Sunday, December 28, 2008

We Interrupt This Blog for an Important Message . . .

I was in the midst of preparing another post in my series on Professor Frank Tipler's remarkable book, The Physics of Christianity, when I came across a link at Powerline's blog to a site, Urgent Agenda, that has just posted an email from Prof. Tipler on yet another subject that is dear to my heart: Anthropogenic Global Warming, or AGW for short ("anthopogenic" means "man-generated", from the two Greek words that make it up, anthropos - "man", and genos - literally, "birth").

For some background on Professor Tipler's credentials, you may refer to this earlier post, and this comment. Urgent Agenda introduces his email in this way:
Frank Tipler, the distinguished mathematical physicist at Tulane University, is an Urgent Agenda reader. We recently asked him for his view of the global-warming controversy, and he was kind enough to send us this thoughtful reply. We reprint it in full. Recommended reading:
I shall also reprint it here in full, because what Professor Tipler has to say needs to be shouted from all the rooftops. Essentially, he is saying that "the Emperor (in this case, AGW) has no clothes!" Please read carefully:

As regards global warming, my view is essentially the same as yours: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a scam, with no basis in science.

A few comments on my own particular view of global warming:

(1) I am particularly annoyed by the claims that the "the debate is over," because this was exactly the claim originally made against the Copernican theory of the Solar System. Copernicus' opponents said the idea that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun was advanced by Aristrachus in 300 B.C. (true), and had been definitely refuted by 100 A.D. The debate is over! Sorry, it wasn't: the Earth IS the third planet.

(2) It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand --- whatever happens --- the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology.

(3) In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science.

(4) I emphasized in point (2) that the average person has to be able to check the observations. I emphasize this because I no longer trust "scientists" to report observations correctly. I think the data is adjusted to confirm, as far as possible, AGW. We've seen many recent cases where the data was cooked in climate studies. In one case, Hanson and company claimed that October 2008 was the warmest October on record. Watts looked at the data, and discovered that Hanson and company had used September's temperatures for Russia rather than October's. I'm not surprised to learn that September is hotter than October in the Northern hemisphere.
Accurate prediction is what science is supposed to be about. As Professor Tipler shows, the current crop of scientists who claim to predict global warming have done nothing but "adjust" their scenarios to account for the observations after the fact---and that is not science. Any layperson, on the other hand, can follow the weather trends predicted by the presence or absence of sunspots:

It snowed here in New Orleans last week and it was the second heaviest snowfall I've seen in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans. According to the local newspaper, it was the earliest snow had fallen in New Orleans since records were kept, beginning in 1850. I myself have looked at the relative predictive power of Copernicus's theory and the then rival Ptolemaic theory. Copernicus was on the average twice as accurate, and the average person of the time could tell. Similarly, anybody today can check the number of sunspots. Or rather the lack of them. When I first starting teaching astronomy at Tulane in the early 1980's, I would show sunspots to my students by pointing a small $25 reflecting telescope at the Sun, and focusing the Sun's image on the wall of the classroom. Sunspots were obviously in the image on the wall. I can't do this experiment today, because there are no sunspots.
The AGW "predictions", however, are not just bad science. In an analogy to Gresham's Law in the realm of economics, the bad science of AGW, led by a modern-day form of scientific "Inquisition", is driving out the good science that used to be the pride of our universities (I have added the link to explain his reference to the "Maunder Minimum"):

(5) Another shocking thing about the AGW theory is that it is generating a loss of true scientific knowledge. The great astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, observed in the early 1800's that warm weather was correlated with sunspot number. Herschel noticed that warmer weather meant better crops, and thus fewer sunspots meant higher grain prices. The AGW people are trying to do a disappearing act on these observations. Some are trying to deny the existence of the Maunder Minimum.

