Science v. Probability

Recently, I watched the above CNN clip of a confrontational interview between the founder of the Weather Channel and the host, Brian Seltzer.  Seltzer was much astonished and amused that the founder of the Weather Channel, John Coleman, is a climate change skeptic.  Seltzer made the argument that the “science was already proven” because the theory was developed by scientists and that “a large majority of scientists believe in the theory of man made global warming.

Update 11-16-2014:  in the last several days  the CNN clip has been blocked.  But, I think I have given a fair interpretation of it.

As I also watched a clip  from Fox, (link above, which won’t imbed here) it occurred to me that none of the arguments in this debate were  scientific or even logical.  When Seltzer confronts Coleman with the idea that Global Climate Change advocates are scientists.  Coleman says I’m a scientist too.  Seltzer was making an  appeal to authority.  But, as a matter of logical argument, the fact that the Climate Change advocates are scientists or that Coleman as a skeptic  is also a scientist is irrelevant to whether climate change is a valid scientific theory.

Next, Seltzer confronts Coleman with the idea that the majority of the scientists believe in global warming.  Again, this is an illogical argument, sometimes known as the bandwagon effect.  Coleman correctly responded that science is not a democracy; just because the majority of scientists believe something doesn’t make it true.  Prior to 1500 most astronomers  believed that the sun revolved around the earth.  No astronomer believes that today.  Did the earth suddenly begin revolving around the sun?  No.   Astronomers changed their minds about what they were seeing.

When, Coleman was asked how he would explain why he was in the minority among scientists on this issue, his argument  is to degree an   argumentum ad hominem (Latin, meaning in this case the scientists have corrupt motives therefore their ideas are wrong.)  He said that because the government only funds research that supports the global warming theory, only scientists who support global warming get funded.  The motives of the scientists are  logically irrelevant to the scientific validity of their research.  This is a political argument as were all of Selzers arguments.

Global warming or climate change  is an argument about future events.  The facts have not been established or measured in the present, but rather are projections based on probability.  How could these not  be political arguments? 

In order to have a valid scientific idea, it must survive  falsification   or nullification of the hypothesis.   In order to falsify a prediction of events in the future, there must be actual facts or data to measure.  But there are no data for events that will or might take place in the future other than probability and projections.   It is no different than assertions about the future of the stock market prices or the outcome of a horse race.  

If you find the subject of logic and valid argument confusing, a good introduction to the subject was written by Dr. Engel, With Good Reason.  The logical mistakes I refer to sometimes have different names than Dr. Engel uses.

Glenn Reynolds has an article  on the hazards of scientific prediction….for scientists.  On November 10,  six of the seven geologists convicted of manslaughter in Italy had their convictions overturned.  They were convicted of manslaughter because they gave “incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory advice” about an earthquake that struck the Italian village of  L’Aquila.  The earthquake killed 300 people.

Geologists can tell you where there have been earthquakes in the past.  Geologists can estimate what was the magnitude of those past earthquakes.  But, when Geologists make predictions about future earthquakes, the one thing that can be counted on is that their advice will be  “…incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory.” This ridiculous prosecution in Italy exemplifies the dangers of politicizing science.  Punishing dissent among scientists is the quickest way to kill science.

Also, one should take with a grain of salt any argument based on probability or survey research.  PJMedia  published an article about the recent off year elections in the U.S., in which Tom Blumer lists all the ways  the pollsters methods failed to accurately predict the outcome in the elections.  Many of the states that were supposed to be close contests, according to the polls, turned out to range from a safe 8 point win to as much as 17 point blow outs.  The November 2014 midterm election was a disaster for the pollsters.

As for me,   I am a climate change skeptic, only because  I am inclined toward skepticism for most predictions about the future, particularly if it depends upon a chain of arguments or sounds like politics, or salesmanship.  As for dire predictions of calamities like global warming or climate crisis, my Aunt Marie once said when she was in her 90’s,  “the things we worried about the most never happened.”

Of course,  a bolide could crash into the earth and change everything.  Someone wrote a book about a bolide crashing into the earth.  That was an entirely unforeseen event.

Hat tip:  Jim Hollowaty

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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