Science, Pseudoscience, and Philosophy

Karl Popper argued that the primary criterion of science is the falsifiability of a theory. One cannot prove something absolutely, but one can falsify. A set of ideas that cannot be tested may, in fact, be true, but it isn’t science.

Global warming may be occurring, and a significant cause may be human activity, but there is no way to do a controlled experiment to evaluate what might be happening. Some historical data has been published, but that’s more analogous to the sort of natural history that was done before advent of modern biology. Some computer models have be used to create guestimate simulations, but that’s not controlled experimentation. The science isn’t settled because no science has yet been done.

Kate Sheppard, the environmental writer for Mother Jones, has been writing in defense of the “climate scientists” who have had their email exposed. See here and here. Her posts have lines such as “600 years of temperature data can’t be wrong.” Well, the actual data aren’t wrong. The question being raised is whether the data presented are actual data, and, if they are, is the interpretation correct?

As Howard Portnoy points out over in The Green Room, the emails show a pattern of concern for a strong enough story to keep government funding alive.

People like Kate Sheppard should be just as outraged by this political—and anti-scientific—silliness as the sources she condemns. Science is a quest first and foremost for the truth. If a hypothesis fails to predict or describe observable data, then the hypothesis gets replaced—not the data.

Global warming may be happening, it may be serious, and it may be principally man-induced. However, the conduct revealed in the hacked emails does not inspire confidence in the integrity of the data or it’s interpretation to date.