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We Are All Scientists

What entry-level qualifications are required before you can perform science?

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

April 11, 2014 - 11:23 pm

USA Today had a story last week  about a state environmental official in Indiana, who had made a joke in a text message, and was harshly criticized for it. The story led with a fascinating sentence: “Keith Baugues is not a scientist, but that didn’t stop him on a recent wintry day from expressing skepticism about global warming — something that is broadly accepted in the scientific community.”

Let us set aside for the moment whether Mr. Baugues is a scientist or not (he reportedly has an engineering degree, which requires knowledge of advanced mathematics, and understanding the fundamentals of physics and chemistry). The sentence would seem to imply that only “scientists” (however the reporter defines it) are allowed to be skeptical about scientific theories and that, not being one, Mr. Baugues should have been more circumspect in his text messages.  Moreover, the statement that “global warming” is “broadly accepted in the scientific community” is so vague as to be meaningless.

That the earth has been warming over the past few centuries since the end of the Little Ice Age in Europe is uncontroversial. That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (essential to life on earth) which can thereby potentially amplify atmospheric heating is similarly so. And that being the case, few would dispute that humans are having some non-zero effect on the climate as a result of our use of fossil fuels (as humans have through their actions for millennia via their technology, such as Saharan deforestation).

But that is where the “broad acceptance” ends. There is no scientific consensus that we must dramatically cut back on fossil-fuel use to avoid environmental catastrophe, despite the implication of that sentence and, in fact, the very notion of a “scientific consensus” is an oxymoron. That is not how science works.

Which brings us back to the question of whether or not Mr. Baugues is a scientist, and what qualifies him to be skeptical about other scientific work. What is a scientist?

First let’s establish what doesn’t define one. An advanced degree in science does not a scientist make nor, while it can be and often is a profession, does someone paying you to do “science.” For instance, Einstein (while despite myths that he was bad at math or didn’t have a degree – he had a PhD in Physics at the time) was a patent clerk when he came up with the theory of relativity. He was doing science.

Science is not a degree, or a paying job, or even (as many mistakenly believe, and sadly how it’s too often taught in school) a compendium of accumulated knowledge, but a way of thinking and learning about how the physical world works.

Science is a process: observe a phenomenon, form a theory about why it occurred, test the theory with an experiment or other observation, see it fail (in which case a new theory is required) or continue to believe it until a test of it fails. Anyone who survives in life does it every day.

Here’s an example.

You wake up in the morning, and you can’t open your outward-opening door. Hypothesis: Global warming has created six feet of snow outside the door.

Test of the theory: Look out a nearby window at the door. If the view to door is blocked by snow, the theory is (so far) valid, and in fact highly likely, though ultimately further tests may be required (you only know that the window is blocked, not the door, because you can’t see it). If you can see the  outside of the door from the window, the theory is falsified, and you need a new one.

If you’ve ever gone through a thought process like that in dealing with a life situation, congratulations! You are a scientist.

And you are thereby entitled to render your own judgment on a scientific issue, if you have an understanding of the arguments being proposed, and can point out the ways in which they are wrong in scientific terms. That’s all it takes to be a skeptic on a scientific theory. That is, in fact, how a retired Canadian mining engineer pointed out that the famous so-called “hockey stick” of rapid temperature increase was in fact based on flawed mathematics, and had to be subsequently retracted.

When we are not allowed to discuss issues that involve policy actions that could have devastating effects on the world’s economy because we are not part of an apparently credentialed priesthood, we are not being allowed to even debate science, let alone deny it. We are instead apparently apostates in a new non-theistic, but very powerful religion, complete with believers, heretics, sin and indulgences, who must be silenced. Which simply shows that sometimes, just as war is too important to be left to the generals, science can be too important to be left to the “scientists.”

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.

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Top Rated Comments   
Dr Phil Jones, PHD of the "Hockey Team" said the following:

“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”

So, would you consider him a scientist?
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
Richard P. Feynman

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
Richard P. Feynman

“The inside of a computer is as dumb as hell but it goes like mad!”
Richard P. Feynman

All models are false but some models are useful.
Statistician George E P Box

27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
As a trained fraud investigator and given the mandate to uncover it and present the findings, pro or con, there are things you must adhere to as a basis for beginning your task.

You must take the evidence as you find it. Once you begin to "wish" for a pro or con finding to support a desired conclusion, you will tilt your interpretation of the facts to fit your desire.

Second, you can't eliminate facts because they mess up your nice, neat theory.

In the global warming hoax, the IPCC is filled with non-scientists pushing a political agenda and they have been caught repeatedly tampering with evidence, falsely promoting known untruths, hiding findings that oppose their desired outcome.

They push a One World Socialism where the "rich" countries are "bad" and must pay a ransom to "poor" countries for past "transgressions". Playing Robin Hood, but disguised as Isaac Newton is eerily similar to radical leftism hiding as "liberals".

Science has been bastardized and sacrificed at the altar of One World leftism.

