Is Global Warming a Pseudo Science?

Al Gore’s bizarre editorial brings to the surface that question of whether what he calls Climate Change is a science or not. Is his emotive, Chicken Little (“the sky is falling!”) approach scientific? Does it make specific, falsifiable predictions, or is it ever expanding to cover exigencies?

I used to be an avid AGW supporter. What clued me in was when I heard the Global Warming crowd claim warming was melting the snows on Kilimanjaro, then when that stopped, claim it was also increasing precipitation, so lengthening the snows!

This story repeats itself constantly. Before the big snow hit DC this year, Robert Kennedy editorialized that Global Warming was reducing snowfall in DC. After the storm hit, Al Gore editorialized that warming creates more precipitation so causes heavy snow!

The core of a pseudo science like Astrology is it constantly expands its claims to encompass de-verifying events. It refuses to be disprovable. The expansions always have a veneer of scientific plausibility. Isn’t that what we see in Al Gore? Isn’t he peddling a modern-day Astrology?

Karl Popper defined what makes a theory scientific:

  1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verification, but …
  2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions – an event which would have refuted the theory.
  3. Every “good” scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen
  4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific
  5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it
  6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory

Popper adds a critical distinction between real science and psuedo science:

Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation.

Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status.

A theory must make specific predictions about how it behaves that can be tested by observation or experiment. There are certainly climate scientists trying this route. Unfortunately for the theory, the scientific claims are being steadily disproved. I have looked into these in this blog, such as these three key predictions:

  1. Is the greenhouse layer in the troposphere warming as it must? No, there is no hotspot.
  2. Is humidity increasing in the greenhouse layer as models require? No, it is decreasing.
  3. Are the oceans warming as they must to hold the higher heat? No, cooling.

But Al Gore? He made a number of predictions in his documentary, most of which are proving false:

  • Hurricanes are getting fewer and less violent
  • Tornadoes are getting less violent
  • Sea levels are not rising at the moment
  • Greenland is not at risk of losing its land ice sliding into the sea
  • … etc

In the UK his documentary has been found in court to contain nine scientific errors. Gore has repudiated some of his alarmist assertions, such as when the Arctic ice would melt; and others are simply whacko, such as the temperature of the Earth a few kilometers down.

Now he falls back in his editorial on pleas to keep the faithful in the fold by appeals to emotion and extreme claims of “unimaginable” tragedies that await if we do nothing.

Face it, this is not science, but an Astrology of Fear.

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About Duncan Davidson 228 Articles

Affiliation: NetService Ventures

Duncan is an advisor to NetService Ventures, where he focuses on digital media and the mobile Internet.

Previously he was at four start-ups: Xumii, a mobile social service based on a Social Addressbook; SkyPilot Networks, the performance leader of wireless mesh systems for last-mile access, where he was the founding CEO; Covad Communications (Amex: DVW, $9B market cap at the peak), the leading independent DSL access provider, where he was the founding Chairman; InterTrust Technologies ($9B market cap at the peak), the pioneer in digital rights management technologies, now owned by Sony and Philips, where he was SVP Business Development and the pitchman for the IPO.

Before these ventures, Duncan was a partner at Cambridge Venture Partners, an early-stage venture firm, and managing partner of Gemini McKenna, a joint venture between Regis McKenna's marketing firm and Gemini Consulting, the global management consulting arm of Cap Gemini.

He serves on the board or is an adviser to Aggregate Knowledge (content discovery), Livescribe (digital pen), AllVoices (citizen journalism), Xumii (mobile social addressbook), Verismo (Internet settop box), and Widevine (DRM for IPTV).

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5 Comments on Is Global Warming a Pseudo Science?

  1. You’re post is fairly reasonable, however…

    “Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers — for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation.”

    …sounds a lot more like the behavior of those who rabidly deny warming that those who believe it.

    BTW, sea levels ARE rising. (Just google “sea level rise”) and Greenland IS losing its ice. (Just google “greenland ice”.) C’mon man, you were so close to actually making this honest.

  2. Oh I see! So this climate change thing is always about making soft fluffy statements that can be changed over time to fit the emerging reality.

    It’s not about making statements like this:

    Continued sea level rise is proof that man-made climate change is real. As more CO2 is added to the atmosphere sea level must rise with it. A correlation exists between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and sea level, that can be measured.

    The corollary of this, is that if measured amounts of CO2 increase and sea level fails or remains reasonably static, then the thesis is not supported by the evidence and must be discarded.

  3. You are using pseudo logic to score cheap political points, channeling your inner Inhofe. This straw man you’ve named Al Gore has no relevance whatsoever to scientific observations:

    “We find out what’s happening in our climate by empirical observations – measurements made out in the real world. We have even more confidence in our understanding when independent measurements find the same result. In the case of man-made global warming, we have multiple lines of evidence that global warming is happening and that human activity is the predominant cause. There are not only independent scientific teams all over the globe but also measurements of a wide range of phenomena all painting the same picture.

