Archive for December, 2009

A Wedge Obscures Truth

December 11, 2009

I have been engaged lately in “lurking” in discussions online and face to face on global warming and climate change. I am lurking because I do not really know enough to participate. These discussions are truly fascinating, but they don’t expose the science very well, and they don’t focus on the eventual benefits of change for everyone.

Scientists employ a methodology focused upon experimentation, observation and analysis that was demonstrated almost 1000 years ago by ibn al-Haytham (Alhazan), a famous Muslim scientist, while writing a treatise on optics.

1) Ask a question;
2) State a hypothesis;
3) Design an experiment;
4) Run the experiment and collect data;
5) Analyse the data and state your conclusions;
and finally, communicate your results so that they can be challenged and refined by others.

Does this process sound familiar? No? You haven’t seen much of the scientific method in the global warming debate? Neither have I. The global warming debate is largely a battle of dogma and rhetoric surrounded by generalizations, assumptions and some outright falsehoods. In this debate, cherry-picked findings and palatable conclusions form a convenient basis to support an argument – hardly the scientific method – it is more akin to the political method. Don’t you find that frustrating? I certainly do.

In global warming debate, I am also reminded of the Rotary International guiding principle of the “4-Way Test”:
Guiding principles

The Rotary International 4-way test is ideally applied to everything a Rotarian thinks, says and does:

Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Coincidentally, my e-mail bell has just sounded, and tonight’s Slashdot summary includes this related discussion – more food for thought:
The Science Credibility Bubble

I believe that the political style evident in the global warming debate speaks to the real complex nature of global warming and climate change science. The public’s difficulty to grasp science is often more easily overcome by political tools of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and HAC (hope, ambition and confidence) than by education and a presentation of facts. Unfortunately in this particular debate, a few scientists have “stooped” to the level of political squabble to promote the science of climate change and the premise of global warming in the public view to counter an uneducated press and public.

A wedge has been created in the global warming debate that widens the gap of understanding between adherents of differing viewpoints and loses sight of the benefits equation – this wedge obscures truth. A wedge is created when FUD and HAC is presented in lieu of facts. The gap of understanding widens when the public hears the FUD and the HAC and fails to demand the facts early in the debate. I have seen this same wedge created in debates surrounding evolution, stem cell research and healthcare reform. If only the public was better educated in fields of science and mathematics, the scientists uniformly adhered to the rigors of the Scientific Method, and those involved in this debate practiced the 4-Way Test to seek the greatest measure of benefit for everyone.

A wedge of FUD and HAC obscures truth. We should all present facts – quickly and as often as necessary to beat back the wedge of the political method. We should all focus our debates on the measurable benefits to everyone. Eventually, we will see truth emerge.