There has been no warming since 1998. 95% of the warming alarmists models don't work.

The Himalayas are not melting, the polar ice caps are not evaporating and polar bears are not extinct.

The Y2kification of the effects of pollution on long term climate was a way to steal wealth from "the rich" and punish them for their lack of leftism, for their greedy, racist, homophobic, money grubbing history.

Global warming therefore is not at its core a scientific endeavor. It is a political one. And a hoax designed to stay hidden behind a camouflage. Had it been at all about science...the evidence showing the errors would not be intentionally buried and those who point them out would not be viciously slandered.

What is blocking the door to science in the sunlight...is indeed a snowjob.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (65)
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In the Green religion scientists are the priests so they choose their own priesthood. The term scientist has different meaning to them than to the rest of us. It's that way in most of liberalism - makes them hard to understand.
26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
After reading Jonah Goldberg’s recent explanation of his recent column, the essence of which is that when religion is excised idols take its place; specifically in the West, ‘science’. Now I have a profound respect for science: not only is it the out-growth of Biblical and Christian thought, but, more personally, my father was a scientist, and if there was one thing I got from him was a reverence for the truth, and the reality-based observation of natural reactions and the theorizing about the nature of reality that comes out of consistently observing repeatable identical experiences – the so-called empirical method. (I would also add that my father held the view that his supervisor, while being a relatively good supervisor, was fully incompetent and unethical as a scientist, despite his PhD; and would often publish papers with known errors, so that he could later publish a correction, giving him another published paper to his credit, according to which he would increase in pay scale. My father would cut his name off such papers with a razor blade.)

And I wondered where this drive to fill the void left by rejecting religion might ever come from, if in fact there is no God and there never was one to ponder. Religionists will say it came from the nature of man as God created him, and is inseparable from man’s existence; and yet atheists will say that religions, and all individual religious impulses, are the result of attempts of the mind to mitigate the emotional and mental pains of life, or other psychic attempts to distill the juice of hope (an ultimately false hope, since they acknowledge no God) to enjoy in our off moments. One may ask: Why must the human mind defend itself from anything? And Christians would respond, because human life has value and emotions matter; and the atheist would say that emotions just happened that way, sort of like the Big Bang, out of nothing and with no design or overarching purpose; or otherwise put, religion produced an evolutionary advantage, to continuing the species, and making it more successful – it must have provided such an advantage, since it seems ubiquitous in all cultures.

Of course, atheists would say that there is no longer any need for such a thing now that science has progressed so far and has taught us so much; but this does not explain the deviation from scientific explanation of things, in which for example, we are told, not by a scientist but by a politician, that global warming (global cooling, global climate change) is settled science, and it is a fact (period); yet I for one have never seen any published, definitive, clear, evidentiary-based explanation of how it is settled, or what the exact settlement is.

Science says that many of the world’s species are endangered due to man’s industrial activities, and so we respond with appropriate obedience and stop what we are doing and devise laws and geographic safe zones, and curtail industrial activity to protect them. But when science tells us that various birds, from the bald eagle to the woodpecker, are so endangered that to possess (or sell) a century-old stuffed one is illegal, or to rescue and care for one in a bird cage will bring the state police banging on your daughter’s bedroom to stop it; yet wind farms and solar energy complexes bludgeon and incinerate these very same birds in vast number, and we excuse it as ultimately benefitting the earth as a whole. And science tells us that the desert turtle is endangered and so we throw the cattle off of the turtle reservations that the cattle have grazed for millennia (without endangering the turtle), all the while we are slaughtering the very same species elsewhere for overpopulation. The delta smelt is, not endangered but, potentially endangered in one far-off bay, and so we close down centuries of agriculture to protect it (I wonder what the dried and dying plants are saying about that).

It is said that we must not reject a religion because of the misuse of it, but science seems a fickle god indeed when we use it as the reason for shaping our human culture and society rather than as a means to perpetuate it.

I’m still waiting for the 10-page irrefutable evidence-based report on how we know without a doubt that the earth is warming; that it is anthropogenic; how we know the computer models are accurate; and how we know that one policy or another will produce any results and will benefit mankind.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Being an atheist doesn't make you a scientist. Being a scientist doesn't make you an atheist.

Scientists are not divorced from belief. All humans have beliefs. They are seekers. They just use a rational method in their seeking.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
A scientist is a person who "thinks like a scientist." That's a difficult concept for most folks to grasp and an impossible one for believers. Scientists do not believe in belief, let alone God. That's what sets us apart from all those RCs, Baptists and the AGW herd.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Scientific Method
1. Observation/Data collection
2. Hypothesis
3. Prediction
4. Experiment
If your Hypothesis isn't predictive, as with the Globe not Warming as the Hypothesis of "Global Warming" predicts, then your Hypothesis is wrong. Only if your Hypothesis is predictive, does it rise to the level of a Theory, and Theories aren't facts, they only Hypotheses that have so far survived but could be proved wrong at any time.
Based on the experiment that the Globe isn't warming as predicted by the growth in the atmospheric so called greenhouse gas CO2, there is serious doubt that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that it behaves on the Earth's biosphere and ecosystem the way the "Global Warming" fanatics insist.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
"there is serious doubt that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that it behaves on the Earth's biosphere and ecosystem the way the "Global Warming" fanatics insist."

