Vail Daily column: We have a responsibility when it comes to science
May 14, 2017
Whenever I hear someone proffer the argument that "climate science is settled," I cringe, because as Dr. Charles Krauthammer opined sometime back, "there is nothing more anti-scientific than the idea that science is settled, static and impervious to challenge."
Now I don't believe spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is helpful to the planet, but at the same time, the reality is "climate science" has become more about politics than science. And that's so very unfortunate because once science is politicized, it ceases being science and becomes something akin to astrology or alchemy.
This topic sorely needs public policy debate on the very real issues of protecting the environment, greenhouse-gas emissions and energy sources, something I've opined in the past. But the politicization of climate science has distorted so much that each side does little more than shout at one another.
Art and Science
The study of climate change is both art and science. It's also complicated beyond the ken of most lay people. But that doesn't seem to deter those who haven't seen the inside of a classroom since high school from becoming experts in the field without the benefit of actually studying the subject.
The idea that anthropogenic climate change is too sacred to be challenged takes climatology from a science and pulls it into the realm of religion. And those who beat that drum the loudest may claim to be scientists, but they're little more than the high priests and priestesses of a new theology.
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Even worse than the pretense of "settled science" is the cynical attribution of any politically convenient natural disaster to climate change, a clever way to attribute anything — warming, cooling, drought, flood or whatever else occurs with our weather, to the use of fossil fuels.
Most people are unaware that 97 percent of climate change research uses some type of modeling. Modeling can be a very useful tool; it's a way of playing with hypotheses to explore their implications or to test them against observations. In fact, that's how modeling is used in most other sciences.
But climate modeling and climate science are not one and the same, and most climate research appears to be focused primarily on improving the models. But in doing so, it makes the assumption that the models are basically correct in subscribing to the hypothesis of human-caused climate change — a very unscientific assumption.
So what does all this have to do with the title of this commentary, "We have a responsibility"? Quite a bit, actually, inasmuch as it would benefit our children greatly if the information they receive on the subject is accurate and unbiased.
I don't know what's being taught in Eagle County Schools, but judging from comments and actions I've observed from my grandkids and their friends, I have my suspicions. And the most unscientific way an educator can present the subject of climate change to his or her students is by beginning with the most unscientific premise imaginable — that "the science is settled."
A teacher interested in factual representation should know that real science is a process of examination and exploration, not a fact, pronouncement or conclusion. To teach otherwise in the classroom is an extension of a teacher's ideology, not science.
Quote of the day: "If climate science is settled, why do its predictions keep changing?" — Charles Krauthammer.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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