up a $500 million fund to provide micro-finance loans to developing countries for projects such as new supermarket freezers and biomass heating to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

    You can bet your ass that there is right now a glut of German-made supermarket freezers in some warehouse waiting to be shipped…

  112. Excellent speech! Thanks for publishing it Anthony.

    It is my observation that there are way more folks that have phds than should have them.

    And the trolls come out of the woodwork.

  113. ShrNfr says:
    July 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm
    “Must resist temptation to photoshop Al Gorge into cartoon instead of alien. Must resist urge, must.”

    Oh come on. Just do it and post the pic.

  114. Thanks for posting this. It has been a long time since I first read it, and It’s hard to believe (chilling actually) that it was written over seven years ago. The late and prescient Dr. Chichton is responsible for opening my eyes and, I assume, those of many others to the lack of real science behind global warming advocacy. Like any good liberal, I simply assumed global warming was real, that man was responsible, that the consequences would be catastrophic for future generations, and that anyone who said otherwise was a conservative reactionary or in the pocket of fossil fuel interests.

    Had I not been trained as a medical scientist and not been a Chrichton fan since publication of the Andromeda Strain, I would probably still think that way. Most people who have adopted AGW beliefs simply dismissed Chrichton as a science fiction writer not a scientist. Many of these dismissers don’t know (or care) that he was a Harvard educated M.D. who was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute and – to their loss – do not appreciate that he was a keen observer of both postmodern politics and cutting edge science. As we see here, he was also a keen defender of the scientific method. I mourn his passing every time I see his name or re-read one of his brilliant essays.

  115. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm
    “[...]
    This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works.
    [...]”

    No, i can falsify that. Consensus has formed around the forecasts of GCM’s, and they don’t work. So we can deduce: The formation of a consensus does not allow a conclusion about whether something works or not. Consensus can form in the absence of workability. QED.

  116. Crichton would not have had to go all the way back to 1900. Most of what he said could have been applied to 1950. Our knowledge of science has grown by leaps and bounds since then. (I was a 14 year old Sophomore in high school in 1950, and have been a science “buff” as long as I have memory of.)

    And I wouldn’t agree in his “belief in aliens is the cause” either. Belief in aliens began about when humans began being humans (but terms other than “aliens” were used . . . lots of them).

    One thing I do find rather amazing, however. Individuals or small groups who are really guilty or culpable of doing wrong in the eyes of society will most often deny their guilt or culpability, however guilty or culpable they might be, no matter the evidence against them, to their dying breaths. Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.

  117. I love this lecture. I read it when it first came out and still do from time to time. It helps my morale to know that there are still honest people out there. That is why I come to this site as well.

  118. Why does this conjure the leering face of Mr. Ravetz, Mr. Post Normal Science himself, right now? n/m – rhetorical…

  119. I have a “consensus” (aka political) proposal.

    Whenever someone throws out the “oil card” or the “tobacco card”, we shall throw “nic-fit” into the first line of the reply. It would make reading and parsing so much easier. My intuition says that a lot of these ‘enthusiastic types’ are ‘ex-smokers’ ;)

    Just a thought…

  120. MC was the best communicator on the current state of science: clear, concise and irrefutable.

  121. Anthony… Why does the source[Source: http://www.crichton-official.com you link to not have this article available. Was it taken down? Do you have a better link to the source?

    Otherwise, I very much enjoyed it.

    REPLY: refresh the article to see the links

  122. LarryOldtimer says (July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm): ‘Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.’

    I broke the dam!”

  123. Here’s one more consensus ‘science’ item that Michael Crichton could have mentioned if he’d had the time.

    LOBOTOMIZED SCIENCE

    In the early part of the 20th Century, there was not a whole lot that physicians could do to treat schizophrenia. It is estimated that about 1% of the world’s population suffers from this debilitating psychiatric illness.

    Warehousing–often under horrific conditions–was often the only option for some schizophrenics, who could not function in society. And this was a big drain on scarce health care resources, which could be used with greater cost-effectiveness in prenatal and pediatric care, for example. And it was probably a proportionately larger drain in the reconstruction years after World War II.

    Enter Dr. Moniz, a physician from Portugal. He performed the first lobotomy in 1936. The medical profession was impressed with the increased manageability of lobotomized psychiatric patients. In 1949, Dr. Moniz shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his pioneering work on lobotomies, which greatly popularized the procedure. Here is a link to some biographical info about Dr. Moniz:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egas_Moniz

    The mid 1950’s saw the introductions of new, somewhat effective psychiatric medications, like Thorazine. Then people began to question the morality of lobotomies: Hey, aren’t lobotomies a major human rights violation? This is a good question, especially considering the difficulty of getting genuine informed consent from schizophrenics, who are often not living in the same reality that we know. For obvious reasons, lobotomies are considerably less fashionable now than they were in the early 1950s.

    Sometimes art can help us get a better perspective on complex ethical issues. In addition to having outstanding performances by Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came to grips the lobotomy issue, in a very poignant way.

    So, in light of what we know today, did the Nobel Committee get it right in 1949? Did the lobotomy research even qualify as legitimate science?

    By the way, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights came out in 1948, the year *before* the lobotomy Nobel.

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

    Lobotomized science has been around for a lot longer than CAGW.

  124. Some points to ponder:
    What about radon? I have yet to see the name of an individual who contracted cancer as a result of exposure to radon. The same is true of second-hand smoke. Where are the names? I know about first-hand smoke: my mother was one.
    Galileo: it is unfortunate that he did not have a means of demonstrating his assertion which was observable with human senses. The demonstration (the Focault pendulum) was a serendipitous discovery made a couple of centuries later. This is a fascinating story in itself. Chromatic aberration was an unavoidable defect in single-lens refracting telescopes. Making two lenses, one of flint glass and one of crown glass, greatly decreased the aberration. To make the glass, various salts had to be uniformly mixed with the molten silica. This required a stirring rod, and only carbon would do. So Focault had an “oops” moment while smoothing a carbon rod in a lathe.
    All he really wanted to do was make a bigger lens.
    The earlier discovery of the aberration of light is dispositive, but requires rather sophisticated instruments. [This is the shift of stellar positions due to the orbital movement of the Earth during the year.]
    The story of science is, indeed, the story of resistant paradigms. Chrichton recites some of them; paradigms are remarkably resistant to change.
    Have you heard? The proton may be smaller than we thought. If so, the whole theory of quantum electrodynamics may need to be rethought.
    It has been 80 years since the receding of the galaxies was discovered. Do we know that the universal law of gravitation applies in the galactic realm? I have yet to see a verifiable experiment. And all of the theories of dark matter presume inverse square attraction at all scales. And dark matter has, thus far, not been detected.
    The difficulty with paradigm science is that only politically correct science gets funded. Should you wish to investigate a theory which is not politically correct, you are very likely to be turned down. Where is the Cavendish who can do his/her own work, using his/her own money?
    I am reminded of the saying about religion and politics being joined together. Such a joining always ends up badly.
    I believe that the same is true about science and politics.
    Lysenko, anyone?

  125. I’ve read all of Michael Crichton’s fiction, much of his non-fiction, and many of his lectures. Not only was this man a brilliant visionary, he became one of my heroes because of his willingness to speak truth, no matter what the consequences. I’ve passed his books to friends and family members of mine; most thought the books entertaining, but lacking in scientific merit. I made a habit, however, of looking up the papers and web links that he cites at the end of his novels, and find that he took a balanced approach to many of his topics so that the reader could make an informed decision. Too many people refuse to follow up on various topics and ideas, and will go along with the crowd so as not to “stir the waters.” It seems, to me, that most people have lost the ability to think for themselves, or are at least too willing to let others think for them.

    Peace.

  126. “”DirkH says:
    July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm
    No, i can falsify that. Consensus has formed around the forecasts of GCM’s, and they don’t work. So we can deduce: The formation of a consensus does not allow a conclusion about whether something works or not. Consensus can form in the absence of workability. QED.””

    thanks

  127. Intelligent and rational people can discuss and agree on many issues, the problem began when some said: They are dumb, let´s invent some scary tale and then we´ll make them swallow all our Agenda 21 or whatever.
    This is true:
    “We need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination…So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts.. .Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.”
    – Prof. Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology,
    lead author of many IPCC reports
    That was a big mistake!. If their purpose was to establish a better order for humanity and if it was supported by intelligent reasons we could have agreed on many things, but not through lies and scam.
    Now it seems clear that their purposes couldn´t have been openly stated because their motives and goals, they knew it, nobody in his sane reason was going to accept them.

  128. Dave H says @ July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am”
    ‘If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc.’

    While it is true that consensus does not invalidate science, neither does consensus validate science. Of course there is always a working consensus in any scientific field, but it is the work of every scientist in that field to find the things that are not explained by the consensus view, postulate possible alternative explanations, and perform real-world experiments or observations (models, computer or otherwise, are only an aid to discovery and understanding) to confirm or refute them, e.g., Newtonian physics vs. Einsteinian relativity.)

    When the working consensus becomes constrained by politics or belief, the consensus is no longer scientific. This is exactly what has happened to climate science. Free inquiry and expression have been constrained by AGW politics and belief.

  129. mathman says:
    July 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I am reminded of the saying about religion and politics being joined together. Such a joining always ends up badly.
    I believe that the same is true about science and politics.

    Not to mention science and religion…

    http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/religion.htm

    (Michael Crichton is referenced in the above link FWIW — it is an excellent expansion of one of Crichton’s key insights.)

  130. Robert says:
    July 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    > There was a consensus that cloning was impossoble until Dolly the sheep.

    That’s completely untrue. Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann took the first steps on the road to cloning in 1928. Cloning was widely regarded as inevitable, it was just a matter of time before somebody overcame the technical hurdles.

    The first succesfull cloning of a multicellular organisms took place in 1952 when Robert Briggs and Thomas King cloned tadpoles. There is still controversy about the results and what actually happend during the experiments, but it sure shows that people where working on cloning more than 60 years ago, well before Dolly was born in 1996.

    —–

    What I should have said was Dolly the sheep was the first mammal to be cloned from cells of any adult animal. (I was typing from memory and remember that when Dolly was announced there were those who flat out dismissed it and it was reported that most scientists in the field did not think this possible).

    First Cloned Mammals
    A breakthrough came in 1986. Two teams, working independently but using nearly the same method, each on opposites side of the Atlantic, announced that they had cloned a mammal. One team was led by Steen Willadsen in England, which cloned a sheep’s embryo. The other team was led by Neal First in America, which cloned a cow’s embryo. Many advances were made during the course of these experiments, including progress in keeping tissue alive in lab conditions. However, neither team believed that it was possible to clone from an adult’s differentiated cells. With no progress in sight, the prospect of cloning fell by the wayside, and little research was done on the matter.

    http://library.thinkquest.org/20830/Frameless/Manipulating/Experimentation/Cloning/longdoc.htm

  131. Further to my last comment I hope this clears up the “impossible” world I used to describel cloning in general instead of using differentiated adult cells. You might give me examples of where this is not the case but my main point is there was a consensus that this type of cloning was “impossible”.

    “On July 5, 1996, Roslin Institute in Scotland and PPL Therapeutics created the first ever organism to be cloned from adult cells, Dolly. This ordinary-looking lamb has extraordinary origins, being not only a cloned lamb with no father, but also the world’s first clone from differentiated adult cells, a feat that was considered scientifically impossible.” source
    ——————-
    “Scientists thought that this differentiation was irreversible and that once a cell had differentiated to become, say, a skin cell, it could not change into anything else. It was thought that somehow the DNA inside any particular cell had been chemically ‘programmed’ to produce only the range of proteins required for it to perform its specific tasks, and that ‘reprogramming’ was impossible. ” source

  132. To Dave H:

    I understand exactly at what are you are saying. State of Fear was factually inaccurate for many points. I verified one chapter, half were accurately represented in the book, half were taken out of context. I verified the citations after I read the book, not while I was reading it. So by then I knew what Michael Crichton was trying to get at. The point I took away from State of Fear is that modern science starts with the answer, and then asks the question that will get the answer. Example: “Man-made global warming is real. How do we prove it?” Science should start with the question and look for the answer without bias. Example: “Is man-made global warming real? The facts say …” All in all, I didn’t like the book too much (Prey was much better), but I did like the point it was making.

    You are right, consensus is not always a bad thing. It is only a bad thing when debate is silenced because of the consensus. That is when you need to reach for your wallet or beg forgiveness for your sins, when you are not allowed to question. The whole AGW debate has really become just like the Catholic church’s former practice of selling of indulgences.

  133. “The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for eleven pages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite their assertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.”

    I was disgusted with Sci-Am running that issue, in just about every area of which I had personal knowledge Lomborg was right and his critics were wrong. Climate of Fear also attracts pro AGW attacks, but as a work of popular fiction it summarises the known science very well.

  134. OT:
    Senate set for energy, environmental bill debate

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38173704/ns/politics

    posted about 3:30 PT
    WASHINGTON — Democrats in the U.S. Senate aim to debate in late July a bill clamping down on offshore oil drilling practices and fostering more alternative energy use, but no decision has been made on whether to include controversial climate change provisions, aides said on Friday.

    Manley would not comment on whether the bill will include steps to put a price on carbon dioxide pollution as a way of tackling global warming.

  135. Dave H says @ July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am”
    ‘If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”. The invalidation of a consensus would logically create a new consensus that the old one was invalid – the existence of which immediately invalidate itself, etc etc.’

    Consensus does not produce validity. It makes no sense to say consensus either validates or invalidates anything.
    Doug

  136. “If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    The absolutist nature of this statement raises my sceptical antenna. I think there are several reasons why consensus, understood as general agreement, is an important feature of the practice of science.

