How science works: or why climate change is not a religion

“Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from.” – Wikipedia

Is climate science a religion?  

One of the most commonly charged insults thrown at scientists and activists such as myself is “Climate change is your religion!” (or that more generally, science is “your religion”).  

The charge is frequently hurled at us because of our unwillingness to accept anecdotal or suspect evidence. The reason I don’t accept the evidence of climate change sceptics is not because I’m opposed to them purely on ideological grounds, but because the counter-evidence they offer to disprove climate change is so poor.  

Science is not set of preconceived positions or facts.   

Science is a methodology that allows us to investigate the natural world.  

I trust the methodology, even with it’s well known flaws.

Science is not dogma: how a scientist can change their mind on a climate change issue

When the facts change, change your theory.  

No better example of this can be doing than recent research into somewhat controversial question of climate change as a driver on conflict in Africa. Previous studies had indicated that climate change was a driver of conflict in Africa, however recent research has downplayed the link as New Scientist reports:

“THE idea that global warming will increase the incidence of civil conflict in Africa is wrong, according to a new study. What’s more, the researchers who previously made the claim now concede that civil conflict has been on the wane in Africa since 2002, as prosperity has increased. If the trend continues, a more peaceful future may be in store…”

The scientists who originally published the research have acknowledged they where wrong and have revisited their research:

“…We’re trying to disentangle this,” says Burke. He and Lobell have reworked their calculations with climate data extending to 2008 and found that the relationship with temperature disappears. “We hope there has been a fundamental shift and that our earlier results are wrong.”

Should this be cause for embarrassment?  

Not at all: this is how real science works.  

Indeed, the scientists whose conclusions have been overturned have not resorted to screaming about conspiracy theories or the malevolent machinations of shadowy cabals. Instead they’ve accepted the results, revisited their previous work and moved on.  

Adherence to the scientific method promotes scepticism – real scepiticism – and previously held conclusions are adjusted in light of new data and research.  

Climate change as a religion?  

Apparently, activists such as myself have an unswerving faith that is impervious to logic, reason and evidence.  

However the above is a perfect example of good science: assumptions are tested and conclusions adjusted in light of evidence.  

Such an approach requires mental flexibility and intellectual honesty. Science is after all a methodology, not a set of facts.  

One cannot worship a tool: one can only trust that it works.  

Which is the key difference between accepting the results of science and adhering to dogma.  

Dogma allows no error. It does not allow one to change ones opinion on an issue. Indeed, should the scientific consensus on climate change shift – that is to say it is conclusively proven that AGW is not a serious threat – I’d happily accept the consensus of mainstream science.  

Can the so called climate change sceptics demonstrate such intellectual honesty?


14 thoughts on “How science works: or why climate change is not a religion

  1. Well put mate.
    I’d go as far as to say that most scientists rejoice in unknowns and errors because they lead us to new ways of understanding. This is contrary to ideology and general society where errors are an embarrassment.
    People that resort to such insults demonstrate themselves to have no understanding of scientific methodology and attitude.

  2. mrluigi says:

    Yes, but you might like to think about whether this research was ‘science’ in the first place.
    It is certainly a good example of empirical inquiry, and indeed all forms of empirical inquiry, including science, are characterised by a willingness to review earlier conclusions in the face of new evidence or demonstration of faulty methodology (as seems to be the case here).
    However I’d question whether it’s possible to have a scientific measurement of ‘conflict’, and this may be why the new analysis comes from a political ‘scientist’. In other words, you’re not really dealing here with climate science at all.

  3. klem says:

    “not because I’m opposed to them purely on ideological grounds, but because the counter-evidence they offer to disprove climate change is so poor.”

    What are you talking about? I think you are being disingenuous here. The skeptics are not trying to disprove climate change, almost every skeptic I‘ve heard believes in climate change, just not Anthropogenic CC. They are simply saying that the evidence which supports the claim that CO2 is driver of climate is not there. The say the science which supports AGW does not hold up to scrutiny, that’s all. Remember, the skeptics are not making the claims, the alarmist are. So it is up to the alarmists to prove their claims. The skeptics have nothing to prove, and it’s very easy to pick apart the alarmists science, it’s so shoddy. You are fully aware of this; I think you ARE opposing them on purely ideological grounds.

    Here’s what James Lovelock said recently about Climategate and the Ozone theory from 30 years ago (and he’s an AGW Beleiver): “My second thought was that it was inevitable. It was bound to happen. Science, not so very long ago, pre-1960s, was largely vocational. Back when I was young, I didn’t want to do anything else other than be a scientist. They’re not like that nowadays. They don’t give a damn. They go to these massive, mass-produced universities and churn them out. They say: “Science is a good career. You can get a job for life doing government work.” That’s no way to do science.
    I have seen this happen before, of course. We should have been warned by the CFC/ozone affair because the corruption of science in that was so bad that something like 80% of the measurements being made during that time were either faked, or incompetently done. Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science.”

    Even James Lovelock thinks they were fudging the data in both the ozone sceince and claimte science. And Lovelock is a real scientist who got his hands dirty.

