Where would we be without science? Today, we live longer than ever before according to the Royal Geographical Society, thanks to pharmaceutical, medical, and health science. Vaccines saves many lives. Physics and electronics have given us satellites, telecommunications, and the Internet. You would not read this blog without them. Chemistry and biology have provided use with all sorts of products, food, and enabled the agricultural (“green”) revolution enhancing our crop yields. The science of evolution and natural selection explains the character of ecosystems, and modern meteorology saves lives and help us safeguard our properties.
So what is science? It’s more than just a body of knowledge. It’s a mindset and strategy to build an understanding of our world. This understanding is extremely valuable for our society, especially when it comes to establishing where we stand and what the likely outcomes will be from perceived future actions.
The scientific method is perfect for resolving uncertainties such as controversial claims about facts. It builds on the principles of transparency, testing, and independent replication. Every scientifically trained scholar should get similar results when the analysis is repeated for a finding that is universally true.
Scientific testing and replicating scientific facts are usually based on data analysis and require an understanding of statistical reasoning and what the data really represent. The data analysis is often the point where differences arise. Climate science is no different to other science, and I have myself contributed to the process of checking the findings in a number of controversial papers (Benestad et al., 2016).
There is always a story behind each conclusion that goes back to its roots. The difference between science on the one hand, and dogma and propaganda on the other, is that the latter is not traceable. In other words, you should be more confident about scientific results and sceptical when it comes to intransparent or undocumented claims.
The scientific community has a well-established system for taking care of scientific findings, mainly through publication of papers in the scientific literature. A scientific paper should provide sufficient information for others to replicate the work done and reproduce results. Scientific results are also presented and discussed at conferences, such as the present American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting. The science presented in conferences, however, is not readily broadcasted to the wider society, partly because of difficult language and partly because of limited media presence.
I strongly believe we need a public voice of scientists and historians (see Defending Climate Science), but there is a concern for the future of Earth and space science. It is not just a potential problem for the science community. This is also a genuine worry that affects the wider society and its right to scientific facts and objective information. It is also an issue when it comes to education.
Science benefits everyone and is part of the fabric of our civilisation. It is therefore unwise to dismiss or twist for short-term benefits. The concept “science denial” has been discussed in the magazine called Physics World (September 2016), Nature, blogs, videos, as well as books, just to mention some examples. One of my favoutites is nevertheless the book with the title ‘Agnotology: the Making and Unmaking of Ignorance‘ by Proctor and Schiebinger
History of science can explain how absurd the notion is regarding global warming being a hoax from China. We only need to search for scientific publications from the past, as I did when I wrote a review about the greenhouse effect, based on a paper from 1931 by the American physicist Edward Olson Hulburt (Benestad, 2016)). There is an excellent historical account of modern climate science American Institute of Physics written by Spencer Weart.
It is also a disservice to our society to close down faculties, such as earth observations and climate science. We need both observations and updated analysis more than ever in the times of unprecedented global warming. They are essential inputs to fact-based decision-making concerning our global environment on which we all depend. Our society has progressed and become great much thanks to science, and it would be a sad story for everyone if we were to undo that.
- R.E. Benestad, D. Nuccitelli, S. Lewandowsky, K. Hayhoe, H.O. Hygen, R. van Dorland, and J. Cook, "Learning from mistakes in climate research", Theoretical and Applied Climatology, vol. 126, pp. 699-703, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00704-015-1597-5
- R.E. Benestad, "A mental picture of the greenhouse effect", Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00704-016-1732-y