    1. Teachers of science need to be able to pass along an agreed body of knowledge to the next generation of scientists, so that students can gain a grounding in the subject and be able to communicate intelligibly with their fellows when they begin work as scientists. Some of those new scientists may rebel against their teaching and eventually produce a new consensus.

    2. Some scientific advances occur though wholly original eureka! moments, but most scientific progress is incremental, building on previous work. This incremental progress constitutes the development of a consensus.

    3. Resources are limited and need to be focused on the areas that are showing the most promise. Consensus is a means to identify those areas of promise.

    4. Crichton’s notion of an independent reasearch institute sounds plausible, but in practice such research cannot be entirely open-ended. Various criteria would have to be applied as to which independent research shows promise, which is marginal, and which is out of contention. That will in turn require its own consensus to delimit the boundaries of acceptable independent research.

    As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.

  137. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am
    “Crichton was a charismatic and knowledgable public speaker. Hands down, he won over any audience anytime he spoke in public or debated this issue.”

    Well, he certainly wiped the floor with Gavin Schmidt. Not because he was tall – but because he was right.

  138. DavidS says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Well said. It was the hardest part of teaching to get my science students to understand that the models weren’t reality.

  139. Thanks so much for this wonderful article by Crichton. I knew the history that he covers. Like Crichton, I was conscious of all the history after 1960. I have taught much of this history, especially the Semmelweiss material, mining it for examples of scientific reasoning, good or bad. Unfortunately, today, presenting this article to a class of students would bring down the PC Inquisition. The remarks about smoking would be viewed as, well, criminal. So, in writing this comment, I feel that I am participating in a samizdat. Thanks for the thrill.

  140. “Brendan H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm
    As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.”

    Brendan, I agree with you 100% on that statement and you list of reasons is also well thought out.

    Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.

  141. As a scientist i feel anyone that doesn’t agree with this excellent lecture will have a tough time being a true scientist such as Feynman and many other greats.

  142. Peter Plail says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thank you, Anthony, for drawing this to our attention. Here is one predictive model (of human behaviour) that has subsequently proved only too correct.

    I defy any warmist to read it and not feel shame.
    _____________________________________
    Actually they few here who read it seem threatened and immediately attack the essay to my surprise.

    I though we all at least agreed on what science is, but I guess not. Looks like science is in even deeper kimchi than I first thought. We cant even agree on the definition of science.

  143. how bizarre is this website, allegedly the official michael crichton website, but “State of Fear” topic is the only one locked plus further down there is:

    The Science Forum
    Discuss the science behind Michael Crichton’s books and films OTHER THAN THE SCIENCE DISCUSSED IN STATE OF FEAR.

    http://crichton-official.com/phpBB3/index.php

  144. but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.

    I’m not politically aligned to Crichton. I don’t find his words comforting.

    It is a cheap shot to assume all that disagree with you on AGW do so because of their inherent political leanings. I am solidly left-wing and not socially conservative. I’m not religious and am very pro-science. I should be a candidate for belief in AGW.

    However, I do have a post-graduate qualifications in Chemistry and I don’t believe the evidence for AGW so far presented to me. My political leanings are irrelevant.

  145. DCC says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:36 am

    But was it peer-reviewed?
    ____________________________
    Given the number of scientists who visit this site, it is not only yes it is HELL YES.

  146. Dave H, GeoFlynx, and no doubt others,

    Would you please stop it with the ad hominems, please. If you have a critical comment about something Crichton says in the lecture, and you are willing to seriously explain your criticism rather than taking cheap shots, then make them. If not, stop acting like teenagers who resent coming to class.

  147. It was MC’s brilliant work in “State of Fear” that first alerted me to the fallacies of the AGW movement. I am an Geoscientist of long experiences and I had not examined their claims until then. Once I looked around a bit, I found a house of cards ready to drop. I work with computer models frequently and I’m here to tell you that models are interpretive, not predictive.

  148. Dave H says:

    “I accept the evidence for AGW, which – like an awful lot of science – is based on sound physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations…”

    Please post your ‘evidence’, your ‘experimental results’, and your ‘empirical observations’ [eg, raw data], showing that AGW is a testable hypothesis.

    By doing so you will have instantly solved the problem of the climate sensitivity number in a single post, by quantifying the effect of CO2 on temperature [if any], and you will be on the short list for the [now worthless] Nobel prize.

    Ball’s in your court. Stay on point. And don’t keep us in suspense. Thanx.

  149. Dave H writes:

    “Hmm, well its a long speech and its been analysed thoroughly elsewhere over the years – I imagine anything I say here will be lost in the noise so I’ll keep it brief. Personally I take issue, for starters, with his casual dismissal of consensus and reliance on the Galileo gambit.”

    “> Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. ”

    “Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”

    Galileo is the father of scientific method. Because experimental science cannot be understood except against the background of scientific method, Galileo is also the father of experimental science. If you haven’t studied Galileo’s original works then you have not experienced the birth of scientific method and experimental science. By the way, though they are highly rewarding, Galileo’s works are not for the faint of heart.

    As a philosopher, I revere Galileo because he introduced critical method to science and introduced science to critical method. All non-specialized logic courses contain an introduction to scientific method. They must if they cover the fundamentals of critical reasoning. Science is a critical enterpise. Anyone who tells you differently is not a scientist but a salesman of “things scientific.”

    Galileo made science critical. Before Galileo, science had proceeded within a framework of “consensus.” The scientists in the Inquisition were asserting their belief in scientific consensus against Galileo’s critical method. Copernicus had avoided the Inquisition by claiming that his work was “mere mathematics.” Kepler served a Protestant prince and thumbed his nose at consensus. So did Newton. There is no overriding authority in science and, for that reason, no consensus. We owe Galileo for that revelation. Einstein saluted when he said that one experimenter could prove him wrong. Today we understand that the idea of consensus belongs to politicians and other controlling bodies, not to science. Scientists answer only to the critical method of experiment.

  150. I kind of get the feeling that Michael Crichton would consider the phrase “scientific consensus” an oxymoron, or at least consider that with any given “scientific consensus” and five bucks, you could get a cup of coffee at StarBucks.

  151. pat says:
    July 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm
    how bizarre is this website, allegedly the official michael crichton website, but “State of Fear” topic is the only one locked plus further down there is:

    The Science Forum
    Discuss the science behind Michael Crichton’s books and films OTHER THAN THE SCIENCE DISCUSSED IN STATE OF FEAR.

    I suspect this only demonstrates, and sadly so, that the issue is so politicized — and even tinged with a religious fervor on the pro-AGW side — that it is impossible to maintain any semblance of reasoned discussion or debate on that topic. If that is the case it only proves, ironically, Dr. Crichton’s point that the current climate change debate is more cultural than scientific.

  152. Dave H – brave of you to comment here and credit to Anthony and moderators for having a site that supports open dialogue.

    Great set of comments on the role of consensus and more eloquent than I can provide, so I will just add this. Consensus is a by-product of other processes, some scientific, some political and financial, all psychological. Fundamentally consensus is just not very important (to the validity of the science anyway).

    Dave H you would do yourself a favour if you didn’t try to use consensus to defend the science. Try to use science to defend the science. From my observations, you will get a fair hearing here but your “physical principles, experimental results, empirical observations…” better be good, because what we have seen from others so far just adds to the uncertainty.

  153. Karl Maki: No, sorry, it is not hopeless. I don’t surrender my house because some whack job moved next door.

  154. Paul Daniel Ash says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:00 am
    I think the independent research institute is a great idea. If there was research, done with open access to data sets and methods, that both ‘warmists” and “skeptics” could agree was rigorous and free from bias… well, we might actually get somewhere.

    REPLY: No argument there, but keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world. -A

    Government requires accountability for the taxes it allots for something, or at least it should, and other influences would also require such accountability, and justly so.

    As I see things, the only time a piece of research should be taken as completely credible, is:
    [A] when it has been independently researched, and the findings have been successfully repeated using both the same as well as different methods to arrive at the same conclusion(s).

    OR

    [B] The same research has been conducted elsewhere by other entities, not connected in any way with those of the original source(s) of funding.

    AND

    [C] No political connections of whatever sort may be seen as the driving force for the research and the results.

  155. LarryOldtimer said — July 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    One thing I do find rather amazing, however. Individuals or small groups who are really guilty or culpable of doing wrong in the eyes of society will most often deny their guilt or culpability, however guilty or culpable they might be, no matter the evidence against them, to their dying breaths. Yet how easy it is to get large groups of people to, in unison, beat their breasts and pronounce loudly, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa,” for that with which none of them could have had anything to do at all.

    I have never thought of it, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can’t help but see how true this observation is. I feel sure that there is something of real, psychological significance here. Of course, we hate being wrong and will do almost anything to avoid looking wrong, regardless of the evidence — so that part’s not too puzzling. But it doesn’t explain why so many people who’ve done nothing wrong are yet so willing to take the blame.

    I wonder if there can be a kind of “survivor’s guilt” mechanism at work here. Generally speaking, these mea culpa types are fairly well off, live comfortable life styles, and enjoy a great deal of personal freedom. As communications have become more global, and more immediate, it is almost impossible to remain unaware of all those millions of people who do not have the same standard of living. In fact, we are bombarded with this knowledge on a daily basis. The response might be to feel guilt at our fortune and to try assuaging this guilt by breast-beating and insisting that everyone should “live more simply.”

    Don’t know, but you got me thinking, Larry.

  156. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm
    “…There is broad agreement that observational data shows the earth is warming, and that the principle cause is human emissions of CO2…”

    Actually, the complete opposite is true. Carbon dioxide has no effect whatsoever on climate, besides which at least 95% is produced naturally. In ancient times, when carbon dioxide levels were 10 times greater than today, there were ice sheets spreading down to the equator.

  157. “The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer? Do you disagree that much of the health legislation surrounding smoking emerged precisely because there was a broad consensus on this issue, despite disagreement and uncertainty about specific details and risks? Should climate scientists pretend that there *isn’t* a consensus about the basics of AGW? Would that make the science more sound?

    The existence of a consensus is not a sound basis for rejecting science.”

    Troll feeding time…

    Dave H, go read up on your statistical studies before you start to claim climate science today is sound. Until you understand stastistics, how can you understand how the computer models work which is entirely based on statistics? You are taking it on belief that climate scientists are correct. If they told you they proved the existance of eternal damnation, you would believe them on that too simply because it was printed in a “peer-reviewed” journal. You are just one of those following of the religion…the true believers…

    But rejoice, there is still hope!

    First step in over-coming your ill-formed beliefs is repeating after me…

    “correlation does not equal causation.”

    do that five times.

    Now to be honest, I do disagree with you, smoking does not cause cancer. Smoking increases your chances of developing cancer. In statistics, this is the first crucial step to understanding the math and science that goes into this over-abused field.

    You are right, a consensus is not a good reason to reject a scientific theory. A good reason is that the people who made the terrible computer models are immoral idiots just doing what their bosses wanted them to without thinking of the consequences. You do realize that people were convicted of war crimes for just “Following orders.” Should we put the same litmus test to the orders given to these scientists? Those who follow immoral laws should be held to the same standard as those who issued them?

    Remember, some of us here study history and remember what happened in the aftermath of WW2.

    My question for all the trolls today:

    What do you hope to accomplish with your agenda?
    1) posting on this site, whats your goals for this?
    2) your overall commitment to GW. What is your goal for this agenda?

    Troll feeding is done for the day, thank you for your time.

  158. Dave H. –

    There are two kinds of consensus: consensus about what should be done (or not done) about something, and consensus about the answer to a question (including “don’t know” and “not sure.”) Scientific consensus is of the 2nd kind. When we say that science does not work by consensus, we mean that it plays no role in finding the answer. Rather, it is an effect of having found the answer. If someone who has not investigated the question agrees with the answer, this is of no significance for whether the answer is correct. Even if, after an answer (right or wrong) has been found, he investigates the question, his agreement is unimportant, because there is no effective way to strongly distinguish him from other agreeing persons, whose agreement would be far less valuable. Indeed, there is not even any scientific way of knowing whether he has adequately investigated the question; agreement does not consist of anything that could be tested.

    On the other hand, if he disagrees, this could be important, because his complaint with the answer, or his alternative answer, can be investigated or tested, and this does not depend on any a priori distinguishing of his opinion as valuable, except in the practical sense that we can’t check all complaints or alternative answers. In principle, disagreement is valuable for reaching the right answer, and agreement is not.

    You may object to this by saying that science requires replication, and if several scientists replicate a result, this is important. That’s true, but their agreement with it is not what is important. What’s important is the fact that they replicated it. Any of them could recant, but this would not change the fact that he had replicated the result, unless his recanting consisted of showing that he had not.

  159. me: we mean that it plays no role in finding the answer.

    I meant to write, “we mean that consensus plays no role in finding the answer.”

  160. In a previous post I made a few month’s ago at WUWT, I pointed out that the percentage of the population that believes that UFO’s are extraterrestrial in origin is approximately the same as the percentage that believes that global warming is anthropogenic in nature. It has been my hypothesis that there is a large overlap in the membership of the two groups. At that time, I was completely unaware of Michael Crichton’s 2003 lecture.

    A similar type of delusional thinking is also displayed by many persons in the “conspiracy corners”, you know the types, individuals which will accept every conspiracy theory in the solar system: “911 was an inside job”, “The government is covering up contact with extraterrestrials”, and the latest “The BP oil spill was done intentionally”.

    BTW, the Drake equation has it’s detractors, myself included. A more appropriate statement of the Drake equation is as follows:

    N = R x wild guess #1 x wild guess #2 x wild guess #3 x wild guess #4 x wild guess #5 x wild guess #6

  161. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Vincent says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    > They have all been consigned to the garbage as being totally and completely wrong.

