The abandonment of the Scientific Method

The Glasgow pantomime has nearly had its run, and the cast of fools will soon disperse, borne homeward in a fleet of jets.

Like all really bad ideas, climate catastrophism depends for its persistence upon the substitution of rational scepticism with a pharisaical appetite for personal rectitude. In a post-religious age, the pursuit of personal salvation has taken an ugly turn. GK Chesterton warned us that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe anything. But what he didn’t warn us was just how expensive, misanthropic and downright destructive the beliefs they would choose would turn out to be.

It’s pretty clear that we sceptics have lost the battle for the rational application of the scientific method to the study of climate. We can but hope that the war’s still on, and there’s all to play for. So it’s perhaps not entirely pointless to rehearse the fundamental objections – or, they being so numerous, at least a few of them – to this preposterously counter-scientific cult.

That we live, today, in circumstances immeasurably more congenial than those endured by our ancestors only a dozen generations ago is the consequence of the studied application of a rigorous Scientific Method, the harnessing of high-density sources of energy, and the establishment of systems of law and governance which ensured that individuals who made creative use of science and high-density energy could enjoy the rewards of their success.

The Scientific Method can be described as a series of steps:

  1. make an observation that leads inductively to a theory of cause and effect,
  2. use that theory to create a hypothesis; that is, a prediction that if certain conditions are satisfied, a defined outcome will be observable.
  3. test the hypothesis by experiment and observation
  4. If the experiment results in an observation of the predicted outcome, your hypothesis is confirmed, and your theory survives;
  5. If your experiment does not produce the results you predicted, your hypothesis has failed, and you must discard the theory upon which it was founded, and look for a better way of explaining your original observation.

Karl Popper pointed out that this series of steps contains a useful way to distinguish ‘science’ from other forms of thought – that is, that to be scientific, a hypothetical proposition must be falsifiable. Importantly, it didn’t, in principle, matter to Popper whether the experimental means of testing a hypothesis had yet been devised – what mattered was whether it was, in principle, falsifiable.

Turning to ‘climate change’, it’s worth noting, in passing, that the claims made for human-induced climate change have, in many cases, been so multifarious that they arguably fail Popper’s test of falsifiability. But let’s be generous, play the silly game, and pretend that we are dealing with a Popperian hypothesis.

When someone tells you that we have ‘ten years to save the planet’ from becoming uninhabitable as a result of anthropogenic global warming, they are advancing a hypothesis, rooted in a theory. It doesn’t really matter what that theory was, and it certainly doesn’t matter how brilliant or perspicacious the theorists who conceived it were. What matters is whether the conditions of the hypothesis – in this case the continued increase in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 – are satisfied, and if so, whether the predicted outcome is observed.

If, after ten years, the planet shows no observable evidence of distress, let alone of becoming uninhabitable, the hypothesis must be rejected, and the theory on which it was built must be deemed to have been disconfirmed. Not disproven, mind, just disconfirmed. No ifs, no buts.

It is now at least forty years since the proponents of the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming first began predicting disaster within defined periods, if the human race didn’t curb its emissions of CO2. The human race has not curbed its CO2 emissions – in fact they have continued to rise monotonically.

And yet here we are, in a greener, more fertile planet, with fewer lives lost to natural disasters than ever in recorded history. To be sure, the temperature of the planet has risen – slightly – but its trajectory is so far indistinguishable (except to a climate ‘scientist’) from many similar episodes in which the earth has emerged from a particularly cold spell – in our case the Little Ice Age.

To anyone with the most tenuous grasp of the Scientific Method, this result, repeated as it is, year on year, would falsify their hypothesis, and force them to conclude that the theory they used to form it was faulty. But while the grantafarians and rent-seeking leeches of the climate cult grudgingly concede that their climate models may have ‘run a bit hot’, they nonetheless insist that their theoretical basis is sound – they just need a bit of tweaking. They are able to do this because, as they have noticed, their useful idiots – the politicians and the people who vote for them, have long since abandoned any attachment to scientific rigour they may have had.

They have discovered that they can make pretty much any old claim they like about the effects of increased CO2 concentrations, and it will be lapped up by a gullible mainstream media, an equally gullible political class, and a docile, browbeaten populace who know that merely to suggest that such extraordinary claims – the sea-level rise, the droughts, the floods, and the plagues of locusts – that these claims ought to be supported by evidence, and that the evidence to which the alarmists point is a bit threadbare is to be vilified as a ‘denier’ – the very word itself betraying the quasi-religious belief system it is intended to sustain.

There is some evidence, as Prof Judith Curry observes, that the IPCC is being forced to confront the failings of its models, but so far, this welcome outbreak of scientific rigour has failed to escape the academic fastness of the Assessment Report, and reach the Summary for Policy Makers, a document which remains as shamelessly alarmist as all its predecessors.

Tom Forrester-Paton

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