When scientific consensus is mentioned in any discussion on Global Warming and the Climate Crisis, those who would rather life just continue as it has been for the last 20 years roll their eyes and mutter something about Al Gore. The other favorite dismissal of scientific consensus involves climate scientists all needing government grants to earn a living, so have therefore manufactured this crisis.
Consensus… what does it really mean?
Essentially, it means that a core scientific theory has survived scrutiny and testing by scientists in their field of specialty.
In order to more fully understand “consensus” you must ponder the process of “peer review.” This is the process by which an analysis of a set of data is published in a scientific journal focused on a field of research, and other scientists in the field pick it apart, note flaws in the data collection process, flaws in the conclusions drawn about the hypotheses based on the data…. or not. When assumptions are eliminated or invalidated based on further “critical” review, what emerges of a theory out of the process is the core set of scientific assumptions with which no specialist in the field has major objections.
Scientific consensus is not a bunch of people sitting around a campfire singing “kumbaya.”
Science is the observation, measurement, and analysis of the physical world. When something lay beyond our ability to see, such as an electron, or an atomic nucleus, tests are devised to prove or disprove a theoretical existence.
A frog in a pot of water is incapable of analyzing the state of all the kitchen appliances to determine the burner under its pot is indeed quite hot. Man, on the other hand, is capable of analyzing wide sets of data to test whether various other phenomena are exerting influence on an observed trend. Correlations are recorded, repeat instances observed to test whether past occurrences were coincidental or “causal.” “Did X cause our observation of Y?”
Definitive conclusions based on one observed correlation are never accepted by practicing scientists. Take sunspots and solar activity, for example. Climate scientists, upon learning of a strong correlation with one data point, note that all subsequent observations must be tested to measure the influence… in other words, it becomes “interesting.” Then, subsequent solar activity is observed, and measured, and compared to the past occurrence to determine the magnitude of the impact it “should” have. If it doesn’t exert influence on global temperature measurements the way it was suggested it had in the past observed correlation, it is determined to be not “causal.” X did not cause our observation of Y…. something else did.
If a practicing scientist were to continue to “cling” to a theory subsequently proven invalid, that scientist’s reputation in his/her field would indeed suffer. But it would not suffer if the theory were sound. Scientists are not hung up on being right or wrong. Science by its very nature, discusses “uncertainty” with theories. Science continually strives to test theories. If an “outlying” theory were able to withstand subsequent testing and analysis, more than one or two or three specialists in that field would argue vehemently for further testing, and would test themselves.
As an electrical engineering student, I had plenty of courses that had laboratory components. Lab reports required an analysis of every data point. Were they exactly what we expected? If so, how could we explain such precision. If not, what could have caused what we observed versus classmates, versus theory, etc. We were taught to pick apart how we conducted our own lab experiments to find sources of inaccuracy or variation.
Based on my reading, it seems to amaze climate scientists that there are people who question the authoritativeness or objectivity of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its reports have passed the scrutiny of thousands of climate scientists from dozens of countries. It is really nothing like the gamesmanship that goes on when the Security Council meets to try to resolve a regional or global conflict. Yet, that is what seems to be projected on the Climate scientists’ work.
Anyone is qualified to look at a house and determine “that house is on fire.” From a distance, it is impossible for the casual observer to definitively conclude “that house is infested with termites” … or not. We actually have to defer to an independent pest specialist, someone who has no vested interest in the state of a house. If we get a second opinion on the state of termite infestation, we generally don’t accuse them of conspiracy to get more work or keep their jobs.
Yet, this is the very phenomena involved with climate science and those who would prefer to continue to consume as much cheap hydrocarbon energy as their comfort level would dictate.