From FoxNews.com yesterday comes a story about a Nobel Prize winning physicist withdrawing from his professional organization over the politics of climate change. Dr.Ivar Giaever resigned due to the American Physical Society‘s official statement of policy on the subject.
Giaever was cooled to the statement on warming theory by a line claiming that “the evidence is incontrovertible.”
“In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?” he wrote in an email to Kate Kirby, executive officer of the physics society.
“The claim … is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period,” his email message said.
A spokesman for the APS confirmed to FoxNews.com that the Nobel Laureate had declined to pay his annual dues in the society and had resigned. He also noted that the society had no plans to revise its statement.
The use of the word “incontrovertible” had already caused debate within the group, so much so that an addendum was added to the statement discussing its use in April, 2010.
“The word ‘incontrovertible’ … is rarely used in science because by its very nature, science questions prevailing ideas. The observational data indicate a global surface warming of 0.74 °C (+/- 0.18 °C) since the late 19th century.”
Read more here. My interest is in the discussion of certainty. Can anything in science be incontrovertible? My reaction to my friend Josh Wood when he posted this link on Facebook, and asked if I knew anything about Giaever was:
Never heard of him, as far as I can remember, but I think that he does raise interesting points from a statistical perspective. The very idea of “proof” with data is one that is often misunderstood, and I think that Giaever is correct in pointing that out. If they are saying that the observed average temperature is higher, then I can understand “incontrovertible”, but the why/how and the implications of that are certainly up for debate. It is possible that humans contribute, but I’m not even sure how someone could prove such a thing.
As the article states, there is no disagreement about whether the average temperature today has changed, at least in the raw number. The issue is the interpretation. Noting a change, and granting that point, is not the same thing as agreeing that the change is proof of a trend or pattern, let alone saying anything about the cause, if the pattern even exists. It is certainly reasonable to argue, as some do, that we don’t have data back far enough to rule out the change being part of a cyclic pattern that we have not affected and changed. It is also possible to claim, as others do, that the warming trend is just the beginning of an accelerating warming pattern completely caused by humans. There are certainly a variety of viewpoints in between, but the point is that we simply don’t have temperature data back far enough to decide one way or another on these claims.
This means that the decision, if one is to be made, must be based on studies that attempt to measure the effect of various changes on the atmosphere. Such things have been tried, but are, of course subject to debate as to the methods and the extent of the conclusions that can be drawn. Suffice it to say, if the APS is claiming that there is incontrovertible evidence that the average temperature of earth has generally gone up over the last century, I could live with that claim. I can’t go further since I haven’t personally looked over the data. If they are claiming that there is incontrovertible evidence that the earth is in a unique period of warming, and especially if they claim incontrovertible evidence that this is caused by humans, I cannot agree that this statement is anything by laughable. Even if they are making the much more modest claim, I can understand Giaever’s symbolic protest, based on the unclear nature of the statement and a desire to make clear that a broader interpretation is clearly incorrect. Science is (or at least should be) about a search for truth in the world around us. As a Christian, I feel that this search should bring us closer to our Creator by revealing the way that He created His world. The attempt to stifle the search by pre-defining what types of results are acceptable is a clear attempt to hinder the search for truth, and thus the search for God. (see Romans 1.20-22)