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Policy: Environment & Energy

Is independent thinking still prized in science? Perhaps not on climate change

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Climate Change,Energy and Environment,Global Warming

In February, before the situation in the Ukraine really heated up, Secretary of State John Kerry focused on a hotter issue, making it clear that when it came to saving the earth from human-caused climate change, he and President Obama did not have time for members of the Flat Earth Society.

I am not very concerned by the fact that my country's president and secretary of state think that I am some sort of "flat-earther." They think this of me simply because I am unconvinced (like so many other knowledgeable professionals) that humans are substantially responsible for long-term global climate change. You see, after 35 years of practice in the atmospheric science field, I've heard a lot of bluster.

Starting out as a weather observer in Cape Lisburne, Alaska, 160 miles above the Arctic Circle on the shores of the icy Chukchi Sea, I eventually settled in western Pennsylvania as an air pollution meteorologist. I have worked in government, private consulting and academia. Trained at one of the premiere schools of meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, and later earning graduate degrees in environmental science and science education at other big-name schools, I am confident that my perspective in atmospheric science is well-founded and well-rounded.

True, my experience never included politics, but that is a plus in science. Scientists are supposed to be objective and follow observational evidence wherever it leads, even if the evidence leads away from the “consensus” opinion. Independent thinking is still a prize possession in so many fields, especially science.

So, for instance, when 15 years of careful observations demonstrate that a hypothesis, such as “human ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions are causing Earth’s temperature to rise,” is wrong, some scientists begin to reconsider their initial opinions. Others, who may be driven more by ideology, hubris, popularity, or financial gain, just look harder for ways to make “errant” reality conform to their fantasy and to convince others that they’re misinterpreting plain facts.

But, it is religion, not science, that is about defending a belief at all costs.

In the preface to his 2012 book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, physicist Lawrence Krauss explains that:

“Science has been effective at furthering our understanding of nature because the scientific ethos is based on three key principles: 1. Follow the evidence wherever it leads 2. If one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right. 3. The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not the comfort one derives from one’s a priori beliefs, nor the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.”

All three principles are violated by the climate scientist who insists, against observational evidence, that human activity is responsible for dangerous global warming.

Yet, what about “consensus?" After all, we are told that the scientific consensus is that people are the cause of climate gone awry. Even setting aside that recent research strongly suggests that the so-called consensus claim is quite dubious, we note that consensus is the trade of politicians, not scientists.

Regardless, appealing to consensus and name-calling to defend beliefs — as certain politicians and scientists alike have done — is ignoble.

Using witless terms like “flat-earther” or “denier” should be beneath any professional, especially those in the highest professions.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and author of "In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic's Guide to Climate Science." Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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