Sunday, December 01, 2013

No, Climate Science Hasn't Lost It's Way

Judith Curry writes:

by linking to an LA Times article about medical science (which, let's stipulate, is not a physical science; see below).

In my opinion (and as I commented on Curry's blog), any scientist who has to ask “has science lost its way?” has just admitted that their ideas can’t compete in the arena of ideas. They are looking to win the argument by other (unscientific) means.

There is a simple way to win the scientific debate: produce better science. Period.

That has never, ever failed to win the day.


But medical science is very different from the physical sciences like physics, chemistry, geology, mathematics, climate science, biology, etc.

For one thing, it's not nearly as rigorous. Yes, climate science deals with a very complicated beast -- the Earth's climate -- but medical science deals with one that is far more complicated -- the human body, or, more appropriately, the vertebrate body or even the organic organism.

That body is an immense bag of miracles, developed over billions of years of evolution, reaching a complexity we can barely begin to understand.

Not so for physics, or climate. We know, very well, the laws of blackbodies, and of quantum mechanics, and of radiation, and we know that the Earth will emit infrared radiation and that gases like CO2, CH4 and H2O have molecular energy levels that will absorb it.

Some of that absorption will be emitted back downward, towards the surface.

That is global warming. That's really about all you really need to know.

Global warming is required by the laws of physics. I think it was Michael Mann who said, during one of the times he was unjustifiably hauled before a Congressional committee, and then asked what it would take for him to admit that anthropogenic global warming was wrong, who replied, "Everything I know about physics and chemistry would have to be wrong."

And he was right. Completely.

Our world -- surface, oceans, sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets -- must warm if we continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Yet how that downward, extra heat gets distributed into the Earth's systems, and how it makes them evolve over time, is a very, very difficult problem. There are a great many variables, and the equations that describe these processes are very complicated, full of feedbacks.

But the planet will warm. It has to. It must. It will.

Attempts to parse that warming, by claiming that science is wrong because it can't yet describe the distribution of the warming, are inaccurate if they claim the Earth's many systems won't be affected, that they won't change.

Those systems will change, just in ways we can't yet predict, both in extent and in time.

But we can predict that they will change, somehow.

That's very, very different from medical studies where, primarily, a huge amount of money is at stake, from patents and partnerships and the results of clinical trials and how the science is interpreted.

If these clinical trials even are science. I once heard a talk by a science journalist (no names) that what journalists claimed as a  "medical science" wasn't really a science, because it had too many variables and too many unknowns.

And I mostly agree with him.

So trying to piggyback on studies about medical papers isn't very convincing. They are barely doing science -- climate scientists are doing science, in the grand tradition of the king of the sciences, physics.

Their vulnerabilities are not the vulnerabities of the physical sciences. And they shouldn't be lumped toether, and blamed together. There are standards, and then there are standards.

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