    And you replied:
    “And a *new* consensus formed around the better explanation – so why should we distrust consensus again?”

    But surely you have just proved my point, by agreeing that the old consensus was wrong. Ah wait. Are you actually saying that the old consensus was only “refined” into the new consensus, still sharing many features? If this is what you are in fact saying, then I must disagree. Many old consensus’ were not incorporated into the new consensus’ that replaced them. All those rejected consensus’ that have been previously mentioned on this blog have been rejected as 100% baloney. So Crichton and others are quite right to warn us about the dangers of embracing a hypothesis simply because there is a consensus. The hypothesis may be right, but the existence of the consensus does not add to the weight of the science in any way. Indeed, consensus itself acts as a form of positive feedback, further reinforcing believe in the hypothesis, as it circulates throughout society. Rather like the celebrity who is famous for being famous, the AGW hypothesis is pronounced true for no other reason than everyone says it is true. You yourself continue to offer consensus as your argument to the truth of AGW, so this rather proves Crichton’s point.

    I said: > Nobody, including Crichton, is making the utterly absurd statement that whenever a consensus exists then it must be false.

    You replied:
    “No, in fact what he said was:

    > If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    I think you’re agreeing with me then – he isn’t saying that every consensus must be false, only that it isn’t science. I assume you have a problem with that statement. Maybe you think consensus is science? Crichton is quite right to draw this distinction, and it is shocking that it needs saying. Science is based on a methodolgy of hypothesis, evidence gathering, testing and falsification – or not. Consensus shouldn’t come into the scientific method at all. Although we recognise that a consensus exists, it tells us very little, although, as someone pointed out on this blog, it does serve as a model for putting science into text books for children.

    Regarding Bjorn Lomberg, I am not well up on the details, so I can’t form an opinion.

  162. Brendan H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm
    As far as I can see, human beings are stuck with consensus when it comes to the practice and advancement of science.
    There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that. They don’t need to, as the evidence is indeed overwhelming, and quite obvious.
    The Warmists however, do proclaim a scientific consensus that significant manmade warming has occurred due to his emissions of C02, and that the warming will continue and become catastrophic if those emissions are not decreased. Their use of the claim of scientific consensus has one purpose only: to shut down, and shout down debate. That is the point Crichton was so eloquently making.
    So yes, consensus, as with the idea that the earth is a sphere is useful, but “In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.”
    Unfortunately for the Warmists, that is not the case.

  163. An inspiring read – as others have commented, I wish I had read this in 2003! It is a comprehensive indictment of the depths to which science has fallen. Please, can we recover the inspirational heights at which non-scientists such as I had always perceived the scientist? Thanks also for the clarification of the copyright situation – I intend to distribute this widely!!

  164. Mooloo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    (Dave H) “…but I guess if you are politically inclined to accept Crichton’s opinion, listening to easy words is comforting.”

    I’m not politically aligned to Crichton. I don’t find his words comforting.

    It is a cheap shot to assume all that disagree with you on AGW do so because of their inherent political leanings. I am solidly left-wing and not socially conservative. I’m not religious and am very pro-science. I should be a candidate for belief in AGW.
    Not just a cheap shot but a logical fallacy, and only one of many in their bag o’ tricks they use, which includes of course, the argument by consensus. The trolls know, on some level, that the science behind CAGW/CC is extremely weak which is why they need to resort to logical fallacies. They don’t have much else.

  165. This and the equally thought provoking essay about consensus in science published as an epilogue at the end of Crichton’s State of Fear novel that uses the “science” of eugenics as an example of how things can go wrong when such Lysenkoisms are used as a basis for public policy should be an obligatory read for everyone involved in the policy making process everywhere.

  166. Simply brilliant.

    As a physicist the only serious fault I must speak out about is his conclusion.

    “Science” is not failing us, it is “scientists” who have departed from using real science.

    Do Bill Clinton’s or Richard Nixon’s actions lead us to conclude that Democracy or our Constitution are wrong? Hardly. Their failings are only indicative of their individual shortcomings.

    Such it is with science.

    AGW and other technical matters MUST be subjected to the Scientific Method. That is applying real science.

    They have not been, so real science has yet to be applied.

    Our choice is simple: sound scientific solutions or palliative political pablum.

    So far (due to intensive lobbyist influence) it has been entirely the latter.

    See EnergyPresentation.Info.

  167. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    The whole pitch is distrust anything that is presented to you as a consensus in science. This is illogical, and unfounded. Do you disagree that there is a consensus that smoking causes cancer?

    The most important aspect of science is not whether there is a consensus or not, but the nature of the scientific theories, models and data. There may be a consensus that smoking causes cancer – but the important things are the numerous studies that show this to be the case – the “consensus” is neither here nor there. As a counter example, there is the case of homeopathy, widely believed to be an effective form of medicine. In this case, there are very few convincing scientific studies that support the notion – and plenty of studies that show that homeopathy is no better a treatment than a placebo.

    Switching to anthropogenic global warming. There may be a “consensus” amongst climate scientists that increasing levels of CO2 are the cause of the recent increases in global temperatures – but the reality is that the amount of hard evidence to back this up is actually paper thin and is largely based on computer modelling whose relationship to reality is highly questionable. Forget “social and political” resistance to the AGW hypothesis – there are plenty of scientific reasons to be highly skeptical of AGW.

    Crichton is right to question the idea of “consensus” being used to bolster any particular aspect of science. To me, any consensus argument causes me to think of a familar catch-phrase: “Where’s the beef?” – i.e. pony up the data and the studies that back up the scientific claims.

  168. Sg = Cn Md $Bo Sb Lc – Rc^2

    Sg, the level of “Skeptic” gullibility = Crichton novels read x Monckton debates viewed x Big oil ties x # of Skeptic blog bookmarks on your computer x number of times you’ve cited LC09 minus Realclimate exposure squared

  169. I see another cAGW priest has attacked Crichton using the usual inane arguments. David H ignores the obvious message from the speech and attempts to support his belief system by taking one or two sentences out of context and then defining it in a way that he can attack. Woefully unscientific.

    All David does is demonstrate yet again the lengths to which some people will stoop to support their belief system.

  170. Am I missing something? Dave H referred to “thorough misrepresentations and logical fallacies” as though Crichton’s talk was rife with them, but did not specify them. I searched through his later comments to see if he told us exactly what he was seeing as a problem, but did not find anything. (I think he did say they were all hashed out elsewhere, but I guess I overlooked exactly /where/ that “elsewhere” is.)

    Dave H, could you please reiterate the specific misrepresentations and logical fallacies that Crichton used?

    I’m sorry to be so fussy about this matter, but I very much enjoyed reading the talk, and felt that Crichton raised a valid distinction between genuine, reality-based science and enshrined but fantasy-based wishful thinking. If there are specific things wrong with what he said, I would like to know what they are, so that I can, after independent verification, cleanse my meager brain of beliefs masquerading as facts.

  171. April E. Coggins says:
    July 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm
    Karl Maki: No, sorry, it is not hopeless. I don’t surrender my house because some whack job moved next door.

    Apologies — I should have made it clearer I was referring specifically to the difficulty of maintaining a civil discussion on Dr. Crichton’s website itself that probably led to comment boards on State of Fear being closed there. I was responding to Pat’s post, which observed that there was no access allowed to that part of Crichton’s site and that discussion of the science behind the book was discouraged. My intention was definitely not to suggest that we shouldn’t pursue reasoned discourse wherever possible, or that such pursuit is hopeless; quite the contrary, the conversation must be pursued in a sense of hope that real science will reassert itself and triumph in the end.

  172. Dave H:

    “Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”

    Nonsense. As scientists do their work they may eventually ARRIVE at a consensus. The existance or non-existance of consensus has absolutely nothing to do with the actual reality. Crichton merely says that anyone that invokes “consensus” to prove something, is basically proving that the science isn’t so solid as to be considered fact.

    “Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease?”

    And how did a collection of scientsts agreeing on certain atoms having certain number of protons, neutrons, etc, have anything to do with them actually having them?

    Consensus may be a RESULT, and that result is a socialogical construct. The consensus isn’t science.

    “Strong words and provably untrue – see eg. my examples of evolutionary biology, germ theory etc. If the existence of a consensus invalidates science, nothing would ever be “true”.”

    And that’s not what Crichton said. You’ve either misunderstood or are deliberately misrepresenting him.

  173. A couple notes:

    I added this to my list (under development, suggestions welcome) of top WUWT pages at http://home.comcast.net/~ewerme/wuwt/ . Sometimes you make it so easy!

    ——————-

    The Drake equation presented in the text:

    Drake equation: N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL
    [where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.]

    appears to continue typos or errors going back to the original transcript. The photo later on has it right.

    http://www.seti.org/Page.aspx?pid=336 has what I’m familiar with:

    The equation is usually written:
    N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

    Where,

    N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

    R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

    fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

    ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

    fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

    fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges.

    fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

    L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

    Wikipedia has concurs and answers the “obvious” question about R* being the rate of star formation (it ties into L), see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation

  174. An oft comforting thought for myself these days is the belief that one day all of our current “skeptical/heretical” scientists will be vindicated via real-life observations of climatic chaos and the utter obvious ridiculousness of computer models.

    In a nutshell, there will eventually come a time when alarmist scientists/politicians/media et al will no longer be able to utilize AGW as the causation du jour.

    Computer model prediction will inevitably be the death of AGW.

    The arctic ice is melting.
    Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
    The arctic ice will disappear.
    Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
    The arctic ice is melting at an unprecidented rate.
    Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
    The arctic ice will disapppear in the summer.
    Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.
    We can predict how much the arctic ice will melt.
    Oops, the arctic ice grew back a bit.

  175. Dave H says: “This is precisely my point. Consensus forms only in broad terms around what works.”

    In his lecture Crichton provided several concrete examples of situations where the consensus was wrong, and severely so. Quite clearly this negates your argument. It’s specious to claim that because correct theories are generally accepted, that means science operates by consensus. Such theories (gravitation, the atomic theory of matter) are exhaustively supported by hard data and it’s not necessary to keep running the same experiments. That’s a completely different matter than claiming an idea is correct because a certain group of people agrees, despite the fact that their agreement is based on conjecture and is not well supported by the available hard data. Note that Crichton emphasizes, correctly, that the output of computer models does not constitute data.

    Your entire argument so far has been semantic rather than factual. I find that revealing.

  176. I can’t find it on the Internet, but I have a .pdf of Bjørn Lombard’s “Perspective on Climate Change” on my hard drive. In his introduction, he states his position as:

    1. Global warming is real and man-made. This point has been made in many places, but perhaps most strongly and convincingly by the IPCC (2007a).
    2. Statements about the strong, ominous and immediate consequences of global warming are often wildly exaggerated, as I will show below.
    3. We need a stronger focus on smart solutions rather than excessive if well-intentioned efforts.
    4. We need – as this hearing asks for – to put global warming in perspective. Climate change is not the only issue on the global agenda, and actually one of the issues where we can do the least good first.

  177. The best that can be said for the concept of “consensus” in science is that each and every consensus will become an artifact. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and many other scientists have pushed beyond consensus. The cases of Galileo and Newton are especially important because each created (CREATED) something that did not exist at all in the earlier consensus. For Galileo, it was the hypotheses governing the motion of projectiles near the surface of Earth, though Galileo’s concepts were crude because he lacked the math, and for Newton it was the calculus and the synthesis of Kepler’s laws and Galileo’s laws that the calculus enabled him to state precisely. Therefore, the concept of “consensus” might be important in the history of science and in the teaching of undergraduate science, but it is not important to the process and progress of scientists doing scientific work. When they go into lab they might design their experiments in ways that are approved in scientific journals, but after that initial design all that matters is the scientist’s creativity and what she discovers. Each discovery is written up in way that the relevant experiments can be reproduced by other scientists. If the results are reproducible, there is initial success. If the results are not reproducible, as in the notorious case of “cold fusion,” the work is discarded because it is of no interest to anyone. “Consensus” contributes nothing to the work of mature scientists or to the evaluation of their work. Science is the creation of hypotheses and the exploration and testing of hypotheses through experiment. In a phrase, science is creativity and criticism.

  178. Robert Kral says (about Dave H):

    Your entire argument so far has been semantic rather than factual. I find that revealing.

    Indeed, playing ducks and drakes with the word “consensus” was exactly Crichton’s point:

    “In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results…If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

    Yes, Dave H, there may well be a consensus inscience about any number of things, but Crichton makes the point that where there is such a consensus, you come across as more than a little odd pointing it out. What he is emphasising is that consensus does not equal science, and is thus irrelevant either way.

    Robert also makes the point:

    Note that Crichton emphasizes, correctly, that the output of computer models does not constitute data.

    Indeed. If anything, computer models constitute mere anecdote, not data.

  179. Michael Crichton’s discussion of the futility of attempting to forecast the future is right on. Gore and his sycophants would have us bankrupt the developed world to solve world problems that exist only in their fertile imaginations. Just as people in 1900 could not foresee an oil and internet based economy people today cannot foresee the economy of 2100 (or 2050 for that matter). Thirty years ago I graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the nation yet the state of the art computing capability of this leading edge university consisted of several IBM mainframes programmed using paper punch cards. Today, students at this same university do their programming on notebook computers that far surpass the capabilities of the multimillion dollar mainframes of thirty years ago.

    Global warming alarmists would bankrupt the West and vastly undermine the quality of life of all Americans by attempting to reduce Carbon emissions without evidence that these emissions will have an appreciable impact on global climate. Similar purveyors of pseudo-science want us to all die in unsafe micro Obamamobiles, ride Tokyo style packed like sardines into mass transit, and move out of our nice four bedroom split level ranch houses into “earth friendly” Soviet style apartments so that we can “save the world” from running out of oil; that despite the fact that the world has adequate oil, coal, and natural gas to meet our needs for the next thousand years.

