Yesterday, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) published a letter yesterday to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, admonishing him for having the temerity to doubt that carbon dioxide is the “primary driver” of global warming.
Here is the text of the letter.
Here are a few of my thoughts.
The AMS, in their letter, say skepticism is welcome:
In the interview you also mentioned that it should be quite acceptable to be a skeptic about aspects of the science. We agree, and would add that skepticism and debate are always welcome and are critically important to the advancement of science.
Yet, the very letter they sent contradicts this, suggesting that there is no debate nor room for skepticism about carbon dioxide being the primary driver of temperature change.
The fundamental problem of our knowledge boils down to the sample size. We only have about 100 or so years of temperature records that are worth anything and even the most recent records on all that good because they’re terribly polluted by the infrastructure of human existence itself. And further our understanding of atmospheric and oceanic cycles is even more limited in time than the case of global temperature data.
If you were to line up our period of first-hand scientific knowledge of Earth’s processes, against the period of humanity’s intelligence, it would just be a small speck on the timeline. To assume we have certainty in knowledge about Earth’s processes, when new processes are still be discovered, is pure folly.
Even today, we are discovering more about our atmosphere than we knew 30 years ago in June 1988 when Dr. James Hansen first declared it a problem, and there are studies that show that recent record breaking warmth, such as a paper just published in Nature, Yao et al. Distinct global warming rates tied to multiple ocean surface temperature changes. covered here on WUWT.
For the AMS to admonish Perry that there’s no room for debate on Carbon Dioxide as being the primary driver, is essentially to deny the process of science itself. Science is often right, and also often wrong, but just as often, it is self-correcting. If global warming hadn’t become such an entangled and messy social and political issue, it’s likely that science would have done some levels of self-correction on the issue already.
For example, it was once believed that the Earth’s plates did not move, until plate tectonics came along. Alfred Wegener proposed continental drift in 1912, but it took until the 1960’s for it to become generally accepted, when a drastic expansion of geophysical research, driven by the cold war, produced evidence that reopened and eventually settled the debate.¹ Science self-corrected, but it took decades because scientists are often reluctant to embrace change which threatens the validiity of their own work. It was also generally believed that stress caused stomach ulcers, until a clinician, exasperated by lack of attention to his pointing out that the real cause was the bacterium Heliobacter Pylorii infecting the stomach lining², had to prove it against the consensus, and drank a bacterial cocktail and developed an ulcer himself. He won the Nobel prize for defying that consensus³.
Science that fails to account for the possibility of being wrong is of no virtue.
The AMS should lead in science by setting an example, by showing that even in the face of overwhelming consensus on an issue, there must be room for doubt, and thus room for self-correcting science. It only takes one finding in science to refute consensus, no matter whether it’s 97%, 99%, or 100%. Science is not infallible.
Note: about ten minutes after publication the article was updated to correct a spelling error, add an omitted phrase, and add references.