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing. This is measured by hundreds of monitoring stations across the globe, all finding the same increasing trend (NOAA). The rising trend is confirmed by satellite measurements conducted independently by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Combined with ice core measurements from Greenland and Antarctica, this tells us that atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest in over 15 million years (Tripati 2009).

    What’s causing rising CO2? We can use energy statistics to calculate human CO2 emissions at around 29 billion tonnes per year (CDIAC). In contrast, atmospheric CO2 is rising by 15 billion tonnes per year. Humans are emitting nearly twice as much CO2 as ends up remaining in the atmosphere. Measurements of carbon isotopes confirm that the rising CO2 originates from the burning of fossil fuel (Ghosh 2003). Further independent confirmation comes from observed falling oxygen levels caused by the burning of fossil fuel (Manning 2006).

    What’s the effect of all this extra CO2? Satellite measurements of outgoing longwave radiation find an enhanced greenhouse effect (Harries 2001, Griggs 2004, Chen 2007). This result is consistent with measurements from the Earth’s surface observing more infrared radiation returning back to the surface (Wang 2009, Philipona 2004, Evans 2006). Consequently, our planet is experiencing a build-up of heat (Murphy 2009).

    This heat build-up is manifesting itself across the globe. Arctic sea-ice loss is accelerating beyond the worst case scenarios of model forecasts (Stroeve 2007). Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing ice mass at an accelerating rate (Velicogna 2009). This is speeding up sea level rise as observed by tidal gauges and satellite altimeters (Church 2006). Spring is coming earlier each year (Stine 2009). This leads to observed changes in animal breeding and migration (Parmesan 2003). Distribution of plants are shifting to higher elevations (Lenoir 2008).”

    See Also:

    • “Arctic sea-ice loss is accelerating beyond the worst case scenarios of model forecasts”

      This can be debated, but what’s the point. You have a clear understanding of how the Arctic is warming and how it will continue to warm. One of the key differences between science and a pseudo-science is that pseudo-science doesn’t offer grounds for falsification.

      As we head towards the Summer melt season tell us what we absaloutly could not see with regard to the Arctic minimum. Give clear criteria for falsification. Why not extend the grounds … you could make the period indefinite.

      Make a statement like this ..

      “If the Arctic sea ice extent summer minimum, were ever to return to the 1979-2000 average the theory of AGW would have to be discarded.”

      You could make a few more if you like … surely the water-tight theory of AGW clearly asserts that many things cannot happen. So why not state a few.

  4. A wonderful post, thank you! I am a scientist myself (a micro-molecular biologist) and was a AGW supporter for many years until, just as you discovered, I began noticing many people of the religious nature take it up. Perhaps so that they could finally be scientists too.

    Myself having a good understanding of the scientific method, it’s clear that AGW is not, thus far, a validated scientific theory. Why then has it gained such a tremendous support throughout the globe? Certainly we can all agree, I hope that popularity does not equate with validity.

    Could it be that this ‘perfect storm’ of bad science is derived from many inputs? As the numbers of atheists grow there still remains amongst us a large proportion who prefer not to think. What might such people endeavour to promote as a good faith these days but seemingly quality hypotheses that also have that bracing Armageddon headiness, which leaves them in a spinning rush of apocalyptic ecstasy.

    We needn’t invoke conspiracy to understand the problem of poor research as many researchers pay-checks are affected by the results they get – for there is, in my experience, considerable bias amongst the cadre of scientific researchers, both public and private. Where is the double blind model!? Lol, we simply cannot get there from here. Until the scientific method is held up as the standard by those would be AGW researchers, I suspect, there shall be nothing but endless fancy charts, quick terse talk, and eloquent statistical nuance – or, as in some cases, blatant statistical farce.

    Meanwhile the media (most of it anyway) continues to promote AGW as scientific ‘theory’. Who do they get there pay-checks from I wonder? Certainly not the late Dr. Popper.

    Allow me for a moment to perform, as the great Dr. Chomsky does, a little ‘institutional analysis’.

    It’s always very interesting and useful to use paired examples if they exist and in this case I believe they do. So, on the one hand we have the hypothesis of “peak oil” which has been rather clearly demonstrated to be a factual theory that presents humanity with an incredible challenge, that seems far beyond that of global warming in the near term. The media response? . . . I hear crickets chirping. AGW on the other hand, far from being anything resembling strong science and not being an immediate crisis (as even if true, there is little we could honestly do about it – emphasis on the word ‘honestly’), the media and Hollywood continuously seem to play up every story for full effect. Do the ‘peak oilers’ just have a bad marketing division? Or is it something more than that?

    Again, I’m not intending to propose any conspiracy. Nor will I attempt an answer to my question. The implications are clear enough to serious people that they might see fit to take care in study and thought.

    I believe that, as per usual, it is up to each of us in the end to do for ourselves. Those that fall into the trap of taking the authorities as truth instead of the truth as authority fall ever further prey to such tactics in the future. And such a tragedy as that, truly IS a one-way street to Armageddon.

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