    The problem with each of the above groups of alarmists is that they project current experience into the future. Global warming fanatics assume that random variation in climate statistics will continue to increase and they assume that this random variation is caused by carbon dioxide. The earth is running out of oil alarmists lack a fundamental understanding of how the amount of oil in the world is forecast. True, the earth is running out of oil that can be profitably extracted for $20 per barrel. However, there are almost infinite quantities of oil that can be extracted from deep sea oil wells, oil shale, tar sands, coal liquefaction, the Bakken formation in Wyoming/Montana, and thousands of undiscovered locations for $60 or $70 per barrel. In the past, $50 per barrel to extract oil deposits were worthless and ignored since the price of oil was less than $50. This means that when the world runs out of oil as the alarmists predict the impact will not be that we won’t have oil to heat our houses or drive our cars but that we’ll have to start paying $3 or $4 per gallon for our gas (hmm, sounds familiar).

    Of course, none of this will actually come to pass since within 30 years our oil economy will go the way of 1900’s hay based economy as commercial fusion reactors come on line and the availability of extremely inexpensive, nonpolluting, and limitless fusion power makes “expensive” oil consuming electrical power plants and cars obsolete overnight.
    In other words, it makes no difference if Gore is right or wrong about Global Warming and it doesn’t matter if we run out of oil or not. Unless some better technology comes along between now and 2040 Fusion power will transform our economy in ways we cannot currently imagine and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. Either way, the greatest threat is that the alarmist will prevail and destroy our economy in order to protect us from threats that do not exist.

  180. Regarding “consensus”…a scientific theory is never, ever fact just something that has so far not been falsified. All it takes is one counter example and the theory is kaput. Consensus as proof is nonsense especially considering the number of experiments that it takes to destroy the consensus…one.

  181. Jaye Bass says:
    July 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm
    Regarding “consensus”…a scientific theory is never, ever fact just something that has so far not been falsified.

    One of my favorite scientific concepts is commonly referred to as Hawkin’s Theory of Progress:

    Progress does not consist of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is right. It consists of replacing a theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.

  182. He was a believer and lover of science. He hated its corruption by those with political agendas. But corrupt it is. The National Academy of Sciences is rotten with political corruption. It has become the New Orthodoxy. Easily equal in vile intellectual sickness and guile with the decadent Medieval Church. It makes me want to vomit.

  183. Climategaters are totally averse to criticism. They do not criticize one another, unless for a momentary lapse from the party line. The groups that have recently issued reports on Climategate are equally averse to criticism. They criticize nothing in the behvior of Climategaters and nothing in the so-called science itself. This aversion to criticism should be recognized for the huge red flag that it is. Anyone who has worked with scientists in the lab will testify that they constantly criticize one another, but they are mature scientists who have no aversion to criticism. Climategaters are not scientists. They are advocates for statism and they have hijacked a science in its infancy, climate science, as a vehicle for their statism.

  184. latitude: “Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.”

    AGW dissenters should be free to express their views. However, not all views are of equal value, in which case it becomes a matter of opinion and judgement as to which views should be given serious attention, and which should be dismised.

  185. Bruce Cobb: “There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that.”

    That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted. In climate science there is strong resistance to the consensus, hence the need to communicate the consensus view.

    “…and that the warming will continue and become catastrophic if those emissions are not decreased.”

    There is a range of scientific views on the future effects of warming, and not all of them could be called “catastrophic”.

    “In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.”

    For the reasons I gave above, I think consensus is very relevant to the practice of science, which is not a disembodied process but is carried out by human beings in a social context. For example, the judgement of what constitutes a replication in any particular case is a judgement made by human beings.

  186. Brendan H says: July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted. In climate science there is strong resistance to the consensus, hence the need to communicate the consensus view.

    Actually, no. I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it. They argue on the evidence that has been the foundation for this consensus, such as the fact that the bottom part of a ship disappears over the horizon before the mast. “Arguing” by means of stating a supposed consensus (especially when the argument concerns whether or not there is such a consensus) is not, as Crichton was trying to point out, not an actual argument.

    Look at it this way. You’re teaching a class of grade schoolers about geography and some kid who’s read a book by flat earthers starts arguing. Does the teacher shut him up by saying, “Everybody agrees it’s round, so forget it”? If so, that’s a very, very bad teacher. What any teacher with an ounce of integrity does is provide the evidence.

    Provide the evidence — that’s the way to convince people you’re right. If there is valid consensus, it’s because there is valid and ample evidence. So provide the evidence.

    It’s really not a bloody difficult idea to grasp.

  187. Theo Goodwin says:
    July 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm
    “Climategaters are totally averse to criticism. They do not criticize one another, unless for a momentary lapse from the party line. The groups that have recently [...]”

    Yeah yeah go ahead. Your side’s been proven wrong – last 10 years, no warming – and the sea ice trend doesn’t look good for the warmist side. NOAA predicts a massive cooling. Try to find a cultist deprogramming expert before it’s too late for you to abandon your boneheaded beliefs.

  188. Roger Knights says:
    July 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm
    “@DirkH:

    By “climategaters,” Theo meant The Team.”

    Dangit. People, can’t you just call them Hockey team… my bad.

  189. PNeilson: “Dave H, could you please reiterate the specific misrepresentations and logical fallacies that Crichton used?”

    I cannot speak for others, and I make no claims about logical fallacies, but Crichton’s argument depends on at least a couple of crucial points.

    First, he links the search for alien intelligence to AGW. His argument is that the SETI project opened the way to a degradation in science, as in this claim:

    “The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams of outrage…meant that now there was a crack in the door, a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze through the cracks.”

    Phrenology had many adherents over a long period of time. Why did SETI bring about “a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure”, but not phrenology? The latter was all about measurement, and enjoyed a long vogue.

    Further, Crichton makes this comment: “…Jenner and smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressed memory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy. The list of consensus errors goes on and on.”

    But these are not “consensus” errors. If they are errors, they are scientific errors, and the consensus reflects that science.

  190. Frank Lee Mei Dere: “I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it.”

    I am not making that argument. Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.

  191. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    For the reasons I gave above, I think consensus is very relevant to the practice of science, which is not a disembodied process but is carried out by human beings in a social context. For example, the judgement of what constitutes a replication in any particular case is a judgement made by human beings.

    A very sad view indeed. And I think an example of why many in science should not be in science.

  192. I got through maybe a third of the comments, and several times I found the word “consensus” misused, especially in statements that much of science is, indeed, based on consensus. Let us be clear about what consensus means: It is a predominance of opinion, informed or not, correct or not, verifiable or not. A scientific fact is assented to, not by consensus, but by acceptance of reliable proof. To say that there is a consensus that water at sea level boils at 212 degrees F is nonsense: we accept it, not because x per cent of authorities say they think it is so, but because it has been proven, measured, shown beyond doubt. Consensus is what the administrator or department head tries to achieve among his staff or colleagues concerning some possible upcoming action. He does not talk about consensus when he says, “Your annual reports are due next Tuesday.” That’s a fact; consensus is irrelevant.

    The whole issue of consensus among scientists concerning AGW is a monstrous red herring, having nothing to do with truth, accuracy, or science. Scientific facts are not decided by majority vote, but by proof.

  193. John says:
    July 10, 2010 at 11:29 am
    [--snip for brevity--]
    Indeed. If anything, computer models constitute mere anecdote, not data.

    I would take that even further and remark that the output from whatever ‘climate’ computer program is nought but a contrived result from a set of propositions, themselves not related to anything but the entirely abstract.

    Climate programs will continue to produce garbage results, if only that they do not take into consideration the entirety of every geophysical aspect of the natural world.

    Nothing much happens in a vacuum.

  194. Brendan H, it strikes me that you are deliberately missing the point. Crichton’s examples are examples of when a “consensus”, widely shared but inadequately supported by hard evidence, turned out to be severely wrong. By extension, the argument is that the “consensus” about AGW is inadequately supported by hard evidence. I find it telling that you don’t want to face this argument. I also find it telling that the AGW proponents are so unwilling to share their data, and in many cases seem to be completely unable to produce the original, unmanipulated weather records that are supposedly the basis of their models.

    It’s really not that complicated unless you’re trying to squirt ink in the water and make your escape.

  195. Brendan H. asks:

    “Phrenology had many adherents over a long period of time. Why did SETI bring about “a loosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientific procedure”, but not phrenology? The latter was all about measurement, and enjoyed a long vogue.”

    In emphasizing SETI, I think Crichton was thinking about one of the first to achieve “Al Gore” status, namely, Carl Sagan. Sagan shared the “Al Gore” weakness of emphasizing theatre at the expense of thought.

  196. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm
    latitude: “Using consensus in the sense where it is used “the science is settled” is the one wrong reason to use consensus. Using consensus to shut out.”

    AGW dissenters should be free to express their views. However, not all views are of equal value, in which case it becomes a matter of opinion and judgement as to which views should be given serious attention, and which should be dismised (sic).

    But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?

    THINK: They dismiss us with the most effete of casualness, if only because they think we’re not deserving of any consideration, i.e., we’re dismissed.

  197. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm
    Frank Lee Mei Dere: “I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it.”

    I am not making that argument. Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.

    Not to put too fine a point on this, but from the American Heritage English Dictionary, we find this definition:
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    con·sen·sus
    n.
    1. An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole: “Among political women . . . there is a clear consensus about the problems women candidates have traditionally faced” Wendy Kaminer. See Usage Note at redundancy.
    2. General agreement or accord: government by consensus.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.

    And as we know –or should know– opinion is NOT science in any way, manner, fashion, shape, or form.

  198. Robert Kral: “…you are deliberately missing the point…unless you’re trying to squirt ink in the water and make your escape.”

    Richard, I’m happy to have a conversation, but not at this level. Raise your game and we can proceed.

  199. Theo Goodwin: “In emphasizing SETI, I think Crichton was thinking about one of the first to achieve “Al Gore” status, namely, Carl Sagan. Sagan shared the “Al Gore” weakness of emphasizing theatre at the expense of thought.”

    In his time, TH Huxley was a superstar of science. His famous put-down of Wilberforce was theatrical and scarcely scientific. Should Huxley’s celebrity status and theatricality invalidate evolution? And theatricality is not unknown in climate scepticism.

    Whether the theatricality is at the expense of thought will depend on the evidence and one’s views on the subject.

    The fact that a scientific subject attracts celebrity, or becomes a celebrity in its own right, says nothing about the validity of the science.

  200. Brendan H. writes:

    “Whether the theatricality is at the expense of thought will depend on the evidence and one’s views on the subject.”

    You are a troll. You are here to make noise. If you were serious about your questions, you would read the posts above and find all your questions answered.

  201. Brendan H, you refuse to answer any of the substantive points raised in my posts and then you pretend that I need to “raise the level” before you condescend to anwer me. You can’t even get my name right, although I use my full name and you don’t.

    Don’t bother to respond unless you have something substantial to say that doesn’t involve obfuscation about the meaning of “consensus”. We’ve already dealt with that point.

  202. 899: “But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?”

    I’m not sure who is claiming that the science is settled, or which parts of it, but in the case of scientific judgement, somebody has to decide that x is worthwhile, y is a dead-end. The people who are qualified to do that are, in my view, the scientists who have experience in the subject.

    “Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.”

    The definition also notes: “general agreement”. This is the basis for the AGW consensus, and it is based on the scientific evidence. In other words, the convergence of evidence from climate and related sciences has convinced a sufficient proportion of scientists that the atmosphere is warming.

    This totality of scientific evidence and judgement comprises what we refer to as the “consensus” around AGW.

    Some people might cavil at the fact that human judgement is brought to bear on scientific evidence. Human beings are certainly fallible, but until we can find a way to cut out the middleman, for the foreseeable future science will be carried out by human beings in their role as scientists.

  203. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
    899: “But isn’t that exactly the thinking behind Mann et al., with their ‘the science is settled mantra?”

    I’m not sure who is claiming that the science is settled, or which parts of it, but in the case of scientific judgement, somebody has to decide that x is worthwhile, y is a dead-end. The people who are qualified to do that are, in my view, the scientists who have experience in the subject.

    That’s dissemblance. You would declare that because a mere majority of whatever group happens to believe a certain way, why the rest of must be hijacked into virtual slavery as a result!

    Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
    “Ergo, we then arrive at the conclusion that ‘consensus’ is but an opinion.”

    The definition also notes: “general agreement”. This is the basis for the AGW consensus, and it is based on the scientific evidence. In other words, the convergence of evidence from climate and related sciences has convinced a sufficient proportion of scientists that the atmosphere is warming.

    This totality of scientific evidence and judgement comprises what we refer to as the “consensus” around AGW.

    THAT is the essence of rank epistemological reductionism!

    Surely you have something better than that to offer …

    Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm
    Some people might cavil at the fact that human judgement is brought to bear on scientific evidence. Human beings are certainly fallible, but until we can find a way to cut out the middleman, for the foreseeable future science will be carried out by human beings in their role as scientists.

    Ah! So you’re for the questionable ‘middlemen’ doing the science, then?

    Do you really understand the essence of the term ‘credibility?’

  204. Robert Kral: “Don’t bother to respond unless you have something substantial to say that doesn’t involve obfuscation about the meaning of “consensus”. We’ve already dealt with that point.”

    Sorry about the name. However, if you want a conversation, throwing an insult is a bad start. And now you compound the insult by accusing me of “obfuscation”. You seem to be having some difficulty grasping this conversation thing.

