August 5th, 2006


Scientific Debate

So, over in conservatism there's some guy that started off by trying to debunk global warming with early 20th century heat waves (shouldn't it be hotter now?), which is getting him roundly served by people in that community that understand climate science with a layman's grasp (me) and actual professional scientists. But the original poster made a very- very disturbing comment.

And why the heck aren't there debates between the scientists who agree and those who don't? I wanna see a head-to-head debate.

Ignoring the lack of reputable climatologists that think there isn't ongoing climate change, there's a very disturbing conceit behind that statement- that science is resolved in debates. Debates occur in scientific circles, usually among scientists that interpret the same data differently. There are competing hypotheses that have different supporting evidence, there are questions of methodology, etc. Debate does occur in science, but no where in the Scientific Method does it include debate as one of the steps. There's bodies and bodies of literature on the topic, but Wikipedia will do for now. The reason that the poster will not see a debate on the topic is because that is not science.

Observe, Hypothesize, Predict, Test (in short). I observe that two masses fall at the same rate. I hypothesize that this denotes a constant force pulling on them- a force proportional to their mass. I can then predict that any object will experience the same level of force. I can then test this by dropping things on innocent bystanders. Other people can replicate and refine my tests, inform my observations, and the entire thing becomes a very complex infrastructure of supporting information.

In Science, there is no real debate. Either the facts are in agreement or they are not. Oh, individual scientists might engage in debate (who doesn't love a good argument), but in the end, there are facts and hypotheses. If the facts and hypotheses line up, everything tests out, great! Kudos. If not, we refine or replace our hypothesis. Debating doesn't resolve anything because debating is just talking- nothing is resolved without experimentation. Without repeatable tests.

To imply that a debate should be held to convince people speaks to the politicalization of science. To claim that Intelligent Design should be taught "to teach the debate" is to fly in the face of physical evidence. To claim that the global climate is not getting warmer is to do the same thing- it's foolishness and idiocy. Facts are not open to debate, and there is no reason to debate relative hypotheses- we can simply devise experimental tests and prove one or the other.

I fear for our future sometimes.