Belief and opinion are not science
“The emperor has no clothes.” It’s a funny expression. It’s used to mean that someone’s argument is unsupported, obviously wrong, or that they are caught in a blatant lie. I decided to google the term to learn more.
The expression comes from a short story by Hans Christian Andersen called, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. It’s a witty tale (spoiler alert) about a proud and fashion-savvy Emperor who is tricked into buying clothes from swindlers who claim they make the finest garments. They also claim they are magical clothes that are visible only to the most wise and intelligent people, but to fools they are invisible. Neither the emperor, his servants, nor the rest of the kingdom will admit that they cannot see the clothes, because none of them want to admit to being a fool. So they lie and pretend to see what is not there.
Later, as the emperor parades his “new clothes” before the kingdom, the lie is perpetuated out of pride. Everyone professes to the splendor of the emperor’s new clothes. That is, until a child exclaims, “But the emperor has no clothes!”
This expression occurred to me as I was reading an opinion piece in the Journal Review by Mr. Dale Hughes (Sept. 25). Mr. Hughes wrote his piece in response to my letter to the editor, which called for improved climate change education. Unfortunately, Mr. Hughes’s letter only served to prove my point.
My Sept. 20 letter had one central theme: Climate change, like all other sciences, should be taught using scientific facts and accepted theories, not unsupported opinions. And yet, Mr. Hughes states that I’m asking people to believe only what I believe, that I’m promoting a “one-sided opinion” and that I’m asking kids to “blindly follow the ideals of a few without question.”
However, belief, opinion and ideals are not vocabulary words in the science classroom, so none of this could be further from the truth.
It turns out to be quite the opposite. Mr. Hughes wants his belief to be reflected in the science curriculum.
Mr. Hughes states that people who question the theory or its impacts, like Richard Tol, should be included in science class discussions. Why? He’s an economist, not a climate scientist? While he is heavily involved in climate statistics, the scientific community refutes his conclusions. He is no longer with the IPCC because he tried forcing his unsupported conclusions that misleadingly minimized the economic impacts of climate change.
More importantly, why would we teach something that the data does not support and has been overwhelmingly rejected by the experts? That would be the antithesis of teaching science.
He says that we shouldn’t teach climate change based on information from “a few selected scientists.” I agree. That’s why I said we need to teach what the scientific consensus tells us. The media often refers to the 97% consensus on man-made climate change. This isn’t some opinion poll amongst scientists. It’s a determination based on how much of the published, peer-reviewed climate research supports the theory. If it wasn’t an established science, we shouldn’t be teaching it at all.
Mr. Hughes’s letter also demonstrates a failure to understand the scientific process. Science must be observable, repeatable and it should make testable predictions. If it doesn’t stand the test of time, it gets rejected. So, he cites three topics in an attempt to show how often science is mistaken. Are these failures of science? No. Two of them aren’t even about science (plastic vs. glass/the obsolete patent office).
The third topic, the depletion of petroleum resources, actually demonstrates how science works. As better data is obtained, projections and theories are improved. For example, in 2016, the International Energy Agency stated that roughly half of the known traditional oil reserves will likely be gone by 2040. So the concept wasn’t wrong; oil is definitely limited. But new data and new discoveries change the projections. Science is self-critical and self-correcting.
However, the theories of global warming and climate change have stood the test of time for about 100 years. They aren’t invalidated just because projections miss their target. For example, if Arctic summer sea ice disappears in 2020, 2040, or 2060, that doesn’t affect the validity of the theory, because it is still shrinking drastically, and that’s the primary prediction. Additionally, scientific projections are never that specific. They cover a range of years and probabilities, regardless of how people spin it.
Mr. Hughes asks that we encourage analytical thinking, and I agree completely. How do we address climate change? How do different solutions impact ecosystems, people and the economy? What happens if we wait to fix it? These are good analytical questions. However, teaching debunked alternatives to valid scientific principles isn’t analytical, it’s foolish.
It’s also worth noting that Mr. Hughes says he’s never seen climate denial expressed by the media, yet the purpose of his letter is to cast doubt on climate change. It also ignores the many dismissive statements by Fox News hosts, other conservative media and the most popular public denier, President Trump, who refers to it as a “hoax.”
But many people have had enough. Last Friday, approximately 4 million people around the globe held protests to demand government action on climate change. There were over 2,500 events in 163 countries. Most of these protests were organized by students who are upset that so many people in my generation and generations before have been so flippant with regard to the world they will inherit. They are begging people, like Mr. Hughes, to accept the science.
Like the emperor and his kingdom, there are a lot of people who are too proud to admit to being wrong or uneducated about climate change, and they support each other in their disbelief. But they need to face the facts, because now our children are screaming, “The emperor has no clothes!”