NASA and Global Warming: Respect The Method Or Don’t Do The Science

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I don’t often weigh in on the global warming debate as I’m not a climatologist. I have made it clear however, that I believe in maintaining proper scientific skepticism in life.

First and foremost, I wish to say that I believe climatologists on both sides of the aisle have done good science. Mankind certainly produces a lot of CO2 which will no doubt have an effect on the environment, and these effects are worth investigating.

That being said, I wish to consider a few points.

Earth is rather large. Every organism living on this planet, along with objects in our solar system, are all variables that affect our climate. Accounting for all of them is nearly impossible.

The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble

Therefore, not accounting for all of them while making claims about how they will react to increased CO2 production, will always be educated guesswork.

Also, when climatologists make predictive models, as near as I can tell, they often make these models while assuming all other variables will either remain constant, or will not counteract the change, but instead merely succumb to it.

For example, imagine one were to observe two birds in their back yard; they look every day for a month, but on average, they always see about two birds. Now imagine this person throws a bag of bird seed in their back yard each day. Considering no other variable, one would assume the result would be an ever-growing pile of bird seed in their yard. In reality, their bird population of two would elevate to fifty or more birds, which wouldn’t result in a pile of bird seed as predicted, but a pile of bird poop instead.

With Earth being an ecosystem, as we animals (yes, humans are animals) produce more CO2, I’ve yet to hear anyone rule out that the plant kingdom, which would thrive in a CO2 rich environment, would not simply grow in numbers, evolve plants which consume more CO2, and/or spawn a new mechanism for filtering or consuming CO2 that we haven’t even imagined; in doing so, counteracting the increased greenhouse gasses produced by the increasing animal population. Just as the deer population, if left unchecked, will die of disease and famine, nature always seems to randomly, and quite unpredictably at times, find a way to maintain balance through evolution.

I’m not making this case mind you; again, I’m not a climatologist—please no hate mail. But one thing I do know is that predictive climate models have often been wrong. Eschewing climate science would be a terrible mistake, but let’s continue to compare actual results with predicted ones; leaving politics out of it for now, until we can accurately predict the effects, and effectively devise mechanisms to deal with the issues that we determine nature cannot naturally resolve for us.

There’s a saying I once heard that in science, most great discoveries are not followed with an exclamation of “Eureka, I’ve found it!” but instead, a far less exciting, “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Viagra was supposed to be a heart medication; it failed miserably. But oddly enough, it turns out Viagra can pitch a tent like a scout troop leader. Microwave ovens came about after Percy Spencer’s chocolate bar melted when placed near a magnetron and he wondered why. Post-it notes were a failed attempt at making a strong adhesive, which it clearly wasn’t. Instead of scrapping a million dollar project, 3M made lemonade out of lemons.

The list of happy accidents like these goes on forever. Science isn’t just about resolving a given issue, it’s also about investigating random discoveries that were often diversions along the way.

Sometimes however, good intentions can go seriously wrong. For instance, I took a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; I highly recommend it. In Mammoth Cave, as with all caves, the temperature and the humidity are basically constants. Mammoth Cave is a cool and damp ≈54°F 24/7/365. In 1839, Dr. John Croghan, a sufferer of tuberculosis, observed that the cave’s cold and damp air made him feel refreshed and well.

Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA
Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA

He bought the cave and opened up a tuberculosis clinic inside it. Today, we know that warm and dry air is best for people suffering from TB, but Dr. Croghan found out the hard way that cold and damp air is bad for it—all 15 patients died. Dr. Croghan didn’t follow the scientific method, he proceeded based on anecdotal evidence and a hunch. Such science, when lives are at stake, while often informative by virtue of observed results, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Let’s look at the scientific method in a nutshell.

  • A person has a question that needs answered.
  • This person then runs tests and collects evidence.
  • Based on the evidence, a hypothesis is formed in an attempt to explain the question.
  • A person then tries to disprove their hypothesis, a process known as falsification. The purpose? If you have a valid hypothesis, it should be true under any tests one subjects it to.
  • If the hypothesis passes these tests, one then publishes it for peer review. They explain their method for coming to such conclusions, their methodology at attempting falsification, and then allow others to review it, debate it, attempt to falsify it, and/or attempt to replicate it with total consistency.
  • Once the hypothesis has passed all these steps, only then does it become accepted wisdom, or even accepted natural law, such as Isaac’s laws of motion.