(6) AGW supporters are also bringing back the Inquisition, where the power of the state is used to silence one's scientific opponents. The case of Bjorn Lomborg is illustrative. Lomborg is a tenured professor of mathematics in Denmark. Shortly after his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," was published by Cambridge University Press, Lomborg was charged and convicted (later reversed) of scientific fraud for being critical of the "consensus" view on AGW and other environmental questions. Had the conviction been upheld, Lomborg would have been fired. Stillman Drake, the world's leading Galileo scholar, demonstrates in his book "Galileo: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2001) that it was not theologians, but rather his fellow physicists (then called "natural philosophers"), who manipulated the Inquisition into trying and convicting Galileo. The "out-of-the-mainsteam" Galileo had the gall to prove the consensus view, the Aristotlean theory, wrong by devising simple experiments that anyone could do. Galileo's fellow scientists first tried to refute him by argument from authority. They failed. Then these "scientists" tried calling Galileo names, but this made no impression on the average person, who could see with his own eyes that Galileo was right. Finally, Galileo's fellow "scientists" called in the Inquisition to silence him.
And it is ominous that government is playing an increasing role in shaping the "politically correct" direction of scientific research:

I find it very disturbing that part of the Danish Inquisition's case against Lomborg was written by John Holdren, Obama's new science advisor. Holdren has recently written that people like Lomborg are "dangerous." I think it is people like Holdren who are dangerous, because they are willing to use state power to silence their scientific opponents.

(7) I agree with Dick Lindzen that the AGW nonsense is generated by government funding of science. If a guy agrees with AGW, then he can get a government contract. If he is a skeptic, then no contract. There is a professor at Tulane, with a Ph.D in paleoclimatology, who is as skeptical as I am about AGW, but he'd never be considered for tenure at Tulane because of his professional opinion. No government contracts, no tenure.
Contrast this perplexing situation to the situation in physics at the turn of the last century:

(8) This is why I am astounded that people who should know better, like Newt Gingrich, advocate increased government funding for scientific research. We had better science, and a more rapid advance of science, in the early part of the 20th century when there was no centralized government funding for science. Einstein discovered relativity on his own time, while he was employed as a patent clerk. Where are the Einsteins of today? They would never be able to get a university job --- Einstein's idea that time duration depended on the observer was very much opposed to the "consensus" view of the time. Einstein's idea that light was composed of particles (now called "photons") was also considered crazy by all physicists when he first published the idea. At least then he could publish the idea. Now a refereed journal would never even consider a paper written by a patent clerk, and all 1905 physics referees would agree that relativity and quantum mechanics were nonsense, definitely against the overwhelming consensus view. So journals would reject Einstein's papers if he were to write them today.

Science is an economic good like everything else, and it is very bad for production of high quality goods for the government to control the means of production. Why can't Newt Gingrich understand this? Milton Friedman understood it, and advocated cutting off government funding for science.
That completes Professor Tipler's email on the subject of AGW. The editor at Urgent Agenda is reminded by Tipler's final observation of a prescient warning given to us long ago, when government funding of scientific research was in its infancy:

We should add that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his famous farewell address as president - the "industrial-military complex" speech - also warned of the intersection between science and government. This is what he said:

"Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

"The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."

Indeed it could; in fact, the relationship between the scientific-technological elite and the Federal government is now more than one in which the latter is the "captive" of the former---it has become throughly co-dependent and symbiotic.

It is ironic to have to note that Federal-funded science is not all that distinguishable from a medieval religion. Like the Catholic Church of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is wholly supported by public funds and by grants from the wealthiest parts of commercial society; it has its own priestly order; it has its theology of global warming; it has its ecumenical councils, at which its theology is expounded and declared in common; and it has its own Inquisition to suppress and stifle dissent.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose . . .    

P.S.: We can also enjoy a little seasonal humor on this topic, thanks to the folks at Minnesotans for Global Warming (M4GW).


  1. Prof. Tipler stands (below sea level) by his convictions. Living in N.O.L.A. eh? If he believed in the global warming hypothesis, theory, doctrine, dogma, or whatever it is, he would be buying land in Canada. I have not detected any signs of a Canadian land rush from the believers either.

  2. It's not nice to mess with other peoples' religion. The AGW followers of Gaia (Peace and Blessings be upon her) will not be pleased with these intrusions of fact!

  3. Nor have I detected such a land rush to Canada, Pewster---if you check out the videos from Minnesotans for Global Warming (start with the link in the P.S. to my post), you'll see why.

    Rick, it was founding father John Adams who famously observed in his argument at the trial in connection with the Boston Massacre (he was defending the British soldiers who were charged with firing indiscriminately into the crowd), "Facts are stubborn things . . .". The AGW crowd is just now waking up to the truth of that statement.

