Thursday, January 12, 2006

She blinded me with Science, part 2

That a popular theory could be so wrong came to the fore once again when scientists in Germany discovered a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, comes from trees. Trees! The Amazon forest produces tons of the stuff. What to do, what to do? The Kyoto protocols that seek to mobilize governments into fighting global warming has a ‘tree credit’ clause which allows countries a bit more leeway in their greenhouse gas emissions if they offset it with a reforestation program. Trees have been known to soak up carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and so cancels out the greenhouse gas emissions of industry. Or so they thought. The anti-global warming scientists probably are snickering at this development. No the ‘antis’ don’t deny global warming. They just deny that human activities have anything to do with climate change. They believe it is a natural cyclical process that has been going on even before we showed up and they decry the waste of money that’s being poured into measures to fight it. That greenhouse gases come from trees seem to bolster the theory that the earth will go through it’s warming-cooling cycles even without our help. But does this new finding slow down the ‘It’s-all-our-fault’ climate scientists? Not one bit. There is an entire industry that has been built on it already. Reputations, egos, and the research grant dollars are at stake. According to Nobel Prize winning chemist Kary Mullis, Global warmers predict that global warming is coming, and our emissions are to blame. They do that to keep us worried about our role in the whole thing. If we aren't worried and guilty, we might not pay their salaries. It's that simple.”

Falsifiability is one of the most popular criteria for determining if a theory is scientific. This is because absolute verifiability is impossible since there is an infinite number of possible hypotheses that can explain a particular phenomenon. A scientific theory can never be proven right. It can only be proven wrong. Scientists therefore are limited to investigating theories that they can falsify. Any scientist that seeks to espouse conclusions that science couldn’t bear out runs the risk of looking like a fool, or worse, a fanatic. But that’s just what Richard Dawkins did. In a 2-part TV show in the British Channel 4, Professor Dawkins stated that religion is akin to child abuse, and that the Judeo-Christian God “has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist.” Dawkins’s field is biology, specifically ethology or the study of animal behavior. One wonders what sort of scientific experiments the good professor ran to reach such a conclusion. Of course, Professor Dawkins, when he stated those things, wasn't making a scientific conclusion, but a philosophical or theological one, well outside his field of expertise, philosophy and theology being inherently unfalsifiable scientifically. His statements therefore can just as easily be dismissed as utter nonsense the way we can dismiss Pat Robertson’s opinion that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a punishment from God. (Although as a theologian, Dr. Robertson didn't stray far away from his field of expertise, the statement was nevertheless stupid. I mean have you seen Ariel Sharon? He’s old, overweight, and is the Prime Minister of one of the most troubled countries in the world. That spells stroke in any language.)

I don't know what it is with scientists and their egos. If you really look at it, scientists should be the most humble people on the planet. That’s because science recognizes that at any time, as new data come in, they could be wrong. It also recognizes that the things open to scientific investigation are very limited indeed. And yet, the image of the scientist in my mind is one of in-your-face chutzpah, thanks to people like Richard Dawkins.

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