Friday, 15 September 2017

Climate Change is pseudoscience

Any set of beliefs and practices or body of knowledge is a pseudoscience if it is presented as science, but does not actually conform to the scientific method. My argument in this post is that Climate Change meets the two criteria perfectly. Pseudosciences exhibit a number of features that are notable by their absence in genuine science. I shall demonstrate their presence in Climate Change and attempt to show how they have been used to protect this ideology from rational criticism. 

Untestable assertions

One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is the inclusion of assertions that cannot be shown to be false. Climate Change makes significant use of this technique. For example, the very name itself, which is not the name of a science or a subject of scientific study, implies an untestable assertion, ie, that the climate is changing in a significant and serious manner. Beyond the trite truism that the climate has always changed, just as the weather constantly changes, this claim simply begs the question. 

More specifically, Climate Change is about the future, and the future is essentially unknowable. Therefore, if Climate Change was a science, the predictions would be made and we would wait to see if they were accurate. However, the computer models, which are used to make these predictions, have delivered predictions which have not been realised. According to the models, the global average temperature should be constantly increasing. Yet, there has been no global warming for over a decade. Further, the three decade decline in temperature from the 1940s to the 1970s is completely inexplicable. These facts are not treated as dis-confirmation of Climate Change. They are simply ignored. 

Climate Change is, not only about the future, it is also concerned with the whole planet. This makes tests, experiments and controls impossible. Such an holistic approach, with so many interacting variables, in itself renders null any notion of applying the scientific method. There are simply too many possibilities. One cannot know, as distinct from guessing, what weight or significance to attach to which variable in any observed global phenomenon. 

Reliance on Confirmation 

Another hallmark of pseudoscience is it relies of confirmation. Climate Change had this reliance built into it from the outset. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change only uses evidence that supports Climate Change. This is because the organisation is not a scientific body. It was created by the United Nations in order to support the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. This framework asserts, as international law, that anthropogenic global warming exists and is dangerous and can be mitigated by carbon dioxide emissions reduction. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is, therefore, legally obligated to promote that view, regardless of the evidence. Indeed, it has never seriously considered alternatives, other than to attempt to discredit them. 

This reliance on confirmation can also be seen in the reversal of the burden of proof. In science, the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim. It is for them to show the evidence and prove that their assertion is correct. With Climate Change, this burden of proof is simply ignored. We are repeatedly told that the 'science is settled'. The assertion is false: in the general sense of science never being completely settled and, much more significantly, in the specific sense that our knowledge of the climate is, not surprizingly, very limited. It is also far from settled in the more particular sense that thousands of scientists are not persuaded. Indeed, over thirty-two thousand scientists have signed a petition expressing scepticism.  

Lack of Openness

Another distinguishing feature of pseudoscience is a lack of openness to testing by others. An examination of Climate Change provides many serious examples of this trait. The most serious of these is the refusal to allow others access to the actual data. This is absolutely essential, as without such access it is impossible for the scientific community to verify or refute the Climate Change assertions. Where data has been released, it has generally been subjected to manipulations by computer models, the codes for which have also been kept secret. However, when computer code of such a model was leaked, it was found that the adjustments were such that a warming trend would be inevitable, regardless of the data. There are also examples where actual data has found its way into the public domain and in such cases the real data, unlike the adjusted data, do not show warming. 

This lack of openness to testing can also be seen in the tendency to use press conferences and releases to announce so called scientific findings and conclusions. This tactic pre-empts the self-critical function of the scientific community, and reveals a political, rather than scientific, motivation. 

The peer review process, whereby independent experts review scientific work, is of fundamental importance in ensuring scientific rigour. Indeed, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change makes much of its exclusive use of peer reviewed evidence. However, the assertion is highly misleading and, in fact, false. The peer reviewed papers are actually reviewed by a relatively small group of scientists, who are each reviewing each others' work and, as was revealed by the leaked Climatic Research Unit emails, consider themselves to be a team, working to a common cause. Indeed, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has, contrary to its much vaunted assertions, used campaigning material from WWF in its current Assessment Report as though it were peer reviewed science. 

This misuse of the peer review process, as revealed by the leaked emails, extended to the group conspiring to prevent other scientists, who held differing views, from publishing their work in peer reviewed journals. 

They have also adopted that other well worn technique of pseudoscience and attempted to justify non-disclosure on the basis of claims of confidentiality, proprietary knowledge and non-disclosure agreements. Such practices have no place in genuine science. However, they have gone even further and actually destroyed data, rather than have to disclose it. 

Lack of progress

Science is a self-correcting process. In stark contrast, pseudoscience is characterised by a failure to self correct. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly ignored errors that have been pointed out. For example, the Mann hockey stick graph was shown to have been produced by a model that would produce the hockey stick shape nine times out of ten, regardless of the data. Yet, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change continues to behave as though the hockey stick results are an accurate reflection of reality. The internal processes of the production of the Assessment Reports have also been characterised by a refusal to accept criticism, with Summary for Policy Makers being written before the underpining science. 

Personalisation of issues

The personalisation of issues is perhaps the  sign of pseudoscience par excellence and it is clearly present in Climate Change. There is a very small group of scientists producing and presiding over the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change science. They see themselves as a team, working towards a common goal. They have, as I indicated above, worked together to suppress dissent and freeze others out. They have identified people who disagree with their views as enemies. The leaked emails provide some powerful examples of the extent of such emotive responses. Indeed, those who disagree are not debated with, rather they are subject to personal insults and labelled as deniers. 

Misleading language 

There are many examples of this, but the most blatant is the labelling of carbon dioxide as pollution. The fact that the perpetrators of this linguistic sleight of hand have been able to get away with it defies belief. Carbon dioxide is used by plants, which produce oxygen and food. It is a fundamental building block of life. To call it pollution is a travesty of both reality and language.

It is clear from this analysis that Climate Change bears the hallmarks of pseudoscience. One might then wonder at its ability to command such a high degree of acceptance. I would point out that this has happened before. Indeed, many people apparently find it much easier to accept pseudoscience than they do science. However, being able to distinguish between science and pseudoscience is a basic test of scientific literacy. The fact that so many people in positions of authority are apparently unable to identify Climate Change as a pseudoscience is deeply disturbing.

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