Monday, December 07, 2009

Global Warming & the Nature of Science - Reflections on the recent scandal

To my readers--I'm sorry about the posting delay. This is an incredibly busy time! But Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the music, time with friends, and the focus upon Christ.

By now, you have all probably heard of the recent scandal involving global warming. Emails from the top scientists researching global warming were published, showing that data that contradicted theories of man made global warming were suppressed and other data was fixed. As this Fox news story on the scandal shows, many scientists who disagreed with the man made global warming consensus were shunned, snubbed and even threatened.

What is going on here? Isn't science supposed to be objective and follow the data wherever it leads?

Actually, while "science" claims objectivity, in reality, it is not objective. Postmodernism rightly tells us that everyone has a perspective, and that no one can fully stand outside of a situation and be 100% objective. This is true for scientists as well. Scientists, being human, are subject to the same things as other mere mortals--biases, politics, money, and power. Many have pointed out that global warming has become politically correct, and that researchers for global warming have received billions of dollars in grants. Proponents of climate change, such as Al Gore, have reportedly made a lot of money off of this subject.

Human nature would say that any of us is susceptible to craving power, influence, applause, and money. This may explain some of the evidence that has come out. But is manmade climate change a hoax? That is, do the scientists involved not believe what they are saying?

On this point, I think that it is likely that these scientists believe in manmade global warming. In fact, they believe in it so much, that they do not believe any data that is contradictory. Manmade global warming is a paradigm for how they interpret climate data.

In reality, science works within paradigms. In his profound book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn explores the history of science. He shows that science works within a paradigm, even in the face of contradictory data, if there is no good alternative theory that surfaces. Any new theory is attacked, until the evidence is so overwhelming that te new theory is accepted. Usually it takes the dying off of the old generation of scientists for the new theory to fully be accepted. The classic example of this is the view that scientists once had that the earth was the center of the universe. Contradictory evidence was ignored or explained away, until Galileo brought about a paradigm shift.

So just because "science" says something, that does not make it true. Some theories explain local phenomena, but not global or cosmic phenomena. For example, Newtonian physics (which works on a local scale) was blown away by Einstein's theory of relativity (which works on a cosmic scale). I say this not as an anti-science person--I have a biology degree and love the many discoveries of science. But the idea of pure objectivity of scientists is simply a fallacy.

I am not a global warming researcher, so I do not know if manmade global warming is really happening or not. All of the data needs to be examined. Even then--science would say--we should continue to be open to new data that may come in. As Christians, we have a responsibility to take care of the earth that God has given into our care. We should at least be open to examining the data, and not have a closed minds ourselves. So should all scientists.

Some reading -
There is a from the Huffington Post that views the idea that global warming is a hoax as dangerous--a response which Thomas Kuhn would have predicted. The New York Times published an explanation of and a defense of their coverage of the story. David Frum, in an writing to CNN, has an interesting article on the subject. The Wall Street Journal contrasts "believers" and "skeptics" in global warming. Finally, it will be interesting to see if this scandal has any effect upon the global warming talks in Copenhagen that President Obama is attending.

What do you think about this story, global warming, and the nature of science?