The Religion of Pseudo-Science

In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the main character named Brian has been mistaken for the Messiah. This was a not-altogether farcical premise, as there were many would-be Messiahs (or as I and other Christians believe, false Messiahs) in Judea in the many centuries of Roman occupation.

In any event, Brian has been mistaken for the Messiah and despite his protests has already built a following of many hundred or perhaps thousands of followers in just a few short hours. Brian has been denying is “divine” existence consistently, and runs off to escape the throng of worshippers. In doing so, he accidentally steps on an old hermit’s foot, causing him to cry out in pain, breaking a years-long vow of silence. When the throng catches up with Brian, they discover this man does not believe in Brian’s divinity and so begins their religious persecution of the heretic unbeliever.

While I always considered the idea of a religion being formed in a matter of hours or days to be laughable at best, I am beginning to see a trend developing over the past few years in modern culture: The Religion of Pseudo-Science.

Think about it: Both science and religion attempt to offer an explanation for our existence. Both have mythical-seeming figures: Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed and others for religion; Archemedes, Pythagorus, Copernicus and Newton for science. Both use techniques, terminology and skills that are generally little understood by the average person. Both are taught. Both use previous delineated knowledge to support their current interpretations and extrapolations.

Science has one thing that religion does not: For many it is perceived to be the anti-religion. There is no God. No ritualistic worship rituals. No high-up spiritual leader telling people how to interperet their findings and what they should believe in spite of alternate evidence.

Wait a tick on that last one:

You see, Al Gore got his Nobel Peace Prize by claiming that the science of Global Warming has been settled. Indeed, many promoters of the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) from CO2 emissions are trying to tell us that their theory–which has yet to be properly scientifically evaluated–is scientific fact. They are so desperate to convince us of this supposed “fact” that they have enlisted the non-scientific idea of “consensus” to get others to believe.

Consensus has no basis in hard science. To quote the late Michael Chricton:

Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. [my emphasis]

It was the “consensus” of scientists in the early 1800s that the atom was the smallest bit of mass. Later, it was the “consensus” of the electron, which scientists knew to be smaller than protons or neutrons. Then there were quarks. Now some scientists propose that the inconceivably small quarks are derived from an even smaller form of matter/energy construct that even they do not fully understand. In phsyics, “consensus” denied Albert Einstien’s theory of relativity (and rightly so, as it took decades to develop evidence). Even the great Eitnstein’s theories are now in question. “Consensus” is nice when writing a text book, but it often proves incorrect and usually is incomplete.

The primary tenet of “scientific proof” is one of repeatability. For example, we know that gravity exists, whatever it may be, because objects with mass tend to be drawn toward each other. You and I and the computer screen you are reading this from are drawn toward the Earth. The Moon is drawn toward the Earth. The Earth is drawn toward the sun, which itself is drawn toward the center of the galaxy. Only the relative velocity and distance of these objects keeps the Earth from crashing into the sun, the sun from careening toward the center of the galaxy. It can be calculated, over and over, what will happen to an object of known mass moving near another object of known mass in a vacuum, and with sufficient data, what will happen in an atmosphere. It is observable, predictable and repeatable.

In fact, it is intellectually dishonest to say that science “proves” anything. More accurately, science can only disprove or fail to disprove. This is because science is conducted in the negative: I hypothesize “A.” I set up an experiment that, if A is true, should be successful. If the experiment fails, then “A” cannot be true. If it works, then “A” is not disproved, but neither is it proved. Experiments generally cannot eliminate the possibility of an X-Factor: Something other than the hypothesis “A” that allows the experiment to be successful.

As an absurd example, take another Monty Python movie: In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a woman is accused of being a witch, so the people of the town ask the local magistrate (Terry Jones playing Sir Bedivere) if they may burn her at the stake. He insists on proof:

Bedivere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peseant1: More witches! (cries of “Burn her! Burn the witch!”)
Peseant2: Wood!
Bedivere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peseant3: (after pause) ‘Cause they’re… made of… wood?
Bedivere: Good!

“Bedivere” then uses a progression of logical fallacies to explain how, if witches can burn they are made of wood, and since wood floats, she should also float. Then, since he has no concept of density, he suggests they weigh the woman against something else that also floats. If they weigh the same, then she must be a witch and burned. In the movie, it turns out that she weighs the same as a duck and the townspeople carry her off to the stake. “It’s a fair cop,” she laments.