The first part of your statement is not true. There is no question that it is a "greenhouse gas", that is, that it reflects certain wavelengths in a manner that contributes heat energy to the atmosphere. That's verifiable in very simple lab tests. It's not in the realm of hypothesis or theory. It's fact.

The problem lies in the second part of your statement. "it behaves ... the way the "Global Warming" fanatics insist."

Of course, it does NOT. They have had to invent, out of whole cloth, a "feedback mechanism" to make it the villain of the play. There is no evidence that this "feedback mechanism" exists, except that it is necessary to save their pet theory that man is destroying the planet. It is the fairy bridge between the known facts on one side of the chasm, and the Most Worshipful Theory on the other side. It is constructed out of thin air in order to plug a fatal hole in their dam. (Rather like the Oort cloud, but I digress.)

Back to that fact for a moment: CO2 reflects certain wavelengths that contribute heat to the atmosphere. These are reflections from the earth's surface. Energy from the sun arrives in a broad spectrum of wavelengths. CO2 is transparent to most of these, thus, the energy does get through to the surface. Some of this is absorbed by the surface, some reflected, some is reflected at different wavelengths. CO2 blocks some of these wavelengths and reflects them back to the surface where they are absorbed, thus contributing to heating of the earth. The amount of energy reflected by the CO2 is dependent on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. More CO2, more reflection.

All fact, all provable, not controversial.

Here’s the rub: Once you get to a certain concentration, the CO2 is reflecting all the energy that is there. It’s reflecting 100% of the energy at that wavelength. It’s like silvering a piece of glass to make a mirror. A light application will result in a tinted, silvered window. Get it heavier, and you have a one-way mirror. Once to a certain point, it’s a full mirror. No light passes through. At this point you can lay the silver on 1,000 times heavier, and it will make ZERO difference. You’re already at 100% reflectivity.

Hey, guess what! We passed the 100% point for CO2 a long time ago. We’ve been there for decades. So, we could lay the CO2 on 1,000 times heavier, and it will make ZERO difference. We’re already at 100% reflectivity.

Enter the “feedback mechanism”. Since, in the world of science (you know, where we should be dealing with provable facts) there CANNOT be any increase in greenhouse effect from increasing CO2 levels, they had to make up a way to make CO2 the bad guy. So, this “feedback mechanism” was invented. There’s no empirical evidence of it. The evidence is the supposed connection between increased CO2 and increased warming.

Thus all the debate about graphs. Thus all the lies about temperature. Their theory does not match the facts, so the facts are denied or simply lied about, or some Deus Ex Machina is invoked to “explain” why the facts don’t match the theory.

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26 weeks ago
26 weeks ago Link To Comment
Science isn't about directly determining the truth of anything, ever, at all. The scientific method is geared toward arriving at truth by a process of elimination. It does not say that X is true, only that, based on currently available data, we cannot say that X is false. Like Einstein's theory that anything with mass can never reach the speed of light through a vacuum, although it may get arbitrarily close, nothing is every truly "settled." It may get incredibly close, but it can never attain the perfect certainty of "truth."
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
If leftists think they now have the corner on certifying who is, or isn't a scientist to certify and approve who is, or isn't a scientist, maybe they should first understand and comprehend what science is.

Anyone can have a degree in science but, without applying those principals, they are not practicing it.

Rajendra Pachauri is the worlds renown expert in Climate Change. In fact, he heads the UN task force on this subject. His expertise? A railroad engineer from India. He later came to the US finished a MS Industrial Engineering in 1972 and a Ph.D. Industrial Engineering 1974.

Other "scientists" who signed on to the IPCC reports were hikers and interns.

But if an environmental scientists with years of application and experience says something they don't like, the Leftists quickly yank their certification.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Please see the debate about Longitude to understand Empire Sentry's comment to the fullest.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Science is a process: observe a phenomenon, form a theory about why it occurred, test the theory with an experiment or other observation, see it fail (in which case a new theory is required) or continue to believe it until a test of it fails. Anyone who survives in life does it every day."

It should read: observe a phenomenon, formulate a question, collect additional information, suggest a testable hypothesis, run the tests and modify the hypothesis as needed and then retest. Theory doesn't come into play until after the those steps. Theories are well tested explanations that have stood up to the testing over a sufficient period of time.

Other than that error the rest of the article was spot on.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Scientists" produce the results that they are paid to produce.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Assuming there is sarcasm with scare quotes. But what "scares" me is that people matriculating with science degrees have been led to believe it is "for the greater good" alter what data show.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dr Phil Jones, PHD of the "Hockey Team" said the following:

“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”

So, would you consider him a scientist?
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Simply, no. He's an advocate at this point.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not even close.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
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