Dissent the cornerstone of the scientific process

Attempting to prevent others from advocating a view contrary to your own is contrary to the scientific process

Download this column on scientific process
Terms and Conditions of use

Contact Stephen

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates Dec. 8, 2015/ Troy Media/ – The climate change debate has become so polarizing that legitimate dissenting science is being buried.

For many people, climate change is a defining issue of our time. But for others, the idea that man-made greenhouse gases cause climate change is a distraction from more significant issues.

Certainly the Earth’s climate is changing and part of the reason is human activity – farming, transport, energy systems and population growth.

But the science of climate change is not nearly settled. The climate data from satellites and other physical measurement systems do not match the predictions derived from computer models. The Earth is not warming as fast as predicted, despite the significant rise in CO2. Extreme weather events, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, are complex and not caused by human activity. However, the level of damage they cause is very much linked to where people live (lowlands with poor sea walls or levies, flood plains and in vulnerable coastal and island regions).

Many climate scientists will tell you that estimating climate sensitivity to CO2 is problematic. In addition, the role of other factors – the sun, clouds, winds, ocean currents, El Nino and La Nina, land and sea sequestration of CO2 – is not fully understood. Judith Curry, a leading climatologist at Georgia Tech, points out the climate is a “wicked” problem. It is also messy as a science and a significant challenge for public policy.

Reducing human emissions of CO2 may not have a significant impact on the rate of warming – it may be that natural factors play a much bigger role than some scientists think. Danish author and environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg estimates the full impact of the Paris COP21 commitments to reduce CO2 emissions will be less than 0.05C by 2100.

The idea that the sun is a key factor driving Earth surface temperatures is not new. It is the focus of some peer-reviewed scientists whose work suggests that the Earth will cool rather than warm in the near term. Others suggest that a period of warming is part of a natural cycle, strongly influenced by the sun, and that man-made CO2 has little to do with it.

Such is the diversity of legitimate science.

Progress in science is not based on voting or polls – it is based on evidence. And the scientific process must encourage differences of opinion based on a hypothesis supported by data, evidence and analysis. Advancement is made through debate, challenge and dispute. A hypothesis, over time, can change or be replaced based on new data.

Some scientists suggest that those who disagree with them are “deniers” of an established science. The word is used to discredit those whose views differ from their own. They also claim that those who disagree with them are being paid off by fossil fuel companies, even though many of these dissenters receive no such corporate support and often no support at all.

Yet most of the multibillion-dollar climate research industry is sponsored by governments, which have clear vested interests.

The idea that governments are neutral, independent and non-partisan in their investment in climate science is not matched by the facts. Look at the percentage of government funds allocated to scientists who disagree with the position of government. It is small. We do not seem to be concerned that scientists in the government mainstream seek to promote the views of their funders.

Now a group of environmentalists is trying to prevent others from advocating a view contrary to their own. They object to bill-board advertising that says “the Sun is the main driver of climate change – not you, not CO2,” paid for by Friends of Science. They claim this breaches Canada’s Competition Act, which prohibits the making of materially false or misleading representations for the purpose of promoting any business interest. They suggest that Friends of Science is promoting the interest of fossil fuel companies by discrediting “the established scientific consensus that global warming and climate change are real and caused by human activity.”

So much for unfettered debate.

Seeking to inhibit the expression of such science is an attack on the process of science. A better response is to challenge the analysis and scientific basis of this work in peer-reviewed journals, conferences and workshops.

Any view based on a clear hypothesis supported by evidence should be heard. They may all be right.

Stephen Murgatroyd is a consultant in innovative business and education practices with a PHd in psychology. Stephen is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

Troy Media Marketplace © 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Trusted editorial content provider to media outlets across Canada
Terms and Conditions of use Get Help FAQ

Submit a Letter to the Editor

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]

You must be logged in to post a comment Login