They say that in selling or buying property the key is always: location, location, location. If you’re trying to sell a 3-bed, 2-bath apartment with all new appliances and superb layout at a great price but it’s located next to a coal plant, it might take a while to find a buyer!
When it comes to the scientific arena, the key definitely is: evidence, evidence, evidence. Evidence is what makes science. Without the evidence to collect and study, and a healthy skepticism that demands such evidence, science is merely people thinking up ideas to entertain other people. And we already have Hollywood for that.
Evidence is the real test of an idea. Scientists build their lives around finding and analyzing evidence for and against theories. Some theories are complex, others much simpler, but all must be evaluated by the same high standard of testing.
To deserve our trust, a theory must survive many, many experiments and real-world observations without a single one contradicting it. Even then it must always be held tentatively.
In courts of law, prosecutors and plaintiffs bear what is called the “burden of proof.” Simply put, that is the obligation to prove to the jury that someone has done wrong and justice is needed. That’s why we consider someone innocent until proven guilty.
Proving with solid evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant did what he or she is accused of is the responsibility of the prosecution. Only when it has been successful in its persuasion does the burden of proof shift to the accused.
We should apply this to the controversy over catastrophic anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW). Before the relatively recent climate-change fad, scientists were generally convinced that climate was a purely natural phenomenon that humans suffered from but did not influence much—at least not as much as other aspects of the environment.
The basic belief regarding the global atmospheric environment, especially over the long term, as compared with local or even regional weather systems over the short term, was that it is a highly complex natural system that cannot be predicted confidently because of the multitude of interacting variables, the lack of sufficient, accurate data, and perhaps most important (but most often ignored) its inherent nature as a chaotic non-linear fluid dynamic system.
With regard to that last point, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in the Summary for Policymakers of its Third Assessment Report (2001), “The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
The accelerating collection of data on climate science in the late twentieth century provided a wealth of information that could be used to foster all kinds of theories. Not all scientists agreed on what data were accurate and statistically representative, but the more dramatic theories began to gain public attention and acceptance.
A popular theory in the 1960s–1970s was that we were going into another ice age. Then, in the 1980s and especially the 1990s–2000s, that flip-flopped to CAGW. Most recently, prompted by the fact that global temperature has risen much more slowly than the CAGW hypothesis implied it would, the popular term has become “climate change”—a more vague, and therefore less testable, term that hides the disconnect between observed data and CAGW predictions.
Both before, when they predicted dangerous manmade global cooling, and now, when they predict CAGW, alarmists have claimed that humanity’s technological development was the underlying cause. To prevent these catastrophes—imprecise and distant though they are—they tell us we need to take drastic and immediate action.
Whoa there! Whatever happened to the burden of proof? In the courtroom analogy, climate alarmists were the prosecution, humanity was the defendant, and the jury was the public.
Climate alarmists should have been required to produce cold, hard evidence built on years of observational data. Instead they fooled the public (and often even themselves) into thinking computer climate models were evidence when in fact they are only hypotheses—however sophisticated. Then they chose to scare and guilt-trip the public into action with scary predictions shrouded in scientific jargon and based many times on faulty or unrepresentative data.
Add to that the demonization of those who disagree, and you have the makings of a rigged trial!
In the climate-change controversies, we need to do three things:
First, we need to ask ourselves if we are allowing politically motivated information to manipulate and mislead us. Second, we need to demand cold, hard science, even if it isn’t quite so dramatic and captivating as scary predictions. And third, we need to place the burden of proof back on the climate change alarmists where it belongs and restore skepticism to its honorable role at the very root of science, demanding evidence, evidence, evidence.