Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Who can be trusted about science? Not the Royal Society of London or the National Academy of the United States

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2016/01/01

An earlier post (Mainstream propaganda by the BBC about denialism and global warming) described a BBC television documentary in which the President of the Royal Society of London presided over a thoroughly misleading piece of propaganda seeking to entrench mainstream dogma about human-caused climate change, HIV as the cause of AIDS, and the claimed safety of genetically modified foods and plants.

The merest smattering of knowledge of the history of science and a smidgeon of common sense ought to suffice to demonstrate that the mainstream dogma is unwarranted on all three of those issue, incidentally:

1. Human-caused climate change: There is simply no proof on offer. The dogma is based on the banality that carbon dioxide gas absorbs infrared radiation, and that global temperatures overall have been rising in the last 150 years or so at the same time as industrial development has increasingly generated carbon dioxide.
But global temperatures actually cooled from the 1940s to the 1970s while CO2 was increasing, and temperatures have remained steady since about 2000 while, again, CO2 continued to increase. QED.

2. HIV and AIDS. HIV is held responsible for an epidemic of AIDS spread chiefly through sexual intercourse.
The website of the National Institutes of Health reports the apparent transmissibility of HIV as 8 per 10,000 acts of unprotected intercourse, from male to female; transmissibility from female o male is half of that, 4 per 10,000. Any epidemic requires that each infected individual pass the infection on to more than one other person in a short space of time. Transmissibility of less than 1 per 1000 is entirely incapable of generating an epidemic.
For comparison, transmissibility of known sexually transmitted diseases is not far from 1 in 2 (for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis).

3. All the conceivable possible dangers of genetically modified organisms and their products cannot possibly be known or measured. No matter how much data accumulates, the unknown unknown may at any time deliver a black swan to confound all the scientific predictions and assurances. Half a century ago Alvin Weinberg pointed that out with respect to the safety of nuclear reactors. “Science” of course declared them safe, in other words Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, and Fukushima could not possibly have occurred. For what Wikipedia is worth, it lists 99 significant accidents in all.

But back to the Royal Society and human-caused climate change.

Andrew Montford has described in full detail how the Royal Society of London has been a proselytizer of human-caused climate change since at least 1989, under three successive Presidents and contrary to the Society’s proper role, which is to stick to science and leave politics and policy to others; see Nullius in Verba: On the Word of No One — The Royal Society and Climate Change.

The Royal Society pamphlet, A SHORT GUIDE TO climate science,  poses 20 questions and gives a one-paragraph pot-boiler answer to each, for example

“1. Is the climate warming?
Yes. Earth’s average surface air temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F) since 1900, with much of this increase taking place since the mid-1970s. A wide range of other observations such as sea-level rise, reduced Arctic sea ice extent and increased ocean heat content provide
incontrovertible evidence of a warming Earth.”

These one-paragraph mind-bites are expanded in Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices (NatAcadPress2012-14673), published jointly by the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of science of the United States. The questions are the same but worded differently, for example the first is not “Is the climate warming?” but “How do we know that Earth has warmed?”.
That small change has a rhetorical significance that is far from small: the question is no longer treated as open, it is declared to have been settled.

All those answers are misleading in some way, however, and they have been thoroughly debunked in THE SMALL PRINT: What the Royal Society Left Out.

In response to question 1 and its answer, for example:
“A fuller picture: This is hardly an important question. The Earth’s surface is always warming or cooling, or on some occasions barely changing. What is important is that the change referred to is small and imperfectly measured. It should also be stressed that the Royal Society guide does not mention the role of the time window they are using for comparison. The climate has cooled since the mid-Holocene climatic optimum 8,000 years ago, and the warming of the past few decades is relatively small in comparison.
Surface temperatures have increased on average by about 0.8°C since 1900. There was a rise of around 0.5°C at the start of the twentieth century, followed by a small fall from 1940 to 1970. From then until the late 1990s temperatures rose by around 0.5°C. Differences of a tenth of a degree are insignificant. The temperature is virtually unchanged from that at the beginning of the century. The two periods of increase are indistinguishable, although the earlier increase cannot be attributed to increased carbon dioxide.
The relation of other observations such as sea-level rise, Arctic sea ice extent and ocean heat content all depend on more factors than global mean temperature, and are hardly incontrovertible evidence of warming. That said, the possible acceleration of ocean heat content accumulation and sea level rise are close to the limits of our ability to detect and the values involved cannot be reconciled to each other. Depending on the time scale, other observational datasets are still more equivocal: global sea ice levels declined for several decades but are now above their long-term mean.”

In any case, on an even longer time-scale, that global temperatures are increasing is not in dispute, given that we are only about 15,000 years after a major Ice Age and it will likely be warming for about another 80,000-100,000 years or so before it cools again toward the next major Ice Age — there have been 7 or 8 such major Ice Ages in the last million years or so.

Only a couple of years after the Royal Society and National Academy had published Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices, the same two bodies published Climate Change: Evidence and Causes (NatAcadPress2014-18730), which goes even further in declaring settled as fact that human generation of carbon dioxide has been primarily responsible for global warming. This last pamphlet is replete with rhetorical trickery, sins of omission and of commission, and is clearly propaganda, nothing like a cool scientific assessment of the evidence. My detailed critique of it has just been published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration: NAS-RS Review.

That the Royal Society and the National Academy are actively pushing to entrench as settled belief that human activities are producing climate change is evident from the way in which their publications have become increasingly one-sided, emphatic, and regrettably dishonest.

 

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3 Responses to “Who can be trusted about science? Not the Royal Society of London or the National Academy of the United States”

  1. Mark said

    Hey, Henry, I’ve noticed this problem, a lot. Pseudoskeptics do it all the time, but they are not the only ones. So many people seem to want to apply something like a Force Majeure when it comes to ideas that they think are significantly far outside of the realm of what they consider to be “normal.” They want to give themselves permission to throw the rules right out of the window in these kinds of cases, even as many of those same people get angry most other times that the rules are not followed. Worse, since so many others act the same way, the rule violators will be more likely to get away with their violations of the rules without significant punishment from others who do not punish them appropriately, many times because those who are supposed to punish are violating the rules, as well. Do you believe that it will ever be possible to get a scientific community that applies the rules evenly, to everyone, even when the ideas are far outside of “normal?”

    • Henry Bauer said

      Mark:
      I believe that things started to get worse after World War II, when “Science” became increasingly BIG; see “The Science Bubble” in EdgeScience #17.
      Conflicts of interest are the chief problem, and I see no ready way to get rid of them. The mass media need to make a big fuss. Perhaps that will happen one of these days as the FDA continues to approve deadly drugs and then not recall them.

  2. zeek wolfe said

    If the solution to so-called global warming/climate change was fewer regulations, lower taxes and less intrusive government, the issue would vanish.

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