Prophecy not scienceRichard Treadgold | August 20, 2013
Once again, Rodney Hide strips away useless decoration to reveal the essence that lies beneath. This time, his target is Sir Peter Gluckman and his report on how climate change might be expected to affect New Zealand. Not now, later on. In 77 years. Here is Rodney’s article in the NBR last Saturday, Prophecy fails the scientific test (paywalled).
The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, has done us all a favour and provided a textbook illustration of the difference between science and non-science.
His recent report, New Zealand’s Changing Climate and Oceans (pdf, 634 KB), boldly predicts an average temperature increase of 2.1° Celsius by 2090. That prediction is the key give-away. It’s not science, it’s prophecy.
Science makes bold and surprising predictions but about the here and now, not a hundred years hence. The difference is that scientific predictions are testable whereas prophecies aren’t.
We won’t know for a hundred years whether Sir Peter’s prediction stacks up and the historical experience with prophecies is that there are always excuses when their time is up.
But that’s not all. The Gluckman Report tiresomely declares there’s scientific consensus for the theory of human-induced catastrophic global warming. But so what? Consensus is the cachet of politics, not science. Consensus was precisely what Galileo was up against.
It’s not what people think or say that matters in science but what objective reality does.
Facts decide science
Galileo observed through his telescope all the phases of Venus. The phases don’t occur in the Ptolemaic system that centres the earth and has Venus moving in its own epicycle between the earth and the sun. What the authorities have to say, what the church declares and what people think, say and vote has no effect on what Venus actually does.
Consensus doesn’t decide science. The facts do.
The Gluckman Report also cites the weight of evidence. That’s for legal argument, not science. Ptolemy claimed to be relying on 800 years of astronomical observation. By the time of Galileo another 1400 years of evidence had been added. But that weight of evidence didn’t matter a jot against the single, decisive observation of Venus showing all the phases from new to full.
There’s another feature of non-science: all contrary facts are explained away. The Gluckman Report is classic in immunising the global warming scare from awkward facts.
Sir Peter reports that the “relative ‘pause’ or hiatus in the rate of rise in the global mean surface temperature over the last decade or so … is consistent with model simulations, in which decades of no change, or even cooling, can be expected despite the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.”
Everything fits this theory
So we could have decades of no change in temperature – and even decades of temperatures cooling – and still the theory of catastrophic global warming would be true.
In the Gluckman Report no possible fact can disprove the theory of man-induced catastrophic global warming. Every possible climatic event is consistent with the theory – and no climatic event is inconsistent; at least, not for a hundred years.
That’s not science.
Einstein was bold and clear: his theory would be wrong if the sun didn’t deflect light exactly as General Relativity predicts. Science isn’t about theories that fit every conceivable fact. It’s about theories that rule out vast arrays of facts, many of which would otherwise be expected. The more a theory rules out, the more it tells us.
The theory of man-induced catastrophic global warming rules out next-to-nothing and tells us next-to-nothing.
None of this should be of any surprise. The global warming scare is more akin to a modern-day religion than science. And the very idea of a prime ministerial adviser to pontificate on science is the opposite of the scientific method.
Science doesn’t argue from authority, elected position or status. It’s the objective world that decides science, not governments.