  4. And we have the following comment on this post from Jackie, who doesn't yet have an Open ID or Google account (but will soon):

    "'it has its own priestly order; it has its theology of global warming; it has its ecumenical councils, at which its theology is expounded and declared in common; and it has its own Inquisition to suppress and stifle dissent.'

    "Sounds astoundingly like the Schori-Beers Organization."

    All too true, Jackie! Thanks for drawing the parallel---maybe we should start a theory of the Essential Elements of Institutional Oppression (EE-I-O for short).

  5. "a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself."

    Wow, what an amazing redefinition of science! It manages to make 95% of the huge advances in physical and biological science in the 20th century (and many earlier advances) non-scientific. Think of anything in quantum physics, relativity, most chemistry etc, as well as much modern medicine. Almost every theory in these fields requires expensive specialised equipment to check. That's why modern science is so expensive.

    Or at least this expensive equipment was needed in the first place. But if the initial theories had been ignored as unscientific, there would indeed have been consequences which the average person could observe: no radio or television, no computers, no Internet, no modern medical equipment, no advances in AIDS and cancer treatment, no ... well I'm sure you can fill in a lot more.

    Anyway Tipler himself stands condemned by his argument. His own speculative theory, which I read several years ago, makes predictions which are entirely unobservable. But I think he claims to be doing science.

  6. Peter Kirk, thank you for your comment here. But I think you do Professor Tipler's argument less than justice. The kind of observations "that the average person can check for himself" is nothing other than the process of verification, which, I am sure you will agree, is of the essence of science.

    The best theories of science are indeed those that can eventually be verified without elaborate laboratory procedures or expensive equipment---while it may take such procedures and equipment to test them initially, eventually (if they are true) they result in predictions that can be tested at a level that is obvious to anyone.

    General Relativity can be verified by any amateur astronomer during an eclipse. The basics of particle physics can be verified in a home-made cloud chamber, using dry ice. Einstein's Special Relativity equation, E=mc^2, can be verified with a simple 1 HP motor and two flashlights. The photoelectric effect, first explained by Einstein in 1905, can be verified with materials purchased by mail order.

    Even the principles of quantum mechanics are not difficult to develop using a coin and a pair of dice. Newton's
    F = ma follows very simply from Schrödinger's equation, which, in turn, can be derived assuming simple symmetries, as the linked article shows.

    A company about an hour from me sells high school science equipment which one can use to analyze black-body radiation to confirm Planck's quantum theory of radiation, as well as Boltzmann's entropy equation.

    I think this is the kind of "verification" Prof. Tipler had in mind. The kind of high-tech science you are referring to is most often used to test hypotheses before they become accepted theories. So you two are really not on the same page.

    As for Professor Tipler's "speculative theory" which you read "several years ago", you are incorrect that he does not make testable predictions. Please do him the favor of reading (or rereading, if that was what you read) The Physics of Christianity, in which he points out a number of ways to verify his predictions. (I have been discussing the book in a series of posts on this blog, and you can read about one very limited aspect of the book, but with an amazing prediction and its subsequent physical verification, in this post.)

    I note, finally, that your comment is directed almost entirely to a criticism of that one sentence, which I believe in all fairness that you misread. Do you have anything that actually refutes his critique of AGW? That is what we would really be interested to hear. Again, though, thank you for visiting and leaving your comment.

  7. Thanks for your reply. I don't accept Tipler's criticism of AGW theory but don't have the data to back that up in a comment box - but see the graph here which doesn't mirror the sunspot cycle - or see this image.

    AGW theory does of course make predictions which the average person will be able to verify, or not, within a few decades even if they cannot now. Those predictions are of large rises in global temperature, much greater than in any past sunspot cycles. If we see these (especially without a huge increase in sunspots), then AGW will be verified for all to see. If we don't (but are still burning fossil fuels as quickly as we are today), then the theory will be discredited, or will at least require major adjustment. Wait and see!

    The Tipler book I read several years ago was The Physics of Immortality. I wasn't convinced. Here was my argument: if Tipler's infinitely fast computer could compute an infinite future life for each one of us, then it could also compute an infinite number of infinite future lives, for me among others. And by Tipler's argument, since it could it would. But which of those would be my real future life? Somehow it doesn't make it better for that infinite number of future lives to be in different parts of a multiverse.

    But I will be interested in following your new series. Your virgin birth post is certainly interesting!