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Climate Science Is A Weak Science, At Best
July 02, 2014

In a follow-up to Raywolf's "Is Climate Change Bullshit" article, I hope to avoid politics entirely and get back to the fundamentals of what science actually is. This is not an article about whether the planet is warming or cooling or staying exactly the same, or whether any change can even be measured with statistical certainty, or whether a decade or a century or a millennia is the appropriate time scale for inspection, or whether any change is caused by any one or more factors. Instead, it is simply about science, and the variant rigor between its disciplines.

All the time, I hear the field of climate science being discussed as if it were on par with the hard sciences (such as physics, chemistry, and [the art of] mathematics), but it is not. I hear reports equating the certainty of future climate change to that of gravity, but that is laughable.

The difference between the so-called hard and soft sciences is how rigorously they each adhere to the scientific method. Climate science is at best a soft-science (and in its infancy), since it does not lend itself well to the scientific method.

The scientific method requires an objective scientist to:

1. Gather, archive, and share with full disclosure, observable and measurable data.

2. Form useful hypotheses based upon that data that enable observable and measurable predictions.

3. Design and execute repeatable experiments to test those hypotheses and predictions.

4. Publish the results for vigorous peer review and retesting, knowing that only after every challenge made to the hypothesis has been passed, can it be elevated to a theory; and also knowing that it takes only one contrary result to disprove even the most long-lived and accepted theory.

Putting it aside that some climate scientists appear to be politically biased, secretive, dismissive of counter-evidence, or even bribed through grants from governments with social agendas, climate science fails to conform to the scientific method in at least a couple of ways.

Data supporting (or refuting) major climate change hypotheses/predictions has not been gathered, and cannot be, for some time to come.

Major predictions based upon climate hypotheses are not observable or measurable in real-time; not in a scientist's life span, or even in the serially connected life spans of many scientists.

Presently, the major climate change hypothesis predicts a global temperature increase of about 3 degrees C over the next hundred years (a difficult to detect, in-the-noise, 1.0% absolute temperature change). But until that data point has actually been observed (by the yet-to-come second or third generation of climate scientists), the hypothesis has failed to achieve a measurable, successful prediction, and therefore has limited credibility.

Going further, should that first single hypothesis-supporting data point be observed a hundred years from now, it should be recognized that a single data point does not make a statistically valid trend. A real trend would likely require thousands of years worth of data, given the hypothesized rate of climate change. In science, it is often difficult to separate real data from background noise and random fluctuations.

I want to point out a very fine subtly though. One might argue that the last century's historical record shows temperature rising with rising CO2 levels (whether temperature rise actually leads or lags the CO2 increase, or whether the cooreleation of two variables in a many variable system implies cause are details not to be addressed here) and that proves the hypothesis that CO2 causes warming. The problem is that predictions do not go backward in time. There were no climate scientist a century ago and no experiment was created and controlled, thus no predictions were made that might now be verified or rejected. Scientists can only look forward to testing their predictions.

Experiments to test major climate change hypotheses are impossible.

Since the earth is an enormously massive and complex system, how can its climate be experimented upon? The climate scientist cannot easily turn a knob and vary the intensity of the sun, or the amount of atmospheric CO2 or water vapor, or the earth's core temperature, or the area of cloud cover, or the deep oceanic currents... or tinker with any of the many other variables that combine to produce our climate. Without the luxury of conducting controlled experiments, he cannot prove what tweaking one variable will do to the entire system.

The climate scientist, though, can surely examine some of the building blocks of the climate, such as proving in a laboratory that CO2 traps heat (undisputed fact), and then he can try to apply that finding to a larger and more complicated system, but his powers of experimentation are ultimately limited.

Currently, the climate can only be experimented upon by proxy, through simplified and incomplete computer models and simulations, and as interesting as that may be, no result of a simulation can be taken as a real physical result; nothing has been proved by the exercise.

Recall that the scientific method requires the design and execution of repeatable experiments in order to test hypotheses and predictions. Until a real planet can be produced in the laboratory, experiments cannot be conducted to verify the predictions of any major climate change hypothesis.

It should be noted, however, that if world leaders should (in a panicked reaction designed to mitigate some distant prediction of some unproven hypothesis) decide to decrease our planet's atmospheric CO2, it would be the first real climate science experiment, driven by hypothesis, ever conducted by man. The results of that experiment, though, would remain unknown for some time, perhaps thousands of years, until a statistically valid set of observations has been measured.

Climate science is not like physics.

Physicists, through the rigorous application of the scientific method, have come to fully understand much of nature. Over the last few hundred years, countless natural phenomena have been studied to the utmost extreme by very smart and disciplined men. Guesses have graduated to hypotheses, hypotheses have graduated to theories, and theories have graduated to laws, but only after innumerable measurable observations, repeatable experiments, and successful predictions, and all without a single contrary result. Climate scientists can claim no such success.

In a hard science like physics, systems are often much simpler and measurements can be made in real-time, which helps speed the process. But even still, the graduation of a hypothesis to a theory or law typically takes decades or even centuries. Physicists must be absolutely sure. Climate scientists? Not so much.

Climate science is unquestionably (and unfortunately) handicapped by its long time scales and the enormity and complexity of the system under study, and I believe that most of its scientists are sincerely doing their best to find truths about a possibly intractable thing. Nevertheless, the scientific method exists for a reason, and deviating from it (for practical or other reasons) diminishes the credibility of the field, and transforms it into more of a philosophy or an art, than a science. If experiments cannot be conducted to test predictions, what good is any of it?

Until the field of climate science evolves from its infancy and finds a way for its scientists to form testable hypotheses and predictions and gather real, statistically valid data, it will remain a soft or pseudo-science, with an appropriately lower standing than physics. The untested hypotheses of climate scientists should enjoy nothing close to the same standing as Newton's Laws of Motion.

This is a wonderful video about a real scientist, physicist Richard Feynman. From 42:50 to 44:50, he discusses pseudo-science brilliantly.

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