Climate Consensus & The End of Science: Terence Corcoran versus Thomas Kuhn
I grew up in a family where we would sometimes take a vote, and then Dad would decide. Dad had some respect for the idea of a ‘majority’ or a ‘consensus’, but I can’t remember ever worrying too much about trying to convince my siblings to vote with me.
As a scientist working for government, and later in a management position with the Queensland sugar industry, my colleagues used to try and impress upon me the importance of “having the numbers” and what the “consensus” position was.
But I’ve always been less interested in who has the numbers at any particular point in time, and more interested in the argument. I’ve always believed that a solid logical argument should eventually win the day.
The other day I was sent a link to a piece by Terence Corcoran from the Financial Post in Canada titled ‘Climate Consensus and the End of Science’. It began with comment that:
“It is now firmly established, repeated ad nauseam in the media and elsewhere, that the debate over global warming has been settled by scientific consensus. The subject is closed. It seems unnecessary to labour the point, but here are a couple of typical statements: “The scientific consensus is clear: human-caused climate change is happening” (David Suzuki Foundation); “There is overwhelming scientific consensus” that greenhouse gases emitted by man cause global temperatures to rise (Mother Jones).
Back when modern science was born, the battle between consensus and new science worked the other way around. More often than not, the consensus of the time — dictated by religion, prejudice, mysticism and wild speculation, false premises — was wrong. The role of science, from Galileo to Newton and through the centuries, has been to debunk the consensus and move us forward. But now science has been stripped of its basis in experiment, knowledge, reason and the scientific method and made subject to the consensus created by politics and bureaucrats.”
The piece is interesting, it does correctly emphasis the extent to which the word ‘consensus’ is repeated invoked with the word ‘science’ and ‘climate change’ to justify support for the concept of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
Terence Corcoran’s piece might have been improved with some reference to two well know philosophers of science, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.
Popper had no time for consensus, for him science was advanced through ‘falsification’:
“Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single genuine counter-instance is logically decisive: it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false. Popper’s account of the logical asymmetry between verification and falsification lies at the heart of his philosophy of science. It also inspired him to take falsifiability as his criterion of demarcation between what is and is not genuinely scientific: a theory should be considered scientific if and only if it is falsifiable.”
[from Wikipedia, click here].
Yet so many ‘global warming believer’ complain when ‘skeptics’ present bits of information that don’t necessarily accord with the rhetoric. They might accuse the skeptic of ‘cherry picking’. But if you believe in Popper and falsification, what’s wrong with cherry picking to disprove the general applicability of a theory?
In contrast, Thomas Kuhn would perhaps see the current preoccupation with having a scientific consensus as normal:
“Thomas Kuhn … argued instead that experimental data always provide some data which cannot fit completely into a theory, and that falsification alone did not result in scientific change or an undermining of scientific consensus. He proposed that scientific consensus worked in the form of “paradigms”, which were interconnected theories and underlying assumptions about the nature of the theory itself which connected various researchers in a given field. Kuhn argued that only after the accumulation of many “significant” anomalies would scientific consensus enter a period of “crisis”. At this point, new theories would be sought out, and eventually one paradigm would triumph over the old one — a cycle of paradigm shifts rather than a linear progression towards truth. Kuhn’s model also emphasized more clearly the social and personal aspects of theory change, demonstrating through historical examples that scientific consensus was never truly a matter of pure logic or pure facts.”
[from Wikipedia, click here]
So according to Kuhn the current preoccupation with a ‘scientific consensus’ on climate change is not necessarily novel and contrary to Terence Corcoran’s ascertains it doesn’t necessarily mean “the end of science”.