WARMING, OR HOT AIR?
Posted at 10:09 a.m. ET
Frank Tipler, the distinguished mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is an Urgent Agenda reader. We recently asked him for his view of the global-warming controversy, and he was kind enough to send us this thoughtful reply. We reprint it in full. Recommended reading:
As regards global warming, my view is essentially the same as yours: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a scam, with no basis in science.
A few comments on my own particular view of global warming:
(1) I am particularly annoyed by the claims that the "the debate is over," because this was exactly the claim originally made against the Copernican theory of the Solar System. Copernicus' opponents said the idea that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun was advanced by Aristrachus in 300 B.C. (true), and had been definitely refuted by 100 A.D. The debate is over! Sorry, it wasn't: the Earth IS the third planet.
(2) It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand --- whatever happens --- the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology.
(3) In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science.
(4) I emphasized in point (2) that the average person has to be able to check the observations. I emphasize this because I no longer trust "scientists" to report observations correctly. I think the data is adjusted to confirm, as far as possible, AGW. We've seen many recent cases where the data was cooked in climate studies. In one case, Hanson and company claimed that October 2008 was the warmest October on record. Watts looked at the data, and discovered that Hanson and company had used September's temperatures for Russia rather than October's. I'm not surprised to learn that September is hotter than October in the Northern hemisphere.
It snowed here in New Orleans last week and it was the second heaviest snowfall I've seen in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans. According to the local newspaper, it was the earliest snow had fallen in New Orleans since records were kept, beginning in 1850. I myself have looked at the relative predictive power of Copernicus's theory and the then rival Ptolemaic theory. Copernicus was on the average twice as accurate, and the average person of the time could tell. Similarly, anybody today can check the number of sunspots. Or rather the lack of them. When I first starting teaching astronomy at Tulane in the early 1980's, I would show sunspots to my students by pointing a small $25 reflecting telescope at the Sun, and focusing the Sun's image on the wall of the classroom. Sunspots were obviously in the image on the wall. I can't do this experiment today, because there are no sunspots.
(5) Another shocking thing about the AGW theory is that it is generating a loss of true scientific knowledge. The great astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, observed in the early 1800's that warm weather was correlated with sunspot number. Herschel noticed that warmer weather meant better crops, and thus fewer sunspots meant higher grain prices. The AGW people are trying to do a disappearing act on these observations. Some are trying to deny the existence of the Maunder Minimum.
(6) AGW supporters are also bringing back the Inquisition, where the power of the state is used to silence one's scientific opponents. The case of Bjorn Lomborg is illustrative. Lomborg is a tenured professor of mathematics in Denmark. Shortly after his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," was published by Cambridge University Press, Lomborg was charged and convicted (later reversed) of scientific fraud for being critical of the "consensus" view on AGW and other environmental questions. Had the conviction been upheld, Lomborg would have been fired. Stillman Drake, the world's leading Galileo scholar, demonstrates in his book "Galileo: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2001) that it was not theologians, but rather his fellow physicists (then called "natural philosophers"), who manipulated the Inquisition into trying and convicting Galileo. The "out-of-the-mainsteam" Galileo had the gall to prove the consensus view, the Aristotlean theory, wrong by devising simple experiments that anyone could do. Galileo's fellow scientists first tried to refute him by argument from authority. They failed. Then these "scientists" tried calling Galileo names, but this made no impression on the average person, who could see with his own eyes that Galileo was right. Finally, Galileo's fellow "scientists" called in the Inquisition to silence him.
I find it very disturbing that part of the Danish Inquisition's case against Lomborg was written by John Holdren, Obama's new science advisor. Holdren has recently written that people like Lomborg are "dangerous." I think it is people like Holdren who are dangerous, because they are willing to use state power to silence their scientific opponents.
(7) I agree with Dick Lindzen that the AGW nonsense is generated by government funding of science. If a guy agrees with AGW, then he can get a government contract. If he is a skeptic, then no contract. There is a professor at Tulane, with a Ph.D in paleoclimatology, who is as skeptical as I am about AGW, but he'd never be considered for tenure at Tulane because of his professional opinion. No government contracts, no tenure.
(8) This is why I am astounded that people who should know better, like Newt Gingrich, advocate increased government funding for scientific research. We had better science, and a more rapid advance of science, in the early part of the 20th century when there was no centralized government funding for science. Einstein discovered relativity on his own time, while he was employed as a patent clerk. Where are the Einsteins of today? They would never be able to get a university job --- Einstein's idea that time duration depended on the observer was very much opposed to the "consensus" view of the time. Einstein's idea that light was composed of particles (now called "photons") was also considered crazy by all physicists when he first published the idea. At least then he could publish the idea. Now a refereed journal would never even consider a paper written by a patent clerk, and all 1905 physics referees would agree that relativity and quantum mechanics were nonsense, definitely against the overwhelming consensus view. So journals would reject Einstein's papers if he were to write them today.
Science is an economic good like everything else, and it is very bad for production of high quality goods for the government to control the means of production. Why can't Newt Gingrich understand this? Milton Friedman understood it, and advocated cutting off government funding for science.
We should add that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his famous farewell address as president - the "industrial-military complex" speech - also warned of the intersection between science and government. This is what he said:
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.
We thank Professor Tipler for his contribution.
December 22, 2008.