Recently, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt went on FNC’s Stossel and made brilliant points about the research NASA has done on climate change . He laid out the testing they’ve done, explained how they eliminated other variables, and thus concluded that mankind is increasing the CO2 in the air, and that this ever-increasing CO2 production will cause detrimental climate change. Hearing him speak alone, you could be easily convinced he had done his homework and was spot on in his hypotheses. From there however, it all went wrong.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt
Dr. Gavin Schmidt

Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion, otherwise you merely have the will of one man—which is the basis of cult. ~ Quote from The Master (a movie loosely based on Scientology)

Gavin Schmidt refused to sit next to Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate change scientist himself, with proper credentials, who happens to be skeptical of the climate doomsday scenarios often portrayed by others. In doing so, violating the process of peer review and meaningful discussion. His reason? He said he wasn’t interested in being part of a political debate.

Dr. Roy Spencer
Dr. Roy Spencer

The discussion however was not about politics, it was about the science of climate change. If Gavin Schmidt is unwilling to have his science debated, he has zero business doing scientific research at all, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.

If his science is correct, there should be no fear in defending against a skeptic. Every objection the skeptic might raise should be easily explained and dismissed if Gavin has done a thorough job and come to proper conclusions. If he cannot overcome a skeptic’s objections, then guess what? That means it isn’t settled science and his work is incomplete or even possibly false.

Convincing people the Earth is round and that the sun doesn’t revolve around it took time. But barring the most ignorant of idiots, we all agree that these statements are true now.

Al Gore
Al Gore

Those purporting climate change need to stop sensationalizing like Al Gore, debate educated climate skeptics intelligently, and stop acting like we’re all idiots for not buying what they’re selling.

As for the politics of all this? I believe we should not bankrupt the nation based on phenomena that is still not fully understood, and legislators must recuse themselves from the debate until it is. Because much like me, they aren’t climatologists either.

Sources:

http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/reflections/tuberculosis/cave.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tuberculosis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_notes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Spencer

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sildenafil

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3 thoughts on “NASA and Global Warming: Respect The Method Or Don’t Do The Science”

  1. It is discomforting that a climate scientist did not want his views to be challenged but there are two things that are responsible for this. First, the “skeptic” might be an academic troll. You simply can’t have an intelligent debate with someone who doesn’t accept facts and just sits there criticizing without any insight. It’s like wanting to go on the O’Reilly factor and say evolution is fact. Yes, it is a fact, but you have to compare apples to apples; some people reject science. And secondly, the Heritage foundation is like the academic Fox News. I’m not saying that their research and information isn’t credible, but I would encourage way more skepticism of an organization with an affiliated bias.
    I’m a libertarian but I am concerned with climate change. The facts are right there. The good news is that there is a way the two ideologies can co-exist. 🙂
    http://www.puffcritique.blogspot.com

  2. Here is the other issue at hand. Even if one accepts the science behind climate change as a result of man made CO2 emissions, the solutions being proposed have little to no scientific research to support their effectiveness. Cap and Trade is absolutely atrocious. All of the solutions being proposed limit energy production. How is an economy going to grow when limits on energy are introduced? We should be honest about climate change, explore the science openly, and have a national debate on potential solutions, as it affects everyone’s future. Personally, I think there is potential for cost effective CO2 sequestration or a industrial process for synthesized chlorophyll.

  3. I came to this blog thinking you were a reasonable/logical libertarian. I have enjoyed many of your posts, but extremely differ with you on this article based on the overwhelming facts in support of climate change.
    I consider myself a libertarian and agree with Milton Friedman who believed that the government had a right to regulate polution due to its harm on unconsenting third parties. You hide behind the excuse that your not a climate scientist but refuse to acknowledge the giant consensus among climate scientist on global warming. 97 percent of climate scientist agree that man had a huge role in raising the global tempure due to the emission on greenhouse gases. Scientific consensus is very important. At the very least you should be scientifically literate enough to understand scientific consensus. Your ambiguity is comparable to religious zealots who refute evolution, or liberals who refute vaccines and gmos.
    I also realize how rising seawater is affecting waterfront homes/ect and how we need laws to protect unconsenting third parties.

Drop some genius on me here.

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