    • Nick says:

      You state that the ‘sceptics are not making [the] claims’ therefore have nothing to prove,and implicitly,no work to do. Yet you contradict yourself by claiming that you believe there is insufficient evidence that CO2 is a climate driver. You even claim that ‘scrutiny’ has demonstrated this. Show me the ‘scrutiny’…oh,wait,that’s right,you don’t have to prove anything!

      Can you see where your nonsense is going?

  4. Klem wrote: “I think you are being disingenuous here. The skeptics are not trying to disprove climate change, almost every skeptic I‘ve heard believes in climate change, just not Anthropogenic CC. They are simply saying that the evidence which supports the claim that CO2 is driver of climate is not there…”
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Actually, it is you who are being disingenuous. You claim their is no evidence which supports CO2 as a (major!) driver of climate.

    You can only hold on to such a claim by willfully ignoring the plethora of incoming data! {Spend a little time wading through the information SkepticalScience offers on the facts behind CO2’s influence, try to actually learn something.}

    This Willfully Ignoring is an all too common practice among the AGW hoax industry. They possess not one iota of interest in incorporating new information and or changing anything about their bottom line message: Don’t touch the free wheeling “free” market paradigm that has so successfully plundered and despoiled every corner of our planet!

    I’d suggest the fact that one cannot get through any AGW denialist presentation without being assaulted with political digressions and economic scare mongering speaks for itself. Instead of admitted Climate Science & How to Deal with it, are two entirely different topics. Denialists mix and match and censor, now that sound like religion Klem.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    As for Lovelock’s comments, and your CFC’s schtick, got any reports to help explain what you are implying, or are implications all you need?

  5. Ray says:

    And what about that great global warming icon “the hockey stick” which has been refuted in numerous conclusive ways yet survives in the eyes of true believers? A resurrection only blind devotion could support.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Thanks for commenting Ray, however as always I think we’d like to see evidence to back up statements. Which is the point of my post – I don’t see Mann’s “hockey stick” as some sort of devotional icon. Simular trends from temeprature recontructions have been performed using other data:

      • Ray says:

        You ask that I prove agw god doesn’t exist, offering to burn the Koran or disputing the hockey stick garners the same reaction. Should I post any number of death threats leveled against those of us who are sceptical of CAWG?

        James Hansen politely wanted us all thrown in jail. An inquisition.

        What does Australia’s recorded annual mean temperature anomaly have to do with proxies? (your link)

      • Ray; what nonsense.
        It’s people like you who have turned this into an ideological debate rather than a scientific debate. You’d be laughed at if you left a GP’s office claiming that the doctor couldn’t prove that you had cancer because he didn’t answer your question about a cancer god in a way that you could understand.

        You also mix up paleo-climate study (inferred data in the “hockey stick” graph) and with climate study (the Anthropogenic Climate Change side of the work). Paleo-climate science is like fossils to the evolutionary theory – it’s not necessary for the argument, but it adds to our understanding of past events. It’s one of the weaker straw-man arguments and as with the first statement, exposes you as an overenthusiastic spectator.

        Death threats? What, to you? If so, I suspect that they are, like yourself, overenthusiastic spectators who have turned this into a sport. I think that it’s more likely that you’re referring to death threats against others and like Hansen that you mention, is a statement that you’re trying to include yourself in for a sense of purpose.

        No scientifically inclined individual is out to preform an inquisition – if you look carefully into the scientific debate over ACC, you will find that there isn’t much of one. The few questions that creep up are typically flawed or at best minor adjustments – but, scientifically, the science behind ACC is strong and weighty.

        The debate rages only in the political and public arenas. It’s a relatively weak but passionate debate that provides nothing but a state of paralysis. It’s fuelled but numerous individuals who one can only conclude deliberately misinform the public (Monckton being the most obvious example). I would confidently conclude that, from the scientific community, the call for legal action would be aimed at such people who should be held accountable for their actions against humanity.

        As I’ve concluded in other places of this thread, the public and political debate are irrelevant – no matter how you look at the situation, we must provide meaning changes to our actions sooner rather than later. You probably over looked that because like many “sceptics” you may very well have a selective hearing/understanding that suits your view – which is at the heart of why such people have turned this into such an ideological debate.

        You cannot disprove ACC because no relevant scientist can. Confusing paleo-climate and observed climate is nothing but a straw-man argument and obviously confidence behind inferred data is not as high as observed. However, we do not need paleo-climate science to build the strong case for ACC anyway. If the case wasn’t so strong or new evidence came to light that proved to dismantle our understanding of climate science so that ACC was false – I assure you, I’d be the first person celebrating, but it is unlikely to happen.