  205. 899: “You would declare that because a mere majority of whatever group happens to believe a certain way, why the rest of must be hijacked into virtual slavery as a result!”

    No, I wouldn’t declare that, 899.

    “THAT is the essence of rank epistemological reductionism!”

    Que?

    “Ah! So you’re for the questionable ‘middlemen’ doing the science, then?”

    I wouldn’t say “questionable”, 899. Didn’t Sir Muir Russell describe climate scientists as men (and some women) of honour and integrity? Which is just as well, given the enormous responsibility that these men (and some women) are shouldering on our behalf, and on behalf of the 6bn people who inhabit this planet.

    “Do you really understand the essence of the term ‘credibility?’”

    Que?

  206. Brendan H:

    “The fact that a scientific subject attracts celebrity, or becomes a celebrity in its own right, says nothing about the validity of the science.”

    That is not the problem. The problem is that the alarmist crowd lies about the ‘science’.

  207. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.
    Yes! Finally, we are getting somewhere.
    A claimed “consensus” is not scientific evidence. It is, as has been pointed out, nothing more than a red herring. In the case of AGW/CC, the reason the claim of consensus is made is because, in fact, the scientific evidence is extremely weak.
    The consensus claim is simply used to try to hide that, to persuade the unwary, and to shut down debate.

  208. Andres Valencia says:
    July 10, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    I found just “The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming”, at http://michaelsantomauro.blogspot.com/2009/11/michael-crichton-case-for-skepticism-on.html (Michael Crichton, National Press Club, January 25, 2005)
    ****

    Thanks for this link. There must be another story here. Your link connects back to http://www.michaelcrichton.net BUT that site has been scrub clean of any link or reference to these speeches. What’s up with that?

    The other link you provided to SSPI could also be said to be a biased website. Where is the evidence that Michael Crichton actually made these speeches? When did his website lose these speeches?

  209. Re Michael Crichton’s idea of an independent scientific Institute,

    Paul Daniel Ash says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:19 am
    keeping such a thing truly independent of government and/or the hated/imagined “big oil” influences is a tall order in today’s world.

    It would seem like the pooled funds would make influence like pushing a rope. I’d say transparency, transparency, transparency should be the mandate of this institute. . .

    The biggest problem would be to keep the Institute from adopting political agendas and causes and becoming an even more mammoth version of the IPCC. You’d have to find a way to build in safeguards against the Institute’s directors having any interests beyond the rigorous application of the scientific method. That’s a tough row to hoe, considering that they would be making decisions at every point about who gets grants and who doesn’t.

    We need a way of encouraging truly independent scientific research, uncontaminated
    by funds from governments or other entities interested in seeing the results go in a particular direction.

    /Mr Lynn

  210. Larry,

    You wrote: “There must be another story here. Your link connects back to http://www.michaelcrichton.net BUT that site has been scrub clean of any link or reference to these speeches. What’s up with that?”

    I don’t know why the “Official” website eliminated all contents showing MC was not a believer, but they did.

    You also wrote: “SSPI could also be said to be a biased website”, this could be said, but not without proof.

  211. Thanks for proving my point, Brendan. Once again you fail to respond in a substantive way and persist in being snotty. That’s the trademark of someone who knows the facts are not on his side.

    [reply] Steady now. I’ve approved this post but I’m keeping an eye open. RT-mod

  212. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

    “Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”

    Dave,

    First, so we can be on the same page, this is the dictionary definition of consensus:
    ____________________________________________
    “Main Entry: con•sen•sus
    Pronunciation: \kən-ˈsen(t)-səs\
    Function: noun
    Usage: often attributive
    Etymology: Latin, from consentire
    Date: 1843
    1 a : general agreement : UNANIMITY b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned
    2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief

    usage – The phrase consensus of opinion, which is not actually redundant (see sense 1a; the sense that takes the phrase is slightly older), has been so often claimed to be a redundancy that many writers avoid it. You are safe in using consensus alone when it is clear you mean consensus of opinion, and most writers in fact do so.”
    ___________________________________________

    Please note that consensus is about “judgment, “opinion”, “sentiment” and “belief”. Why you ask? Because, consensus does not deal with FACTS. If something is indisputably factually true (The earth goes around the Sun, not the other way around) then consensus becomes superfluous, redundant and unnecessary. Agreed?

    OK! Now to your comment:

    “Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.”

    Where did you get this notion? What do you base this statement on? You have it completely backwards. I for one had formal education in the history and philosophy of science. When you study the history of science, the first thing you have to look at is the evolution of the concept of PROOF. The Greeks were very good at this and refined the concept to mean irrefutable, factual evidence as perceived from the physical world, mathematics and geometry. Note I used the word “perceived” because as philosophers were quick to point out the the only thing you could prove is “I think, therefore I am”, and so the word needs to be in there.

    However, once this PROOF concept became accepted, science (with a great deal of hardship and persecution) became the tool of choice for dispelling myths, beliefs, opinions and sentiments. And of course, based on the definition above, you can shrink all of those words down to two: dispelling CONSENSUS. The history of science is filled with examples of this. I’ll give you one – Ptolemy and Copernicus. If you need more then, in the words of the “great” Phil Jones, go find them yourself :).

    So you see, consensus has only one use in science – TARGET PRACTICE.

  213. Brendan H says:
    July 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm
    Frank Lee Mei Dere: “I’ve never heard anyone argue that the earth is round by saying that there is a consensus concerning it.”

    I am not making that argument. Consensus in science is based on the scientific evidence.

    You’re not making that argument?! That’s exactly the argument you’re making. You just got finished making it! I’m freaking’ quoting you, for crying out loud.

    Let’s review the bidding — as simply and clearly as possible.

    Bruce Cobb said, “There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that.”

    You directly answered him by saying, “That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted.” In other words, if there were people arguing against it, then the proper way to win them over is by pointing to a “communicate the consensus view.”

    Likewise, you consider that belief in AGW is warranted because of a supposed consensus concerning it, and that the proper way to answer critics is by pointing to a supposed consensus.

    And when I (and others) point out that “consensus” is not a valid argument, you pull the AGW crap of weasel-wording out of it by saying “I never said that.”

    My hair is thinning. I really don’t want to risk losing what little I have left by pulling it out in a pointless argument with someone who can’t even stick to the argument, and who claims he never said things he just got finished saying.

    However, once more — consensus is not a scientific argument:

    (1) If the evidence for something is strong enough to have created a true consensus among scientists, then it is strong enough to present as evidence on its own. You don’t tell people you’re right because of the consensus, but because of the evidence. (That’s kind of the idea of evidence, as I try to get across to my students.)

    (2) If someone opposes AGW by presenting counter evidence (which is done at WUWT on a continuous basis), then you argue against it by showing the error of the counter evidence, not by claiming a consensus.

    (3) And also — when lists can be made of thousands of scientists who do not agree with the consensus — there is no consensus to begin with.

    Claiming consensus is not an argument: it’s a refusal to engage in argument.

    Saying that you have not said something when what you’ve said is on record is not an argument: it’s just plain dishonest.

    Although, it does seem to work on a depressingly frequent basis.

  214. Bruce Cobb: “A claimed “consensus” is not scientific evidence.”

    I agree. The consensus itself is not science, but is based on the science. I don’t think it is a red herring, though. It’s a necessary feature of science, as I pointed out above.

  215. Frank Lee Mei Dere: “Let’s review the bidding — as simply and clearly as possible.”

    Bruce Cobb said, “There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is spherical, not flat. Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that.”

    You directly answered him by saying, “That’s because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted.” In other words, if there were people arguing against it, then the proper way to win them over is by pointing to a “communicate the consensus view.”

    No. My comment directly follows: “Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that.”

    So my argument is: “Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that (ie emphasising consensus) because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted (ie there is no need to emphasise concensus).”

    My comment was about communication, not about establishing the science.

    “Likewise, you consider that belief in AGW is warranted because of a supposed consensus concerning it…”

    The consensus is a result of the science, not vice versa.

    “However, once more — consensus is not a scientific argument:”

    Agreed.

    “(1)…You don’t tell people you’re right because of the consensus, but because of the evidence.”

    As I say, it’s a way of communicating, in this case agreement about the science.

    “(2) If someone opposes AGW by presenting counter evidence (which is done at WUWT on a continuous basis), then you argue against it by showing the error of the counter evidence, not by claiming a consensus.”

    If appropriate yes, keeping in mind that climate science is complex, while time is often short.

    “(3) And also — when lists can be made of thousands of scientists who do not agree with the consensus — there is no consensus to begin with.”

    Consensus is general agreement, not unanimity.

  216. Brendan H says:
    July 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    So my argument is: “Yet, you don’t hear any scientists or others saying that (ie emphasising consensus) because the shape of the earth is long established and accepted (ie there is no need to emphasise concensus).”

    Yes — and by corollary, when something is not “long established and accepted,” you are suggesting that the appropriate response is to “emphasise consensus.” Right? You can see how the logic follows there, can’t you? Please.

    Geeze.

    My comment was about communication, not about establishing the science.

    And therein you have just stated the problem skeptics have with the warmists — skeptics raise issues with the science, while the warmists respond with issues of “communication.”

    I’ve seen this repeatedly over the years — in fact it was one of the biggest reasons I started doubting the status quo position on global warming in the first place: any time an argument was brought up against it, the warmists fell back on “consensus.” I’d be looking for some good, solid science, and they gave me “consensus.” That raises red flags. Lots and lots of red flags.

    The skeptics answered with data. Information. Analysis. In other words, “science.”

    Stop it! Stop with the “communicating” and the “message” and just answer the damned objections.

    Consensus doesn’t mean anything. Especially from a group who insists that they have a consensus for their position while at the same time publishing lists of all those who disagree with it.

  217. Brendan H does not understand even the simplest formula:

    Science consensus

    There is no logical or quantifiable relationship between the two. None.

    But when “consensus” is all you’ve got, then you only have two choices:

    Go with the consensus argument. Or quit digging.

  218. Michael Crichton’s speeches were on his website until very recently. I think I last saw them there in May. (It’s always a good policy to download anything as soon as you know you would want it. Things disappear frequently with no explanation.)

    Fortunately, thanks to a web archive website, the speeches can still be found.

    Genetic Research And Legislative Needs
    While writing Next, Michael concluded that laws covering genetic research desperately needed to be revised, and spoke to Congressional staff members about problems ahead.
    A Talk to Legislative Staffers
    Washington, D.C.
    September 14, 2006

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080513233120/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-legislativestaffers.html

    Complexity Theory and Environmental Management
    In previous speeches, Michael criticized environmental groups for failing to incorporate complexity theory. Here he explains in detail why complexity theory is essential to environmental management, using the history of Yellowstone Park as an example of what not to do.
    Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy
    Washington, D.C.
    November 6, 2005

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080608164112/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-complexity.html

    Testimony before the United States Senate
    Michael argued for independent verification of research used for public policy, and criticized the so-called “hockeystick” study, for reasons later confirmed by the Wegman Commission.
    Committee on Environment and Public Works
    Washington, D.C.
    September 28, 2005

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080513233144/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-senatetestimony.html

    The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming
    Michael’s detailed explanation of why he criticizes global warming scenarios. Using published UN data, he reviews why claims for catastrophic warming arouse doubt; why reducing CO2 is vastly more difficult than we are being told; and why we are morally unjustified to spend vast sums on this speculative issue when around the world people are dying of starvation and disease.
    National Press Club
    Washington, D.C
    January 25, 2005

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080803192456/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-ourenvironmentalfuture.html

    Science Policy in the 21st Century
    We need better mechanisms to determine science policy. Michael outlined several issues before a joint meeting of liberal and conservative think tanks.
    Joint Session AEI-Brookings Institution
    Washington, D.C.
    January 25, 2005

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080513233130/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-sciencepolicy.html

    Environmentalism as Religion
    This was not the first discussion of environmentalism as a religion, but it caught on and was widely quoted. Michael explains why religious approaches to the environment are inappropriate and cause damage to the natural world they intend to protect.
    Commonwealth Club
    San Francisco, CA
    September 15, 2003

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080501140900/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-environmentalismaseligion.html

    Aliens Cause Global Warming
    An historical approach detailing how over the last thirty years scientists have begun to intermingle scientific and political claims.
    The Michelin Lecture
    California Institute of Technology
    Pasadena, CA
    January 17, 2003

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080608164058/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html

    Why Speculate?
    In recent years, media has increasingly turned away from reporting what has happened to focus on speculation about what may happen in the future. Paying attention to modern media is thus a waste of time.
    International Leadership Forum
    La Jolla, CA
    April 26, 2002

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080627013758/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-whyspeculate.html

    Ritual Abuse, Hot Air, and Missed Opportunities: Science Views Media
    The AAAS invited Michael to address scientists’ concerns about how they are portrayed in the media.
    American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science
    Anaheim, CA
    January 25, 1999

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080513233139/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-scienceviewsmedia.html

    Mediasaurus: The Decline of Conventional Media
    A speech that was famous, fifteen years ago, for predicting the decline of mainstream media. Michael predicted it would happen faster than it did, but the thrust of the speech is clearly correct.
    National Press Club
    Washington D.C.
    April 7, 1993

    http://web.archive.org/web/20080615134607/www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-mediasaurus.html

    At the bottom of the speeches is this:

    NOTE: Speeches contained on this site are the property of Michael Crichton and may not be reproduced, copied, edited, published, transmitted or uploaded in any way without express permission. For information about reprinting this speech please email speechrequest@crichton-official.com and be sure to put “Attention: Permissions Dept. / Michael Crichton” in the subject box.

    The State of Fear section of the message board was shut down in 2006. I think they got tired of breaking up fights and dealing with trolls.