The problem comes from the preconception of Sir Bedivere: That anything that burns must be made of wood. Likewise the preconceptions of climate models are that CO2 is a strong greenhouse gas, and that the carbon that humans add to the atmosphere must have a significant effect. In fact, CO2 has been shown to be far less potent a greenhouse gas than both methane and water vapor. Without accounting for the remaining composition of the atmosphere and dozens of other factors such as sun-spot activity, cloud cover and terran volcanism, how can any experimental model ever hope to predict the effect of CO2 on such a vast, complex system?

A more simplistic example of how this works looks like this: I hypothesize that gravity affects “lighter” objects differently than “heavier” objects. To prove this, I use two objects with dissimilar weight: A feather and a bowling ball. I put each in a trap-ledge, pull, and observe what happens when the trap falls. You can guess the results: The feather wafts down slowly, drifting from side to side and spinning, finally coming to a rest on the couch far away in the corner after several seconds. Meanwhile the bowling ball has already crashed down on top of my foot, crushing my toes and smashing my metatarsals, sending me to the hospital writhing in agony.

The experiment meanwhile has showed that gravity has a different effect on objects that weigh different amounts! My theory is proved, albeit painfully! Except for one thing: Repeatability. I must now be able to take this experiment and transfer it to a new medium.

After weeks in a cast and months of physical therapy, I try the experiment again, this time with a baseball and a tennis ball. Again, you can predict the result: The baseball and tennisball, similarly sized and shaped but very different in weight, arrive on the floor virtually simultaneously (which I observe via closed-circuit television to prevent any further damage to my extremities). The original experiment is now disproved! My theory, it turns out, was wrong! I hadn’t accounted for the effect of the resistance of air on two objects of different densities!

This is precisely what is happening with the Global Warming ideology, as well as other areas of science. The moment a preconception fails to be disproved, without any more testing the “scientist” involved gets to work writing their thesis (and their Nobel Prize acceptance speech). Then, when someone dares to question the research or attempts to show that the models are not predictive or repeatable, the skeptic is labeled as a denier, a troglodyte, a corporate shill, anything but a legitimate skeptic. Rather than being the bulwark sustainer of intellectual pursuit, the scientist has become the anti-intellectual, defending with religious fervor his mistakenly held preconception which he has now “proved.”

This is the same kind of anti-intellectual behavior practised during the inquisition, when scientific theories were labeled as heresy or blasphemy. After all, how dare these mere “scientists” question the motives and teachings of the One True Pope–uh, that is, One True God? Do they not understand the infallibility of Holy Mother Church–uh, that is, God? Today it is reversed: Do these heretics not understand the infallibility of our climate research–uh, that is, the Scientific Method?

Certainly it is not all the scientists. Many scientists are simply publishing or promoting their ideas and hypotheses. They have a little bit of data and are looking for more funding to build better models; but bureaucrats, politicians and journalists take these preliminary findings as proven fact and report it back to us. The average person does not understand the models and data are not final or even sufficiently tested to be called theory, let alone fact.

On the other hand some scientists are making themselves Bishops and Cardinals of the Church of Pseudo-Science, where a simple hypothesis and one predictive model are “fact” and anything else is heresy. These climate scientists are making the same logical mistake as Sir Bedivere: They have preconceived that Anthorpogenic Global Warming is real, and so they have moved on to building models that show how bad Man will make things. They build their models based on these preconceptions, but as has been shown, their models do not stand the test of time and give us critically erroneous results. Worse, some are even lying about their predictive modeling, showing how well their model works but lying about the data that is put into it just as flim-flam healers “cure” blind or paralyzed audience members. Like the healer, the scientist gives all the “proof” needed for those ready to believe in any miracle, even a fake one.

Until we can show that Global Warming is in fact caused by man’s production of CO2, we cannot adequately describe a model that will predict the future of our climate. Until we have research that is double-blind, repeatable and predictable and therefore unbiased, there is no real science on which to base our actions. Anyone who argues in favor of one viewpoint or another without these unbaised results is merely another preacher, another priest in competing religions of Pseudo-Science.

Cross-posted at Seeking Liberty and The Minority Report.