Let’s put brain cells on this
The new IPCC report on climate change is due out in September. This week the maintstream media shared a preview of its findings, which will also be found on its homepage. You can read this Politico summary right now.
I don’t need to say too much about the issue of climate change itself. It is here, the entire globe is experiencing it and we have vivid examples on our home turf. Here in Southern California, I have witnessed a dramatic shift in the twenty or so years that I have lived here. When I arrived on the West Coast, it was warm but temperatures stayed in the high 80’s on the hottest days. Now, 100F+ summer days are not unusual. In addition, the threat of wildfires has increased dramatically.
Growing up in the mid-Atlantic states forty to fifty years ago we had four distinct seasons. It meant habitually cold snowy winters, followed by moist mild springs, hot, wet summers and dry, crisp, cool autumns. Now it can be 90F in February in NYC and no one is shocked anymore.
I watched a sad program on CNN by Morgan Spurlock on Drought last week. It speaks for itself and is worth watching.
Obviously the upshot of all this is, the atmosphere is warming significantly, things are hotter than they have been in thousands of years, the dry spots are increasingly drier and the wet, wetter. Severe floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires are occurring with increasing frequency. Low lying cities will be under water by the end of the century, if things continue at this rate. Most of us accept this as settled science. Fact. Verifiable by accepted methods.
I don’t need to fulminate on either the stupidity or the ignorance of those who believe the fossil fuel flunkies who pretend to deny this data. Clearly, it is a frightening forecast and will now require dramatic changes and some sacrifices. The fact that there will be economic benefit to this country and others by making the switch to earth-cooling practices seems to be overshadowed by the relentless flow of disinformation emanating from people like the Koch Brothers. This infamnia is no different than the one that militated against the dangers of nicotine, some forty years ago or so. There are plenty of distinguished and world-class, recognized scientists shouting the warning now, just as they did then, in various media for those who have ears to hear.
All I want to do is clarify something. It is one thing to deny climate change as if it is merely a theory instead of an axiom, or settled science. It is quite another to mischaracterize science as a religion or a cult. This fallacious thinking is beyond stupid, it is irresponsible and highly destructive.
It is bad enough when someone as fatuous as Michele Bachmann ‘reasons’ that carbon dioxide is part of nature (Did you take chemistry, ma’am? Ever hear of ‘supersaturation’?). But, when someone in a position of authority and influence like John Boehner says that the notion of climate change is comical and that carbon dioxide is not a ‘carcinogen’, every sane American should be deeply troubled. The third person in line to be the most powerful leader in the world sounds like a flat-earther!
But, even that is not what this post aims to address. I want to make the concept of science, simple. Here is what science is: measurement of the physical world through the five senses.
That measurement is achieved in a variety of ways and its extrapolation generates theories or hypotheses to be further tested by five-sense measurement. What is produced by this method is empirical data that are facts. Science is merely a systematic measurement approach. The best we have to date. It has been done, formally or informally since hominids became homo sapiens sapiens some three million or so years ago.
It also applies to the social, psychological and behavioral sciences, which measure the observable outcomes of inter-relationships between actions/interactions (some of them inter-personal, other intra-personal, i.e., internal or interior like thoughts, ideas, emotions) and the real or tangible (phenomenological) world.
Math is not identical to science. Mathematics is a logical model of inferences that can be used as a symbolic language to quantify the qualitative data that all sciences generate. Math is like logic and language. It is a system of elegant and easily manipulated symbols that we call integers or numbers.
Math and some sciences dovetail neatly, like physics and the applied sciences of engineering or medicine. It is a pure, internally sound system that does not need to have any relationship to measurable fact or empirical phenomenon to be validated. It only needs to establish ground rules (which can be arbitrary) and a set of laws and then a set of deductions from those laws to generate new ones. Math is a stand-alone discipline that can be pure and theoretical or applied and empirically verifiable. That is why people like Einstein could construct a theory that was far ahead of the physics (a science) of his day. And, that is also why mathematicians and some scientists have ivory tower value. They devise hypotheses and assumptions that can be tested or never tested, verified or refuted.
Because scientists adhere to a discipline and ethic of questioning, even their most sacred axia, they refer to settled science postulates as ‘theories’. Theory in common language and theory in the sciences have two different meanings. The trouble with words is that they mean different things in different settings and it is easy to confuse them. This confusion plays right into the Machiavellian hands of shills for monetary interests. They unleash their diabolical slander on an unsuspecting and uneducated populace and then let those unwitting dupes go to the polls and make misinformed decisions that have had dire consequences.
Scientists are trained to be humble. Every PhD student knows this. It is part of the philosophy of science courses that all scientists in this country must take during their training. Thus they modestly refer to the ‘theory of relativity’, ‘theory of evolution’, ‘theory of gravity’, ‘theory of global warming’, when every one of these is settled scientific law.
Science is an approach, a set of steps, a proven method. It is not a cult, religion, philosophy, fantasy, fairy tale, obsession or a political or economic tool (unless it is abused and misused for those purposes). It is the shortest route to the truth that we have in this physical universe.
Anyone who doesn’t know that is not doing their homework, as it is the open secret.
So, if the crazies in this country want to humiliate themselves on the world stage by being science deniers, they had better start building a fire-proof arc, stat.