I should be beyond getting riled about this kind of thing, but an article by Martin Livermore in today’s Telegraph takes this biscuit. Those of you who understand how science works, may skip the rest of this post.
His headline is ‘All those scientists may still be wrong’ and he is talking about climate change. The headline is correct, they may. We know that and they know that. That’s why the recent Intergovemental Report on Climate Change said that it was very likely that the climate change was caused by human activity. They even define ‘very likely’ as more than 90%, a level of precision not found in Mr Livermore’s article.
He seems very upset about the lack of experiments, for example, lamenting that scientists must
rely on observation and, in parallel, produce mathematical models of how the climate system operates. These models – fed with a range of assumptions about how population and energy use may change – are run on the world’s most powerful supercomputers to give projections for future climate changes. It is these on which tales of future catastrophe are based.
Well, yes. How else does he think scientists actually work? ‘Relying on observation and producing mathematical models’ is a pretty good one setence description of the scientific method! Or are we supposed to distrust these results because supercomputers are lest trustworthy than Newton and a pencil?
Mr Livermore then puts forward a theory (which is not his alone – I have met scientists who share this view) which blames change on Earth on changes in solar activity. The most recent variation on this theme is the suggestion that high energy cosmic rays can cause clouds in the atmosphere, and that an active Sun can protect us from these rapidly moving particles. This may or may not be true (and how we are supposed to test these ideas without ‘observation’ and – worse – ‘mathematical models’ I do not know), but I am convinced that the experts in this field weighed up the possibility as best they could. As Mr Livermore says The IPCC’s view is that these changes are too small to cause the climate changes we have seen.
Yes, the IPCC could be wrong; that’s why they said it was only very likely that climate change was our fault, not ‘extremely likely’ (95% confidence) or ‘virtually certain’ (99% confidence). Yet we are told by this pathetic article that
The scientific mainstream, however, refuses to concede that it could be wrong. It insists we must act now to decarbonise our economy, whatever the consequences. If the science were as certain as suggested, it would have a point.
How, how, how is saying you are 90% certain of something ‘refusing to concede’ that one might be wrong? Quantifying errors is what science is all about. It seems writing pieces for think tanks is about not quantifying anything at all.
There is worse, much worse in the article. Go and read it if you dare, but I need coffee.