With apologies to Max Born and Niels Bohr, we now have the Copenhagen Interpretation of Global Warming. It is, in a shallow sense, like the original Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanical formalism from the 1920s, establishing, beyond immediate doubt, that the observer is an essential and irreducible feature of any scientific research. A very shallow sense. In fact, I am joking, in my usual rather arcane way.
So now I can start explaining my joke.
Thanks to unprecedented international funding, all kinds of studies are now washing in about the effect of rising temperatures on everything from polar ice caps to tropical rainforests, all of them commissioned on the dubious premise that man-made global warming is “settled science.”
Studies of whether the premise itself was true have gone begging, and indeed, anyone applying to do such research will by now have found himself unwarmed, and at best skulking around the New York conference of climate-change skeptics earlier this week, with 600 underfunded colleagues, mostly highly qualified scientists.
Whereas 2,000 of the world’s best-funded elite were meeting in Copenhagen—the number of scientists fleshed out with large packs of politicians, bureaucrats, and corporate poseurs. The purpose of that conference was to “move beyond” the 2007 report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was to harvest the more recent studies for material to support even grander predictions of doom if the IPCC’s 192 sovereign sponsors do not immediately create a global green dictatorship.
With the public at large, the skeptics are obviously winning. Polls show increasing general indifference to global warm-mongering, compensated by increasing worry about the state of the world economy. This does not, of course, mean the doom-sayers are wrong—in democracies, the people are often wrong—but it does help explain the volume and pitch of the Copenhagen pronouncements. On the other hand, we are told by the old-fashioned press that many of the delegates expressed concern that the level of shrieking had become self-defeating.
The problem, for the purveyors of global environmental doom, is one that emerges in any system of scientific inquiry when it becomes self-referential. The academics who thrive in such an environment may actually believe in the cause they espouse; but they are also paid to believe in it. The various systems of peer-review—which emerged with a vengeance after the Second World War, and have continued to mutate into something that would have sunk almost every major scientific advance in previous history—have themselves become deeply corrupted. What was intended at first as an administrative mechanism to reduce the amount of sheer flakery in scientific journals has become a policing system to enforce scientific orthodoxy.
And the problem with that is, there can be no such thing as scientific orthodoxy. Free empirical enquiry includes testing the premises as well as the results; and for skeptics, a perpetual open season on both.
Nor was science traditionally the monopoly of a credentialed class. Once again, it must be stressed that major advances in all the sciences have as often come from rank amateurs as from seasoned professionals.
Nor is it surprising that this should be so, for the ability to see questions whole, to apply logic and even common sense dispassionately, is hardly restricted to those who are coagulated into the specialized details of a subject.
I have recently seen four “major studies” expressing tremendous alarm about the rate at which ice may be melting towards the earth’s poles. I do not have to doubt the actual findings, which are in several cases quite interesting (about things like underlying water strata, that help skid ice sheets out to sea, the effects of which are only now being measured), in order to doubt the use to which these studies are put.
I merely observe that, depending on the study, large gaps exist in the reasoning. Things like, 1) the non-existence of historical comparisons; 2) the persistent focus on non-representative, but most easily accessible, coastal localities in Greenland and Antarctica; 3) an under-appreciation of seasonal fluctuations; 4) the non-correlation with human activity, or worse, whimsical correlations. Et cetera.
But the main point is much simpler than that. Of course the ice is melting, and of course sea levels are rising. They have been doing so continuously for the last 18,000 years—since the maximum glaciation towards the end of the last Ice Age. Leave out the context (as journalists well know) and you can make almost anything look Very Scary.