May 29, 2012
The science coverage at Ars Technica (when the subject has political implications) tends to spin left, so I wasn’t too surprised when I read today’s article about two studies of public discourse on climate change and saw that it tried to present the studies in a way that supports the progressive narrative. But reading between the lines, this is what the researchers seem to have found out: opponents of the “climate change” movement spend more time talking about the models that provide the supposed science than supporters do, and the more scientifically literate and numerate people are, the more likely they are to be skeptical about climate change. (Actually, you won’t really get that last from the Ars Technica article. This article just says that conservatives—“hierarchical individualists” in the jargon of the researchers— become more skeptical the more they know, while left-wing types—“egalitarian communitarians”—become less. You’ll have to read The Register’s coverage of the same study to learn that the majority of the scientific and numerate types were right-wing, so that the overall trend was “the more you know, the more skeptical you are.” And maybe some day I’ll write another post on the goofy ways left-wingers try to describe conservatives.)
Anyway, when I read:
This image of models being nothing more than meaningless computer games seems to resonate with some people who, after seeing a clear weather forecast for the weekend, have instead quite literally had it rain on their parades. If we can’t predict the weather a few days in advance, the popular thinking goes, how can we know what climate will be like in 50 years?
it reminded me of something that happened back in college. A semester or two before I graduated, I took an honors biology course. Hans and another physics major (I’m not sure I remember her name) were in the same class, and we always used to give the professor a hard time about Biology not being a “real” science like Physics. Anyway, one day he came in really exited about some other scientist’s work on a theory about ecology. He went on and on about how great it was, culminating with, “and he’s even done Computer Simulations!” So I raised my hand and said, “Last night I did a computer simulation. I killed 40 Klingons.”
The great thing about computers is you can model almost anything. The test, as far as science is concerned, is not that a group of scientists has reached a consensus that the models are the bees’ knees, it’s that the models predict things that are subsequently verified by reality. “If we can’t predict the weather a few days in advance how can we know what climate will be like in 50 years?” is actually a good question, and “We’re scientists, and we say so,” isn’t really a good answer. If the climate models had a track record of accurately predicting climate that would be one thing, but no one seems to be claiming that. Until they do, I’ll remain skeptical.