Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Karl Popper and Climate Science

(Thanks to Greenfyre's - I borrowed an idea or two)

Karl Popper’s thinking was that scientists should work hard to disprove theories. If they don't succeed then it is a working theory until disproved. It’s more rigorous that way.
An analogy might be comparing if you have 2 reports of an elephant. In one case it is a small group of reliable witnesses who swear they saw an elephant in the back garden.

Topo Gigo? Is that you?
In the second case you have thousands of unrelated people who variously have photographs, videos, sound recordings, foot casts, thermal imaging, dentition samples, x-rays, ultrasound images, radar and sonar images, samples of DNA , tissue, hair, saliva, stools etc. Further, all of of these data samples had been analysed multiple ways, all yielding the same result.
Then along comes someone with a handful of pictures of a mouse and claims that it proves there was no elephant in the garden. How likely is it that this evidence will prove conclusive in the first example? in the second? Possible of course, but not very likely.
Trying to prove something always courts discusssion.
The comparison with law is however misleading as in common terms we say ”it was proven he was guilty”. Scientists, to use the law analogy, are expert witnesses. Not prosecutors. Not judges or juries. For law to work you HAVE to make a judgement over causality in order for there to be consequences on negative actions. In the same way HAVE to act is incumbent on governments (ultimately all individuals) who by law represent the stewards of national resources.

Anyway, that's why scientists are sceptics and the media can rightly claim " most scientists sceptical to climate change".

In the case of climate change, take the theory "you can spew out as much CO2 as you like, it will not make a blind bit of difference to the climate system."

There is LITTLE evidence to support such theories. For example.... where has all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere come from? And there is no evidence to show it is all absorbed. On the contrary, experiments to DISPROVE the relation between increased CO2 and increased warming have not been able to rule out a greenhouse effect.

The next theory... Global warming is NOT a life threatening phenomena. Again, attempts to disprove this have not succeeded.

So ... and check the wording here as the double negative throws a lot of people ... it has not been disproved that man-made emissions can threaten life on Earth. We cannot disprove the theory that levels of CO2 over 350ppm create imbalances in climate system.

Now. How are the stewards of our environment - the people we elect - going to act on that? Because we are talking major risk.

Version 1. The voice of sense. Our government, acting on scientific evidence, is working to limit emissions as they may threaten existence.

Version 2. The voice of "science interpreted for ends". Although it has not been shown emissions are completely safe, we are going to continue until the negative consequences force us to react.

Back to your law comparison. That would be like the court, unable to convict the baddies, (no-one could really PROVE it was them!!!) would let them rule the city until people got so fed up with it, or it got so bad the community went under.

That is what we are looking at. It is going to get real bad before anyone does anything.

1 comment:

greenfyre said...


Friendly amendment - notwithstanding the use of the word "evidence", I am not actually using a "Law" analogy.
Although I can see how once one has that picture in mind it is easy to read the piece and nothing said will necessarily clash with the image.
Thanks for your mention

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