Celestial Collisions, Climate Change and Consensus
Despite efforts to correct and educate many ersatz climate experts, many persist in using consensus as an argument in favor of the failed theory of global warming caused by human CO2 emissions. From froth at the mouth fanboys on Twitter to empty headed politicians on network television, the cry comes: “what about the 97% consensus among scientists?” On occasion old, and evidently lazy, scientists revert to using “consensus” as an argument. Once again I will try to set the record straight when it comes to polls among scientists and scientific proof.
One of the reasons that the level of discourse regarding climate change and climate science is so low is the inclusion of hoards of unwashed greens, tree-huggers, fruitarians and other assorted Hollywood boobs, activists and pandering politicians in the discussion. Most of those commenting on all things climate would not know science if it jumped up and bit them, so let me say this clearly from the start—consensus is not a valid scientific argument. Period. Taking a poll among any group of boffins regarding a scientific theory only reveals how many of them have taken the lazy way out and adopted group think in lieu of actual thought. A brief story regarding another field of science may prove instructive.
Excluding the green cheese theory, five serious theories have been proposed for the formation of the Moon according to astrophysicists:
- The Fission Theory: The Moon was once part of the Earth and somehow separated from the Earth early in the history of the Solar System. The present Pacific Ocean basin is the most popular site for the part of the Earth from which the Moon came.
- The Capture Theory: The Moon was formed somewhere else, and was later captured by the gravitational field of the Earth.
- The Condensation Theory: The Moon and the Earth condensed together from the original nebula that formed the Solar System.
- The Colliding Planetesimals Theory: The interaction of earth-orbiting and Sun-orbiting planetesimals (very large chunks of rocks like asteroids) early in the history of the Solar System led to their breakup. The Moon condensed from the resulting debris.
- The Giant Impact Theory: A planetesimal the size of Mars struck the earth, ejecting large volumes of matter. A disk of orbiting material was formed, and this matter eventually condensed to form the Moon in orbit around the Earth.
In 1898, George Darwin, the second son of Charles Darwin and a noted astronomer, made the suggestion that the Earth and Moon had once been one body. Darwin's hypothesis was that when Earth was still molten the Moon had been spun off because of centrifugal forces. Using Newtonian mechanics, he calculated that the Moon had orbited much more closely in the past and was drifting away from the Earth. This explanation of lunar formation, the Moon Fission Theory, became the dominant academic explanation—the consensus of the day.
Nonetheless, some dissented from this explanation—call them fission formation skeptics. It seems that as attractive as Darwin's theory was, his calculations could not trace the Moon backward all the way to Earth's surface. In 1946, Reginald A. Daly of Harvard University challenged Darwin's explanation, adjusting it to postulate that the creation of the Moon was caused by an impact rather than centrifugal forces. Little attention was paid to Daly's challenge at first and history does not record whether he was called a lunar denier by the mainstream astrophysicists of his day. Then, at an international conference on satellites in 1974, the idea was reintroduced by Dr. William K. Hartmann and Dr. Donald R. Davis.
This new theory was dubbed the Giant Impact Theory, sometimes called the Big Splash. It states that approximately 4.5 billion years ago, in the Hadean eon not long after the solar system had coalesced, the Moon was formed out of the debris left over from an indirect collision between the Earth and an astronomical body the size of Mars. Once again a new consensus was formed, centered around the giant impact theory, and the old fission theory was discarded. As others have noted, scientists spend their lives moving from one erroneous theory to another less erroneous theory. Indeed, that is the fate of almost all scientific theories, to be set aside when a better, more correct theory comes along.
So, as the new consensus settled in for three or four decades, it seemed that the mystery of the Moon's formation was solved—the science settled as the closed minded put it. But this is science and science is never settled. In a recent edition of the journal Nature, a forum article by Tim Elliot has once again raised issues with the formation of the Moon:
Not since NASA's scientists definitively announced that the lunar white stuff was non-dairy has the Moon faced such an identity crisis. Ironically, it seems that our satellite is compositionally too similar to Earth for a simple explanation of its origins. Most dynamical and even some chemical attributes of the Earth–Moon system have been successfully explained by a 'giant impact' scenario, in which a Mars-sized impactor collided with the proto-Earth. Yet the standard version of this model produces a Moon that is mainly made of the impactor and not the target (Fig. 1). As emphasized in a Royal Society meeting1 in September that debated the origin of the Moon, the compositional differences between Earth and the Moon that would be expected as a consequence are increasingly at odds with diverse, high-precision isotopic observations.
Scientists are constantly searching for new evidence to support or refute existing theories; such experiments are an essential part of science. In this case, closer evaluations of a number of isotopes present on both Earth and its Moon have caused many to openly question the giant impact theory as it currently stands. For the impactor and Earth to have the same oxygen isotope ratio is unlikely, but for them also to have the same tungsten isotopic composition is highly implausible. The distinctive silicon isotopic composition of Earth's silicate mantle—the result of silicon sequestration by a core formed at high temperatures—focuses even more doubt on the exiting consensus view. The Mars-sized impactor of the standard giant-impact model is just not large enough to create conditions that would generate an Earth-like silicon isotope ratio. Consensus takes a hit again.
