Sunday, February 18, 2007

A lesson for the global warming researchers?

I was listening to a recent Engines of our Ingenuity podcast this evening and was fascinated by this episode on Plate Tectonic Theory (the link is to the text of the podcast). Being somewhat close to my heart I was listening to every word. Then it came to me. This short podcast sums up what is wrong with the current global warming debate.

Let me explain. In the late 19th Century most geologists believed that sections of the crust simply moved up and down to create the mountains and the deeps. Then, in 1912, Alfred Wegener, a meteorologist, noted that the continents appear to "fit" together, suggesting that they had once moved apart or along side of each other. He also examined the rocks on each side of the Atlantic and noted similarities that could only be explained by the continents having drifted.

For decades the 19th Century theory of vertical movement held sway and geologists continued to look for evidence to support their notions of mountain and ocean deep formation. Of course they could find lots of evidence as long as they ignored what they didn't want to see! Whole tomes and text books were written on the subject and during the years I studied geology many of the standard texts were still espousing various theories (such as Van Bemmelen's Undation Theory, published in 1931).

Then, several major advances in the way geologists could better measure the planet came into being and these techniques began to erode away the old thinking, providing more and more evidence that individual plates moved around the surface (at incredibly slow speeds, of course) and collided with each other or separated from each other to create the mountain chains and ocean deeps. Finally, around 1968, a number of key papers were presented that placed the theory of plate tectonics at the forefront of geological thinking. Today the theory is adopted universally (well, almost) and provides a working basis for most ongoing geological research.

Many geologists, wedded as they were to the old theory, had sought out selective evidence. They failed to use a basic test in science, that we must continue to test a theory, assuming it has flaws and could be wrong. The more we test the stronger the theory can become.

OK, let's segue to climate change. It seems to me that a great number of climatologists may have fallen into the same chasm as those vertical movement theory geologists. It is so easy to produce a piece of evidence that supports the popular theory. It is much harder to go after the evidence that pokes holes in that same theory. And when people do, they are, of course, treated like heretics!


Post a Comment

<< Home