  219. Brendan H says:
    July 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm………

    Sorry, but after reading your posts I’m afraid that your diatribe (as in prolonged discourse) deals with sociology, not with science. Not surprisingly, consensus is in fact sociological. Look up consensus and sociology.

    And by the by, consensus does mean Unanimity. see my post at:

    Jose Suro says:
    July 11, 2010 at 8:50 am

    That’s the Webster definition.

  220. BTW, the lead cartoon has it backwards, making fun of the conservatives refusing to acknowledge a threat, no matter how serious.

    /Mr Lynn

  221. Dave H says:
    July 9, 2010 at 11:18 am
    Jimbo says:
    July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

    > Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus.

    Nonsense. The history of science is a story of gradual shifts toward consensus on a variety of subjects. The work of science has *everything* to do with consensus.

    > If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

    Flat out false. Is there a consensus on evolution through natural selection? Was there one on Newtonian mechanics? Is there one on relativity? The periodic table? Plate tectonics? The germ theory of disease? . . .

    Much has already been said above about the definition and the uses and abuses of ‘consensus’. Obviously there are varying degrees of agreement and disagreement in all fields of science, and failing to toe the current orthodoxy in many fields can lead to ostracism and worse (just ask graduate students today who utter an heretical opinion on AGW). But ultimately any ‘consensus’ in science is ideally subject to the pitfalls of empirical verification. The great danger is when, for political or ideological reasons, the current received consensus in a given field becomes immune from real scrutiny and falsification, which for science to operate properly must take place constantly. That’s clearly happened in climatology.

    Dave H’s examples have more to do with established paradigms (in Kuhn’s sense), which of course represent a consensus of views as well, and remain current so long as their well-established theoretical structures continue to generate new discoveries and insights. It would be premature in the extreme to conclude that contemporary ‘climate science’ represents any kind of paradigm; it is at best a collection of hypotheses and speculations, which have become fashionable because of immense institutional support for political and ideological reasons, which in turn have led to government funding out of all proportion to their epistemological significance.

    /Mr Lynn

  222. OK, Brendan H, since I’ve apparently pushed the envelope a bit, I will strive to keep things nice and sparkling clear:

    You say “The consensus is a result of the science, not vice versa.”

    The point I and others have been making, including Michael Crichton in the first instance, is that consensus is NEVER a scientific argument. Invoking consensus, no matter what you are talking about, is not a scientifically valid argument. If the “consensus” is supported by data, then you discuss the data. It’s not necessary to talk about consensus if the data are sufficient. As I have pointed out, Crichton provides many salient examples of situations wherein the “consensus” of the day was wrong. Instead of mustering an argument in which the data support your point of view, you have played semantic games with the word “consensus”. I invite you to set forth a set of data that will show that the current climatic conditions on our planet are unprecedented. That is the fundamental argument of AGW: we are experiencing something that has never happened before in the natural history of the planet. If that proposition is not true, then discussions of causation are mere quibbling. So, please state your case: the temperature conditions (trend and magnitude) over the past several decades have never before existed on this planet. Here are the data that show this. Saying that Phil Johnson and Michael Mann think so is not an argument. Show the data, show where they came from, and make your case.

  223. Frank Lee MeiDere: “Yes — and by corollary, when something is not “long established and accepted,” you are suggesting that the appropriate response is to “emphasise consensus.”

    That depends on the context. At July 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm I provided several reasons why consensus is an important part of science, and I think it is legitimate to use it in these cases.

    An additional reason would be for public policy purposes, where by necessity decision-makers need clear informatiion on which to act. Vaccination policy would be one such area. I think global warming is another.

    “…I’d be looking for some good, solid science, and they gave me “consensus.””

    I cannot verify your experience, but in my experience I have seen many climate debates on blogs where the warming proponents offer plenty in the way of arguments and evidence.

  224. Smokey: “Science ? consensus
    There is no logical or quantifiable relationship between the two.”

    One is an outcome of the other. You have the sequence correct, anyway.

  225. Jose Suro: “Sorry, but after reading your posts I’m afraid that your diatribe…consensus does mean Unanimity.”

    I don’t accept that my writing constitutes a “diatribe”, and consensus can also mean “general agreement”, which does not involve unanimity and nor does it demand agreement on every last detail. So there is still room for disagreement within a consensus.

  226. Robert Kral : “The point I and others have been making, including Michael Crichton in the first instance, is that consensus is NEVER a scientific argument.”

    A consensus is a statement about the science, in the way that a summary report is a statement about a subject. So in that sense, of course, a scientific consensus is not a specifically scientific argument, but it is a reference to, and dependent on, a body of scientific knowledge and judgements.

    Therefore, a consensus is as good or bad as the science it depends on.

    “It’s not necessary to talk about consensus if the data are sufficient.”

    Except that for most people, “the data” on climate science, and its importance and relevance, is not self-explanatory.

    “I invite you to set forth a set of data that will show that the current climatic conditions on our planet are unprecedented.”

    I’m not sure that the correct understanding is so much “unprecedented” as “anthropogenic”, but there are people who have a much better understanding of climate than I do. I could point you to some references if you wish.

    “So, please state your case…”

    My “case” on this thread is that consensus is a necessary component of science. This is not an issue of semantics, but a very important issue of information transmission in a complex society, ie, what and who do you believe, and why?

    Since human beings are finite, we do not have the time or ability to become expert in every field, whether it’s law, medicine, science, music etc. Even within these categories, no one person can master more than a fraction of the subject matter.

    Therefore, we need some means to sift the information available. One means is to identify the views of the experts in the field to gain their general understanding of that field, ie a consensus.

  227. Anthony,

    You are a breath of fresh air in the cesspit of modern “science”.

    I worked for NASA on the Mars Exploration Team and my project was to make estimates of the chance of catastrophic damage from asteriods striking the proposed manned spacecraft. With the limited data at the time, I did manage to come up with a figure (with wide error bar!). My prediction was for a greater than 5% probability.

    I presented my report to my boss. As he read it, his smile slowly turned into a deep frown. “John, I think you had better re-work the numbers, if you catch my drift”. That was code for “Congress and my bosses won’t like this, and we need to keep the funding going”. That was in 1971.

    We had the Age of Reason in the 16th/17th Century, the Age of Industrialism in the 19th Century, the Age of Electronics in the 20th Century. Are we to revert to the Dark Ages once more? With economic devastation looming, the signs are not good.

  228. John Burford says:
    July 12, 2010 at 12:48 am
    . . . I worked for NASA on the Mars Exploration Team and my project was to make estimates of the chance of catastrophic damage from asteroids striking the proposed manned spacecraft. With the limited data at the time, I did manage to come up with a figure (with wide error bar!). My prediction was for a greater than 5% probability.

    I presented my report to my boss. As he read it, his smile slowly turned into a deep frown. “John, I think you had better re-work the numbers, if you catch my drift”. That was code for “Congress and my bosses won’t like this, and we need to keep the funding going”. That was in 1971. . .

    That’s appalling, but not surprising. It was this kind of failure to heed engineering warnings in favor of a desire to please political masters that led to the Challenger disaster. It happens in every organization, unless controlled by courageous managers who aren’t afraid to get fired for speaking the truth.

    With the increase in our knowledge since 1971, I wonder what your calculation would show today. Some of us still want the USA to go to Mars, despite the risks.

    Which reminds me (sort of off-topic, but worth noting—I already added it to Tips) of a wonderful essay by Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin in Commentary for June 2010 entitled “Wrecking NASA: America’s most wondrous and daring enterprise now points in a new direction—inward.”

    Dr. Zubrin contrasts the “open-future” philosophy of the original NASA with the “closed-future” mentality championed by the Obama administration, particularly John Holdren. The “closed-future” is “based on the doctrine of limited resources. . . There isn’t enough of x to go around . . . therefore human aspirations must be suppressed.”

    Given the “closed-future” ethos of today, Mr. Burford’s boss would doubtless err on the negative side: “Better make the chances of a catastrophic encounter even greater, so we can spend our money here on Earth and not worry about going to Mars.”

    /Mr Lynn

  229. Mr. Burford reports being told “John, I think you had better re-work the numbers, if you catch my drift,” in 1971.

    Mr. Lynn suggests that that kind of thinking led to the Challenger disaster; but the US was not alone in the correction of disagreeable data. Forty or more years ago the Soviets were ahead of us in that field, and pushed through to advances that would have been impossible if politics had not ruled over science. In 1960, for example, not only did they bravely continue in their understanding that Lysenko’s methods triumphed over Mendel’s genetics, but they demonstrated the success of Soviet rocketry in the testing and launch of the R-16 ICBM at Baikonur on 24 October 1960.

    Unfortunately, the second stage of the rocket fired before the first stage. Look up the Nedelin disaster. It seems that any data suggesting the rocket was not ready for launch were swept aside during final testing. The entire event, unlike the Challenger, was hidden for nearly 30 years.

    Yes, that was just a rocket, and only 100 people were toasted, and global warming is so much more important, and so many more will be toasted.

    But as I asked before (please, Mr. H and Mr. H), where is the data? The uncorrected data? Please don’t tell me that I already have it, or that someone else has already seen it. Where is it?

  230. Brendan H says:
    July 12, 2010 at 12:44 am
    Therefore, we need some means to sift the information available. One means is to identify the views of the experts in the field to gain their general understanding of that field, ie a consensus.
    You are simply using the logical fallacy of “argument by authority”. You choose to simply believe the so-called experts, probably because it is line with your world-view. But, perhaps it is just intellectual laziness on your part. There is another way, though. It’s called using your brain.
    You should try it sometime.

  231. Bruce Cobb: “But, perhaps it is just intellectual laziness on your part.”

    Bruce, an insult is not an argument, and nor is argument by authority a logical fallacy when the authority is genuine.

  232. Brendan H says:
    July 12, 2010 at 8:42 am
    Bruce Cobb: “But, perhaps it is just intellectual laziness on your part.”

    Bruce, an insult is not an argument, and nor is argument by authority a logical fallacy when the authority is genuine.

    ————

    Oh. My. God. You really don’t understand logical fallacies, do you?

    Yes. Arguing by authority is always a freakin’ fallacy regardless of the authority.

    Holy crap!

  233. Six guys driving out into the outback for a fishing trip, all good friends. They are a motley crew of two mechanics, a marketing guy, a chemist and a CEO but they met back in school and have stayed close since.

    Their transport, an old Chevy C10 witha Blue flame petrol engine does just fine for these trips. It’s a long way on back roads and they all talk about guy stuff, including cars.

    Without warning the truck starts to cough and splutter and rolls to a stop. After a few attempts to restart out they get and open the hood. They don’t see anything obvious so the quick debate is what to look at first. The consensus is that it’s a fuel issue, all of them agree except for the chemist who opines that it’s a spark problem.

    The mechanics set to work checking out the fuel supply . After some time the mechanics say that the fuel supply is fine so they move over to the ignition system.

    Very quickly it is obvious that the points in the old distributor have closed up. It’s a simple fix that doesn’t take long and off they go.

    My point is they all had opinions but the chemist was right. Not because he knew better but that was his gut feel , just as the others had a gut feel for the fuel supply being the problem.

    The consensus had been wrong and the facts showed them that this was the case. That doesn’t mean they were wrong to start with the fuel it’s just that fixing the fuel didn’t solve the problem. The next time the truck packs up the chemist may well form the consensus but it doesn’t mean he will be right , only the facts can do that.

    We have been working on the fuel supply by consensus for the last 20 years and it still hasn’t been shown to be malfunctioning. It’s time the other points of view got some attention.

    We need some unequivocal facts about this climate business, hell we don’t even agree that we actually have a problem so any solution being offered hasn’t got a snow ball’s chance in hell of being right. The consensus said look at temperature and then blamed anthropogenic CO2 while the rest of us were asking where the temperature numbers came from and how they point to a problem.

    Consensus is opinion, educated and uneducated. Science is facts.

  234. Frank Lee MeiDere: : “Oh. My. God. You really don’t understand logical fallacies, do you?
    Yes. Arguing by authority is always a freakin’ fallacy regardless of the authority.
    Holy crap!”

    Settle down. Argument by authorirty is not always a fallacy. The argument is fallacious when the claim is made necessarily dependent on the supposed qualities of the purported authority, ie a formal claim.

    Informally, however, since some people will have greater expertise in a particular subject than the general population, it is reasonable for non-experts to accept the views of experts, keeping in mind that experts can be wrong.

  235. There are many kinds of fallacies, and argument from authority is only one of them. Paraphrased for clarity, it goes like this: “Thou shalt believe me because I have quoted the Big Authority who is never wrong in these matters. Trust me.”

    When that argument fails, another popular one is argumentum ad bacculum, the argument from the club. “Thou shalt believe, because if thou dost not, I shall clout thee.” Beating someone until he believes the sky is blue is not a valid argument even if the sky is blue. It may, however be an effective method of persuasion, as are many fallacies. Torture can easily gain false confession.

    To get others to follow your logic as you argue from Authority, it is proper to establish how the Authority connects purported facts to reality. It is part of a valid argument to say, “Read the Authority’s words, which I quote below, or to which I point you.” It is not a valid argument to say, “The Authority says I am right,” or even “Millions of Frenchmen can’t be wrong.”

  236. “The argument is fallacious when the claim is made necessarily dependent on the supposed qualities of the purported authority, ie a formal claim.

    Informally, however, since some people will have greater expertise in a particular subject than the general population, it is reasonable for non-experts to accept the views of experts, keeping in mind that experts can be wrong.

    When you say it’s reasonable for non-experts to accept the views of experts, do you mean blindly? Ought not ‘experts’ be challenged to provide scientifically sound evidence? Should we simply accept their role as expert, a spurious label at best, and, having accepted their label blindly, subscribe to their views with just as little examination of the methods by which they arrived at their conclusion?