A companion piece by Sarah T. Stewart, “A chip off the old block,” raises other issues. “Hydrodynamic simulations of giant impacts successfully produce disks of low iron content and sufficient mass to make this hypothesis plausible,” the author states. “The fatal issue is that simulations that lead to the present angular momentum derive most disk material from the impactor.” My, my, those pesky computer models. By necessity, computer models are always an approximation of reality. Scientists hope that the resemblance is close enough to give them hints about how the real system works, in this case how the Moon was actually formed. But alas, as the models have improved the theory has proven less than satisfying.
Now, the lunar origin cannot be addressed by a single (rather simple) hydrodynamic calculation. Modelling the formation of the Moon in greater detail poses challenges to both our understanding of the physics of what occurred and our technical capabilities...
Within our current understanding of planetary and satellite formation processes, each stage of lunar evolution is plausible. But, with the nested levels of dependency in a multi-stage model, is the probability of the required sequence of events vanishingly small? Is there an alternative solution of greater simplicity and universality? Ultimately, the current detailed interrogation of lunar origin may demand answers that have an unexpected level of complexity.
So we see that consensus has once again proven the fallible friend of those of lazy intellect. It is not justification of a theory, simply a popularity poll that hold no weight as scientific evidence. In fact, it is the opposite of evidence, because it provides those outside a given field, and often many within, a mental crutch to lean on. Consensus is simply the logical fallacy of appeal to authority writ large. As history attests, physics, cosmology, biology, and geology have all changed radically and will do so again.
If we now consider the science of climate change we find a similar situation. The old theory of CO2 driven climate has been around for more than three decades and, not unexpectedly, cracks have appeared in its foundation. Here too, one of the tools being used is computer modeling. And just as with the simulations of Moon forming collisions, the more complex have grown the farther their counterfeit worlds diverge from observed reality. But unlike the fields of physics and astronomy, climate science stubbornly refuses to reassess its erroneous theory. Or does it?
We have all heard claims that, when it comes to climate change, the science is settled and there is an overwhelming consensus that supports anthropogenic global warming. Using consensus as a bludgeon, media outlets that have endlessly repeated that 97% of scientists endorse the theory of global warming. Mainstream news outlets like ABC, NBC and The New York Times have assisted climate change alarmists in their attempt to shut down debate. Of course, shutting down debate merely solidifies our current state of ignorance. Settled science is dead science. But all is not lost.
Linda Prokopy, a Professor of Natural Resource Social Science at Purdue University, in a survey of more than six thousand farmers and scientists found widespread disagreement on human contributions to climate change. Unsurprisingly, 90% of the 173 scientists and climatologists surveyed thought the climate was changing, but then climate is always changing. The shocker was that only about 50.4% agreed that humans were the primary cause of these changes. Even more shocking was that just 53% of climatologists surveyed thought “Climate change is occurring, and it is caused mostly by human activities.”
While the number of climatologists surveyed was small, the result is still significant in that even such a small sample dispels the “overwhelming consensus” argument made by so many scientific outsiders. Does this mean the climate change alarmists have capitulated? Of course not, but the climate of climate science appears to be changing. More and more scientists are questioning the prior emphasis placed on CO2 as the prime driver of climate and how high to set the sensitivity of climate to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Aerosols and solar influences are being put forth to explain behavior the old CO2 driven theory cannot. Still, old theories are hard to drive out until an undeniably better one comes along to take its place. While the strident bleating of the non-scientist alarmists continues unabated, it appears that there is some hope that science will triumph in the field of climate science after all.
Every new, successful theory destroys an existing consensus. We look back 100 years and laugh at many of the time's consensus theories, it will be the same 100 years from now. It is even harder to give up a theory if it is your own, but a scientist who can't admit being wrong is in the wrong profession. Scientists are wrong most of the time, it is only their willingness to change their minds, to follow the empirical evidence, that makes them good scientists. When your argument is consensus you either don't understand the question, are too lazy to think, or are pulling a fast one. Indeed, when a scientist says the debate is settled he is ready for retirement, when a layman says it he is probably selling carbon credits, solar power, or electric automobiles.
Here are the facts about science: science requires open sharing of data and methods; science demands repeatability of experimental results by parties not the originators of the experiment; science requires theories to be falsifiable, meaning they must make predictions that can be tested and shown to be accurate or false; and above all else science demands a scientist to remain skeptical, of his own work and the work of others. Consensus is majority agreement that a wrong idea is correct. Trying to use consensus as an argument immediately labels one as scientifically ignorant and intellectually wanting; unable or unwilling to investigate the subject at hand and to defend your own reasoned conclusions. As Michael Crichton said, consensus is the stuff of politics, not of science. In fact, science, at its core, is the antidote for consensus.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical