In attempting to explain how science works to ignorant climate change skeptics, a climate alarmist unwittingly revealed his own ignorance of basic philosophy. He took a story about people being unwilling to see the truth through propaganda and argued that it proves his point that we should all believe the propaganda.
In “What Climate Skeptics Don’t Get About Science,” Rhett Allain, associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, takes Plato’s allegory of the cave and tries to apply it to a scientific understanding.
Science is sort of like Plato’s allegory of the cave. In it, Plato says we are like people in a cave with our backs to a wall. Objects paraded in front of a fire cast shadows on a wall. We see only shadows and must determine what the objects are. This is how scientists do things. Here’s a good example: No one has ever seen an electron. You can’t see them with the naked eye; they’re too small. However, there is great experimental evidence that electrons do exist, and scientists are pretty confident about some of their properties. But I wouldn’t call it the truth.
Allain’s point about scientists only being able to deal with human experience is correct, but he should have left Plato’s allegory out of it. He later goes on to explain that science is about building models, and repeats the tired old claim that there’s a “consensus” on climate change. He is right about science building models, but another key aspect of science is destroying models and replacing them with better ones when old models fail to account for reality. That’s what’s really going on in Plato’s cave.
The people seeing images on a cave wall is only the start of Plato’s story — if you read on, it becomes clear that those people are being misled and it is the philosopher’s job to get them to break free of their own assumptions and see the truth.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates tells of a philosopher who is raised in front of that cave wall, but then escapes the cave and discovers the world above ground. This man sees the sun, real animals and plants — the world as it really is. Full of love for the truth, he enters back into the cave in order to tell everyone else.
But they do not believe him. The people believe the shadows on the wall are true, and cannot accept the ravings of the madman who has seen the real world. Socrates concludes that the people would rather kill the philosopher than embrace a truth outside their narrow mode of thought.
By associating climate alarmists like himself with the people imprisoned in Plato’s cave, Allain has unwittingly revealed a terrifying truth. Alarmists are so focused on their vision of a world in peril that they are unwilling to accept the defeat of each of their predictive models.
Indeed, they are not unlike the people holding images before the fire — propagandists in the cave misleading their prisoners about the nature of reality.
Alarmists have made numerous dire climate predictions, each of which has failed to come true. As Tom Hartsfield, a scientist with a PhD in physics from the University of Texas, explained, even “the best climate models fall many orders of magnitude short of the power and intricacy needed to effectively predict the long-term climate patterns that emerge from the interactions of … planetary systems,” such as air currents, cloud patterns, resonant temperature cycles, energy storage and release mechanisms, and many more. “That’s not a failure of science; it’s just the reality of how tough the problem is.”
But many in the press and academia are dishonest about “how feeble these models are and how much we should stake on their all-too fallible forecasts.” Science is about reasoning based on the evidence, and it flourishes when multiple perspectives are brought to the table. But “skeptics are singled out in creepy enemies lists. Actually, we’re now supposed to call them deniers, as though they were disputing the existence of HIV or the holocaust.” Indeed, Senate Democrats went so far as to demonize organizations engaging in scientific skepticism as a “web of denial.”
“The crusader mentality of climate researchers leads them away from the factual debate and empirical accounting of sound science,” Hartsfield wrote. “We really deserve more from our publicly funded scientific establishments.”
I’m sure Socrates would agree. It’s long past time to lead the prisoners out of the cave and into the light of day.