    The most intelligent men in the world are often wrong – why, then, have you such faith in droves of experts regurgitating the results of purely speculative and arbitrary climate models?

    A x B = C. C = 5.

    It seems that ONLY an ‘expert’ can tell us what B is, because only an ‘expert’ is willing to ignore the fact that he cannot possibly know what B is in the name of providing an answer. So the expert tells us that the consensus is that B is 3 and then proceeds to ‘prove’ what A is.

    And even if the AGW people are right – I’m not precluding that possibility at all – they have yet to demonstrate it, and so anything they do in the name of AGW is inherently unethical. If you kill a man for pleasure and it turns out the man was a notorious rapist, you are not suddenly a hero – the fact that you’ve racked up a net win for the world is irrelevant. IT MATTERS “WHY”.

    So even if the scare tactic DARE program reduced addiction, it cannot claim to be ethical because it accomplished its goal by dishonest means.

    Even if the AGW crowd ends up saving the world there is no virtue in it because in not possibly being able to know what the truth in the matter is, the only other motivation one can turn to in order to explain their actions are those of self interest. They’re killing the rapist to take his wallet.

  237. Mr Lynn says:
    July 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm
    BTW, the lead cartoon has it backwards, making fun of the conservatives refusing to acknowledge a threat, no matter how serious.

    /Mr Lynn

    So according to yourself, then, all SCIENCE is nought but a political football?

    Since when, I’d like to know, did science suddenly become an extension of the political?

    And while I’m on the subject, you appear to be declaring that science = politics = religion.

    Nothing rigorous needed there, right? Just belief?

    And you do understand here –do you not– that a mere majority is all that’s needed in order for suppression of the truth, no matter how onerous?

    “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
    ~ Thomas Jefferson ~

    899

  238. Brendan H says:
    July 11, 2010 at 11:32 pm
    Jose Suro: “Sorry, but after reading your posts I’m afraid that your diatribe…consensus does mean Unanimity.”

    I don’t accept that my writing constitutes a “diatribe”, and consensus can also mean “general agreement”, which does not involve unanimity and nor does it demand agreement on every last detail. So there is still room for disagreement within a consensus.

    You seem to be intentionally avoiding the matter of distinction.

    By dictionary definition, ‘consensus’ is a group opinion. It is NOT science. There is no such thing as ‘group science,’ unless you desire to proclaim something new under the Sun.

    And opinion, by definition is NOT scientific.

    If a group of scientists got together and said “We agree with the fact that the Earth is a globe,” they could well be said to have remarked that the science which was used to determine the fact had been rigorously tested and found to be accurate.

    THAT is NOT a ‘consensus.’ Rather, it’s an agreement that the theory has been tested and found to be both repeatable and accurate in every instance.

    That particular agreement isn’t isn’t consensus, because it is based upon criteria both testable and repeatable, and being such, opinion is no longer as aspect which is used to define the essence of the matter.

    Ultimately it devolves to just this: Is it a ‘1,’ or is it a ‘0’?

    If it is neither, then there is no solid scientific fact. What you’re left with –at that point– is opinion.

    So then, they aren’t making a ‘consensus,’ if only that the facts have been well tested and found to be accurate and true, or not.

    Factual truth isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s reality. Facts + truth = reality. Take away any one of them and you end up with a fantasy and a ‘consensus.’

    What we are left with here is just this: The propagandist faction of the climate science school of thought have it in mind to dispense with critical analysis, and inject opinion into the matter, pretending to declare that certain things are true.

    Well, if it were true that CO2 causes warming, then WHERE are the tested facts and repeatable truth?

    Got none? Then you’ll have to resort to ‘consensus.’

  239. Brendan H, you have been talking in circles for a number of days now. I am a trained scientist and have made my living as a researcher, or in applied aspects of research-oriented fields, for more than 25 years. I’m not speculating or playing games when I say that an argument of consensus is meaningless. Either you have the data or you don’t. First, produce the data. Don’t tell me that I might not understand it, or that I need certain experts selected by you to tell me what it means. Show me the data. It’s fine to provide your interpretation along with it, but if you can’t or won’t show the data then you have no argument. That’s how science works. Your complete failure to engage on the basis of a factual argument, instead persisting in an awkward attempt to tell us that “consensus” actually has meaning in the absence of supporting data, just tells us all that you can’t muster a fact-based argument and must play with semantics instead. Sorry, but that’s not good enough. Bye now.

  240. Brendan, researchers on staff at the International Arctic Research Center have not come to a consensus. If you look through the authors, you will find varied opinions alongside their published research. For example Polyakov does not adhere to the consensus that Arctic ice reduction is driven by CO2. He states he does not yet know the degree to which greenhouse gasses have contributed to this decrease. He does speak of natural causes as clear and strong drivers of this decrease based on observations and modeling.

  241. Brendan H says:
    July 11, 2010 at 11:31 pm
    [--snip--] I cannot verify your experience, but in my experience I have seen many climate debates on blogs where the warming proponents offer plenty in the way of arguments and evidence.

    To hell with the arguments! WHERE is THE evidence?

    If all you’ve got is ‘opinion’ and ‘consensus,’ then you’ve got not a thing.

    So, once again: WHERE is the evidence that CO2 causes CAGW/CC?

    Why are NOT the polar regions melting as a result of the CO2 trapped in the ice?

    Why are the waters NOT roiling and hissing fiendishly because of all that CO2 which has been absorbed by them??

    Why is NOT that atmosphere –verily filled with that gas– turning the lot of us into baked hams??

  242. John Burford says:
    July 12, 2010 at 12:48 am
    Anthony,

    You are a breath of fresh air in the cesspit of modern “science”.

    I worked for NASA on the Mars Exploration Team and my project was to make estimates of the chance of catastrophic damage from asteriods striking the proposed manned spacecraft. With the limited data at the time, I did manage to come up with a figure (with wide error bar!). My prediction was for a greater than 5% probability.

    I presented my report to my boss. As he read it, his smile slowly turned into a deep frown. “John, I think you had better re-work the numbers, if you catch my drift”. That was code for “Congress and my bosses won’t like this, and we need to keep the funding going”. That was in 1971.[--snip rest--]

    I’m surprised!

    My goodness, do you realize the chances of having a fatal accident on the highway, each and every day one travels?

    The statistical odds of just anything happening in the modern world are far greater than a mere 5%, and likely you know just that!

    But I understand the thrust of your remarks: Tell them what they want to hear.

    When I served in the USN, one Chief Petty Officer I worked for, flat told me this: “If I ever catch you telling me what it is I want to hear –at the expense of telling the truth– why I’ll have you busted down to an E1, and drummed out of the Navy!!!”

    That’s what was known as being read the ‘riot act.’ ;-)

  243. 899 says:
    July 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm
    (quoting me, July 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm: “BTW, the lead cartoon has it backwards, making fun of the conservatives refusing to acknowledge a threat, no matter how serious.”)

    So according to yourself, then, all SCIENCE is nought but a political football?

    Since when, I’d like to know, did science suddenly become an extension of the political?

    And while I’m on the subject, you appear to be declaring that science = politics = religion.

    Nothing rigorous needed there, right? Just belief? . . .

    I can’t imagine how 899 came to such conclusions from my entirely trivial complaint about the cartoon at the top of this thread. Perhaps he was responding to my subsequent (and I hope more substantive) comment at July 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm.

    But even then, I am puzzled. I was discussing Dave H’s use of well-established scientific paradigms to illustrate ‘consensus’ among scientists, which they certainly do. But that does not mean they are the same as the underlying reality that science attempts to describe and understand.

    Scientific theories, hypotheses, speculations and whatnot are all subject to greater or lesser degrees of agreement within particular communities (academic departments, professional societies, etc.—even the blogosphere). They can become the objects of fervent advocacy, even emotional attachment akin to religious faith. This has nothing to do with their ultimate truth.

    On the contrary, to the extent that statements about the world, however couched, become handmaidens of political or ideological commitment, and their advocates become resistant to the need to replicate, test, and falsify—to that extent, the ethos and aims of science are diminished and vitiated.

    That is clearly what has happened to ‘climate science’. The extreme advocates of the hypothesis that mankind’s production of carbon dioxide is heating up the Earth have become so enamored of the idea, for entirely extra-scientific reasons, that they have effectively abandoned the aims and discipline of the scientific enterprise. It has become an idée fixe, so that any attempt at falsification is met with either obfuscation or unbridled opposition and the appeal to authority (‘consensus’).

    This has happened many times in the history of science, and indeed of all human knowledge. But it does not mean that “science = politics = religion.” It does mean that even science, ever since Sir Francis Bacon, is not immune to the blandishments of ego, ambition, avarice, and ideology. The scientist (and indeed, any rational human being) must always be careful to distinguish the quest for knowledge, wherever it might lead, from the smug conclusion that he and his colleagues have The Answer.

    /Mr Lynn

  244. nutbastard: “When you say it’s reasonable for non-experts to accept the views of experts, do you mean blindly?”

    No. That’s why I appended the comment: “…keeping in mind that experts can be wrong”. Experts should certainly be challenged to provide scientifically sound evidence.

    “If you kill a man for pleasure and it turns out the man was a notorious rapist, you are not suddenly a hero…”

    That’s a moral, not a factual claim. The factual reality would be that the rapist is dead.

    “…because in not possibly being able to know what the truth in the matter is…”

    As a general comment (and I accept you may not mean it as a general comment), I find this flawed. We may not be able to find The Truth scientifically, but we can discover useful information.

  245. 899: “THAT is NOT a ‘consensus.’ Rather, it’s an agreement that the theory has been tested and found to be both repeatable and accurate in every instance.”

    I’m happy to go with general agreement if you find the term consensus off-putting.

    “To hell with the arguments! WHERE is THE evidence?”

    I think you’re being a bit cavalier in dismissing argument in that way. Much of our knowledge is communicated via argument, and a well-formed argument can provide people with information and intepretations they might not otherwise have considered.

    As for evidence, I can point you to the blogs I referred to, or to reports which reference scientific papers.

    “Why is NOT that atmosphere –verily filled with that gas– turning the lot of us into baked hams??”

    Or baked Alaskans.

  246. Robert Kral: “Your complete failure to engage on the basis of a factual argument, instead persisting in an awkward attempt to tell us that “consensus” actually has meaning…”

    Consensus does have meaning. It means “general agreement”. The reason I have been focusing on consensus is because that’s a central topic of Crichton’s essay and it’s a topic I find interesting. I appreciate that you want to talk about something else, but I’m not obliged to follow your attempt to change the subject.

    Pamela Gray: “…researchers on staff at the International Arctic Research Center have not come to a consensus.”

    I don’t know anything about this research centre, Pamela, so I can’t comment, but keep in mind that consensus means general agreement, not unanimity.

  247. There seems to be continuing confusion on the meaning of a scientific consensus. “Consensus” can mean several different things.

    Ten million people can agree – that is, reach a consensus – that the world is flat. This matters not a bit to the earth, which will remain stubbornly non-flat. This consensus, although about a scientific fact, is scientifically worthless. This seems to be the type of consensus Crighton was talking about.

    On the other hand, ten million people can perform their own measurements of some physical variable; say, sea levels. (The equipment is not complex, all that’s needed is access to one of the world’s oceans, an immovable reference point, and some time. I’ve made these measurements, and so can most anyone else.) These ten million observers can reach a consensus that the average sea level has not changed by any notable degree in the recent past. Unlike the first type, this consensus is of scientific value. The observers didn’t arrive at their conclusions because they believed that the others had reached the same conclusions, and assuming that there must be something to it by sheer weight of numbers. They arrived at them by independent measurement of the same variables.

    One of these consensuses is good science, the other is of no scientific value at all.

  248. Dave H, Brenden, and Geo have it right, actually.

    See Michael Crichton pontificate.

    The late novelist was a writer (albeit simpleton “See-Spot-Run” constructions, and stick-figure characterizations in much of his work are also noted) and a speech-meister of notions stacked together like prefabricated henhouses.

    The whole speech looks like a car wreck, gory and twisted and tendentious, with the horrific t-bone crash hitting John Q. Public occurring somewhere between the pretentious garbage from Cato and Heartland Institutes and yet more oil money gushing in for the Herr Docktor Docktor Lindzin.

    It’s all “Free enterprise” tripe and the alter of Ayn Rand, for which I assume by now most participants here know we should just as soon take all remaining copies of Atlas Shrugged and see that for what they’re worth chunk them into the BP gusher to plug the hole “free enterprise” has bequeathed the world. Never let it be said quaint notions have no value whatsoever. Nor quaint people like the good writer.

    A total fisking of Crichton would take 50 pages, but here’s the basics, gang:

    First and worst, it is far from clear that most writers know much about climatology. That should do the trick, but the fun here demands more for the really good shiggles.

    Next, there is this whole bruha about “consensus.” Well, paraphrasing Operation Bravo Job refugees like Bill Clinton, that really depends on just what the definition of “consensus” is. No doubt you’ll find “consensus” is different and somewhat less trustworthy for the opines of writers, hairstylists, and nannies on a host of science topics than the input from real scientists doing real work with real data. No one seems to take note that he had other hobbies besides writing–and yet no one asks him about these. They should. His input on roses and cooking would be more meaningful than his take on climatology.

    Philosopher David Stowe puts to bed the Columbus Myth (and that story is not what you think, as the fool RAN into the Americas, he didn’t “find” it via advanced cartography) and the torment of Galileo. Galileo and Copernicus were indeed assaulted for their beliefs in their day–but not by “consensus” minds from science but rather an unholy coalition of Church “consensus” teaching, mysticism about dragons on the edges of the known world, and authorities who felt new cosmological notions would upset the established order of morals, etc.
    The same argument employed against Darwin to this very day.