      • Scott covers as much here.
        Donna Laframboise loves to argue that, “climate scepticism is free speech.”
        Which, of course, it is. As Scott’s piece shows, a whole room of “climate sceptics” failed to understand much of the climate science even when it was explained as simplistically as possible, yet still feel strongly about their “sceptic views” regardless.
        Many have read some rubbish, such as Air Con, and eagerly jump online to “fight against the climate religion”, but what they offer is little more than a public debate, with a lot of passion but little evidence.
        The truth is, the scientific debate is nothing like what we find on the net and whatever death or legal threats you feel have been aimed at you are part of a lay-person sport and nothing remotely to do with the science behind ACC.
        I, as a scientist and I suspect Mike here, as a well informed activists, would never condone such stupidity as threats and have gone to great lengths to provide the science and dispel misinformation as we find it. Here, Mike writes how all this doesn’t help with some people – as with Stephen Schneiders presentation on Scott’s post, the biggest problem is a selective hearing and understanding, without shortage of needless outrage. If you want the answers to your questions Ray, the science is out there in copious amounts, however, by overlooking all this, you are falling into the ideological trap which Mike writes about.

  6. Ray says: “And what about that great global warming icon “the hockey stick” which has been refuted in numerous conclusive ways yet survives”
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Care to cite your sources and explain your argument?

    Or are we to rely your particular implications again?

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Why not visit Skeptical Science’s website and do some reading 😉

    Search Results Skeptic arguments matching the search ‘hockey stick’:

    * Al Gore got it wrong
    * Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy
    * CO2 emissions do not correlate with CO2 concentration
    * CO2 measurements are suspect
    * Hockey stick is broken
    * Mauna Loa is a volcano
    * Mike’s Nature trick to ‘hide the decline’
    * Tree-rings diverge from temperature after 1960

    Blog posts matching the search ‘hockey stick’:

    * Al Gore and Dr Thompson’s thermometer
    * Can you make a hockey stick without tree rings?
    * Common graphical tricks and the Medieval Warm Period
    * Comparing CO2 emissions to CO2 levels
    * Hockey sticks, ‘unprecedented warming’ and past climate change
    * Kung-fu Climate
    * More evidence than you can shake a hockey stick at
    * Radio interview with Skeptically Speaking
    * Tai Chi Temperature Reconstructions
    * The Dunning-Kruger effect and the climate debate
    * The hockey stick divergence problem

  7. “almost every skeptic I‘ve heard believes in climate change, just not Anthropogenic CC.”
    Others have argued the rest of Klem’s point, but I just want to focus on this – which is something I’ve addressed from the beginning of my blogging and something I highlighted on my last post.
    Although there is enough data coming in to counter this (ie. atmospheric chemistry, changes in long wave radiation absorption in GHG associated wave lengths etc), my argument is generally that admitting this fact as Klem has, he has admitted that he is fighting for no great cause -> indeed the only thing Klem works for is increased hardship to following generations through inducing paralysis of ours.
    I wrote a long explanation under Mike’s post on the 27th but in short, we are too reliant on an energy supply that will only be a short blip in the history of our species. We must – regardless of climate change – start shifting our activities to sources of energy which are longer lived while it is still relatively cheap and easy to do so. Coal should be preserved for steel production and oil is peaking.
    If you admit that you are aware of the changing climate, well then you should also be discussing how to assist adaptation of ecosystems that we require for our our survival to meet climate change.
    You cannot simply say that, “climate has changed before and caused mass extinction events, so why care about current world ecology?”
    Why? 1) we have caused numerous disturbances to all ecosystems which had reduced their resilience to change, 2) we have created increased barriers in the way of suitable migration paths as climate zones shifts, 3) unlike previous mass extinction event – WE ARE RELIANT ON CURRENT BIODIVERSITY! We lose it, we cannot exist and even if we do bare knuckle it through the next couple of millennia, it’ll be in fragment populations nowhere near the numbers that exist today, surrounded by a much more boring and hostile world.
    Even if you choose not to believe in the first word of Anthropogenic Climate Change, logic should have you still being part of useful communications instead of smug ignorance as demonstrated by Klem here.

  8. adelady says:

    Good thought, Tim.

    And my view is much the same. Who cares if it’s anthropogenic? What matters is that it’s warming. We can’t control the sun. We don’t have a steering wheel for the earth’s orbit. The only influence on climate that we =can= control is GHG concentration.

    So we’d want to reduce GHGs even if we weren’t responsible for the observed warming.

    And we need to reduce our use of carbon-sink fuels because we’re running out – even if they weren’t causing any climate effects.

    • Besides, as water warms, if can hold less and less CO2, as permafrost warms, it can releases CH4, as forest warm and dry, they reduce the CO2 collection AND release both CO2 and CH4 (with increasing bush fires, even more so)… etc etc… in short, even if the current human released GHG isn’t the main reason behind climate change (it is a major player regardless), not only are we increasing the greenhouse effect, but coupled with positive feed back such as those above, we will have an ever increasingly altered atmosphere and amplified greenhouse effect due to the whole net increase in GHG concentration in the atmosphere.
      Plus as mentioned above, fossil fuels are a short-time affair. The sooner we take action on fossil fuel addiction, ecological management under a changing climate and a change to human activity to more sustainable practices, the better we will be able to maintain our standard of living.

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