Last week, a group of scientists sent shock waves through the climate-science community. They boldly pointed out that current climate models exaggerate greenhouse warming.
In other words, they confirmed what climate skeptics have been arguing all along: that most computer climate models forecast unrealistic warming — warming not observed anywhere in the real world.
Could this be a turning point for climate science? Has the hitherto staunch resistance to any kind of scrutiny regarding the dangerous warming narrative come to an end?
Science is not a body of facts. It is a method of finding facts — a method that is inherently skeptical. Not cynically skeptical, but humbly skeptical. It insists, as the motto of the Royal Society, nullius in verba, roughly translated “take nobody’s word for it,” that a scientist’s every claim be tested — over and over and over. Thus, as the philosopher of science Robert K. Merton put it in 1938, “Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.”
A scientific hypothesis is carefully studied and checked against available evidence. The process of establishing a scientific truth involves the scientific community’s continuous effort to falsify it until so many such efforts have failed that the community provisionally accepts it — with emphasis on provisionally.
In the age of celebrity culture, though, people easily assume that theories celebrated scientists — or large numbers of scientists, or scientists associated with government authorities — embrace are above challenge. Yet even theories universally embraced (for example, that continents don’t move, or that all ulcers are caused by excess stomach acid arising from too-acidic foods or anxiety) are not immune from new challenges or improvements and have been discarded.
Even the most celebrated scientists have been wrong. As EarthSky editor Deborah Byrd notes,
Einstein’s [General] Theory of Relativity implied that the universe must either be expanding or contracting. But Einstein himself rejected this notion in favor of the accepted idea that the universe was stationary and had always existed. When [Edwin] Hubble presented his evidence [the red shift] of the expansion of the universe, Einstein embraced the idea. He called his adherence to the old idea “my greatest blunder.”
It is now understood that the universe is constantly expanding.
Today, climate science finds itself in turmoil. Theories of catastrophic global warming driven by carbon dioxide emissions have long escaped careful scrutiny — just as the theories of acid-caused ulcers and stable continents long did.