    Also, even if these common tales of woe for those daring individuals at the vile hands of “consensus” were true in the absolutist sense usually told, Stowe reminds us that more often things are the other way around. Consensus is a natural human assemblage in the mind’s eye, and if from reputable authority, is (unfortunately for the tall tales about persecution and Crichton) more often right than wrong. Thus for example “they” told the fool Columbus that it was not possible to navigate his way to India in search of spices and that he was on a fool’s errand. They were right. It was not done. The slamming into Central America is what saved the fool’s life and those of his sailors–Not his mastery of the seven seas. Sometimes luck trumps brains. This is not, however, good reasoning for going against the wisdom of your betters.

    Galileo and Copernicus turned out to be correct, yes, but their opponents were primarily mystics steeped in church doctrine from the Dark Ages–not studious men who had some alternative point of view.

    Even so, the exception demonstrates the general rule, no? Many people who “went against the grain” (Karl Marx) might have had an ignition of popularity coming as his notions did on the edge of a new age of scientific discovery and latching onto those hemlines, yes, But it fell later. The balonious notions always fall. Likewise Milton Friedman and the Libertarians of economic theory and the laughable Laffer Curve adherents are hardly taken seriously by anyone. Why? Because, while these are not considered the hard sciences and are more about philosophy, nonetheless, the consensus of history applies here also. Marxism leads to hunger, terror, and death. Radicalized capitalism that ignores economic bust cycles, manipulations of media and politicians (see Gulf Oil Splooge) and the plight of the downtrodden, for its part, leads to abject misery if left unchecked. This is not to say the Keynesians have a complete handle on morals and facts, or that the sky’s the limit on government spending, no. But it does mean we now know that government intervention in the economy is a vital part of balancing the private and public interests.

    Radicals like Crichton, like his presumed SuperGreen “back to nature” type enemies, both end up with feet planted firmly in the air. Consensus is there for a reason. It is engineered as a defense mechanism in society to protect people from nutcases. Sometimes it fails us. But as David Stowe notes, there are far more nutcases like Marx than heroes like Copernicus. Consensus is an evolutionary outgrowth of human experience. Like lizards who lift their feet to keep from getting burned in the desert, it is not 100% effective. But it has it’s moments. The “consensus” not being science puppet show Mr. State of Confusion puts on is, at the very least, very incomplete. Context is key. There is much confidence in the consensus of true climatologists than mere pundits, late night talk radio hosts talking about how cold Wasilla Alaska is in January (thanks, we knew that!) or Rush Limbaugh mocking Al Gore.

    Next, we have Crichton’s handy-dandy and rather interesting history lesson about what was not around a century ago or so–the only bright spot in the whole speech. Not bright for it’s meaning for the speech. It has none. But it IS a very useful distraction. Clever. To his credit, would that more kiddies learn how industry and science and government find ever new ways to bequeath to us these sumptuous benefits and fripperies that didn’t exist in the year 1900. Yes, a mere 110 years ago. Yes, the world changes: Thanks for the hot tip. But along those lines the science of everything gets better in leaps and bounds also. For example, the computer modeling he slams as shoddy.

    His example fails in any event to make the point that has some others here jumping and hopping: Crichton is trying to say that because the world changes utterly beneath our very feet and within the space of a mere generation in some cases, we cannot extrapolate certain products, processes, movements, demographics, etc, and then he tries to apply this to raw data about the world.

    More fool him. Non-sequiter. The very fact that much has changed also applies to computing science. The gold ring I’m wearing would’ve looked the same in the year 20 million BC and will remain the same in the year 20 million AD. Yes, a goldsmith could change the shape, but the point is we know the properties of “AU” and the relativistic reasons the election cloud of this heavy metal makes it reflect an appealing yellow light rather than the standard silverish of most other metals. This does not change. The fact that we can now unlock the secrets of why people used to kill each other over precious metals-THAT is the part that changed. Today, computer modeling is more accurate than at any time. If it was truly in doubt, then we’d have no confidence in…oh..to pluck from the ether….tax assessments for entire cities, mass property appraisals geared to analyze for the same, weather forecasts for entire weeks that are usually spot on, engineering projects of all types and sizes, predictions of demographic shifts for entire states, and even analysis of the effects of new drugs on animal and human biology even without testing living subjects.

    Guess what? I will go out on a proverbial limb here and declare here and now that this ring must surely confound the ghost of Crichton–it will indeed be yellowish in the morning (!!!), and 50 years in the future. Protons decay, yes, but for the most part the structure of the earth and Cosmos is about the same at the atomic level as today. Ditto for weather cycles on our planet and the interaction of carbon and water. Yes, I know the climate changes, but the the reasons behind this change are about the same. Water retains heat and is the main thermoregular, and so does carbon dioxide, except that carbon dioxide is now understood to be a forcing agent.

    We may err sometimes–and surely did—back in the days of ENIAC when the punchcards could not extrapolate the future of warming due to increased CO2. Today, we have this nailed. It is not in doubt. We cannot say for certain the level of sea rise and environmental impact, but to now say that the computers are being unduly manipulated, or that the processes can’t keep up with the data, is getting to be a thin argument at this point. Once we know all the feedback and forcing mechanisms, the rest is just making sure the modeling is complex enough to take account of all the known variables. From what we have so far, and barring some whopper like a rash of volcanoes and a large meteor impact or industrial civilization getting blasted back to the days of Laura Ingalls, we can say that the world is warming. It’s settled.

    Crichton goes on about plate tectonics, for example, but the back-story on that old debate is not as he said. The area of disagreement from the consensus days against Wegener’s theory was over the movement of rocks. The consensus was correct, actually. The continents indeed cannot plow through rock. Indeed, they pointed out that the plates–the base–had to move as well. And so they do.

    His next trick is the Drake equation, which oddly has nothing to do with what he’s talking about, because climate science has far more knowns to fill in the variable spaces than guestimations about the conditions for alien life to evolve. Ditto for his odd dissertation on Nuclear Winter. He merely demonstrated without noticing that science is self-correcting when it truly hits snags or new information is available. So while he cries foul at political or philosophical forces having some ungodly influence over science, the fact is laid bare that the nuke winter advocates DID make adjustments. Crichton also claimed–just as damningly–that “none of the variables can be determined. None at all.” Laughably false. Payloads, dust, water vapor, numbers of missiles strikes, MIRV technology–all of these were known.

    Crichton, like other advocates for Wild West Capitalism ruling the roost, has this Glenn Beck-hittin’-the-chalkboards fantasy/conspiracy-mongering notion that climate scientists are bought and paid government hacks all working to some ulterior motive to usher in a new Dark Ages of Carbon Oppression, perhaps via Obama and SEIU and ACORN or being the sockpuppets of nefarious nabobs like Soros? Who the hell knows. But the point should be noted that in reality, climate science is the LEAST of any politicized sciences we could have. Indeed, it is far below the radar of most people, even IF sometimes you have boneheaded politicians quote Real Climate or Al Gore making big bucks. So what. Pols are opportunists, not scientists.

    People have much mirth with the likes of Sagan, Drake, questionable chaps like Paul Ehrlich. But so what? They are not climate scientists either. And perhaps unbeknown to many, while they might have gotten some fawning press in their day, they were NOT universally admired for their work, and the consensus then as now slammed them for their loony ideas on some things. Just because you can dredge the mud pits of any philosophy hard enough and find people who’re contradictory or pretend to be staid and true researchers but turn out to be nutty, does not indict an entire branch of science. There are nuts who’ve promoted “survival of the fittest” notions and tried to apply it to sociology, or socio-biology and have us all placed in Skinner Boxes. These people being dangerous or crazy as hell for what they’ve latched onto in order to justify abuses of people is not the same thing as saying “Behold, therefore Darwin is wrong.”

    Far from the case.

    Elsewhere, we have Crichton’s odd ignorance on smoking. I’m not a nanny-stater, but it seems to me that based on dozens of studies in this regard, second-hand smoke is just as nasty for human health as firing up one yourself. We know the lower thresholds, in that even light smokers are smokers nonetheless (100 standard cigarettes a YEAR is about the low end of truly being in danger of lung cancer or emphysema and heart problems–that’s less than a third of a cig a day, gang) so if you’re in an average-sized bar and merely are breathing in the air of those smokers around you, or you smoke around your kids in most any tight-windowed house under 10,000 square feet (most of them, I take it) you or your kids and spouse will be second-hand smokers, and moreover, the equivalent of smokers themselves. It’s been estimated that the children of parents who merely smoke one pack of cigs a day in the confines of indoors are uptaking the equivalent of 2-5 cigarettes themselves, the main difference being the sidestream is more dangerous in fact than the exhaled smoke due to burning at a lower temperature and not oxidizing all the carcinogens, etc. and 2-5 cigs–however indirect–is within the research threshold of calling you a true “smoker” (100 cigs or more a year) rather than an “occasional” one (less than 100 cigs in an entire year).

    Sorry Michael, but certainly kids should not smoke–and so-called “second-hand smoke” IS smoking by default. It’s therefore as dangerous to human health as smoking outright.

    Lastly, Crichton’s recommendations of just “waiting” on technology to come in like the knight in shining armor to rescue us (He does not say it, but I’m assuming his analogy must be something along the lines of dissing Paul Erlich’s absurdist gloom via Norman Borlog’s Supe Rrice Revolution or some such “miracle of human inventiveness” type moment?) is really bizarre.

    Perfectly asinine, in light of what we know. Ordinarily, I would give some leeway on the issue, as we often do see the appearance of “miracles” here and there, rescuing humanity from things like starvation, deprivation, illness, and much else. True in part, but at some point we’re going to have to realize that certain lifestyles and habits are dangerous to the planet and ourselves, and that trying to send wheat to Biafra or keep up with the Joneses, or have carbon -belching unabated in order to give juice to the grid so that people can soak in 60 degree temp sets on the thermostat, or drain large lakes dry for hydration of suburbia’s unnaturally thirty, non-native lawn covers, MUST come to an end. It’s a fools errand. And, as with the “Miracle Rice” that supposedly saved millions of lives, it needs to be understood that just as with the encouragement of living beyond our means due these technological miracles, and seeing now that just as Norman Borlog himself warned about not getting jaded or too comforted in the population explosions due the minor uptick in food, we need to reduce–not make excuses or hope that technology can save us. Because–mostly–what needs rescuing is US–from our own stupidity.

  249. Brendan, you said, “As for evidence, I can point you to the blogs I referred to, or to reports which reference scientific papers. ”

    Thank you. Now I guess you had previously posted these pointers somewhere, but I’ve apparently overlooked them. Would you be so kind as to provide them again?

    Just to be clear here, what I’m ultimately looking for, and have not seen, is the full tables of numbers that are actual recorded data of weather observations, the actual algorithms by which those data are to be corrected to reduce systematic error, and the full chain of logical reasoning that yields the conclusions that climate scientists accept as consensus. I think that I’ve seen bits and pieces.

    The algorithms I’m hoping to see should include not only what was done to the data, but why. Just to take one example, in some calculations, outliers are rejected, resulting in a more precise value for the mean. I would expect that for every single outlier there should be a stated reason for its removal, and I would be very suspicious if “improving the precision” was the only reason. Sometimes the outliers contain valuable information, including hints at unsuspected inputs. Improvement of precision can greatly reduce accuracy and can even discard knowledge.

    Here’s what William Thompson, Lord Kelvin, had to say about mathematical work in science:

    “Accurate and minute measurement seems to the non-scientific imagination a less lofty and dignified work than looking for something new. But nearly all the grandest discoveries of science have been but the rewards of accurate measurement, and patient, long-continued labour in the minute sifting of numerical results. The popular idea of Newton’s grandest discovery is that the theory of gravitation flashed into his mind, and so the discovery was made. It was by a long train of mathematical calculation, founded on results accumulated through prodigious toil of practical astronomers, that Newton first demonstrated the forces urging the planets towards the Sun, determined the magnitude of those forces, and discovered that a force following the same law of variation with distance urges the Moon towards the Earth. Then first, we may suppose, came to him the idea of the universality of gravitation ; but when he attempted to compare the magnitude of the force of the Moon, with the magnitude of the force of gravitation of a heavy body of equal mass at the Earth’s surface, he did not find the agreement which the law he was discovering required. Not for years after would he publish his discovery as made. It is recounted that, being present at a meeting of the Royal Society, he heard a paper read, describing geodesic measurement by Picard, which led to a serious correction of the previously accepted estimate of the Earth’s radius. This was what Newton required. He went home with the result, and commenced his calculations, but felt so much agitated that he handed over the arithmetical work to a friend : then (and not when, sitting in a garden, he saw an apple fall) did he ascertain that gravitation keeps the Moon in her orbit.” —British Association Keports, vol. Ill pp. xci. xcii. Introductory address by Sir W. Thomson. (Quoted in The Dublin University magazine: a literary and political journal, Volume 89, 1877.)

    Twenty years after Thompson made those remarks John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, announced the discovery of argon. He had been bothered by the discrepancy between measurements of atmospheric nitrogen and those of nitrogen derived from chemical decomposition. My college professor of physics, Reginald J. Stephenson, said that Rayleigh was better able to understand his data because of his careful attention to recording minutiae in his laboratory notebook, including whether or not the door to the room was open or closed.

  250. “The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science.”

    I know little about SETI, so I have no opinion on whether it is worthy of criticism for one reason or another.

    What I find difficult to understand, however, is how SETI can be dismissed as non-science when there seems to be a falsifiable hypothesis at its heart, namely that no signals from alien beings are reaching us. Would anyone care to explain why this is not science?

Comments are closed.