Having been trained in the scientific method, it is both amazing and disheartening to be living in today’s modern era of “fake news.” Important — even critical — issues that affect our society are almost never discussed rationally on the major news outlets. Instead we are subjected to emotionally charged pontifications of politicians, bloggers, and those that call themselves journalists. It is bad enough that the aforementioned generally are incompetent with regard to the use of critical thinking, but compounding the matter immensely is the corruption of many in the science/engineering profession, who, in my opinion, have become all too happy to ignore proper science in return for the perks and privileges bestowed upon them by their masters in the political and governmental classes. But enough generalities, let’s look at “global warming” as a specific example
If one were to unskeptically follow the mainstream news, one would believe that man-made global warming (now often called “climate change”) is an undisputed fact. But let’s look at the issue from an engineering-thinking perspective:
1. Proponents say, “97% of scientists agree” that mankind is responsible for global warming, therefore man-made global warming is a fact.
Even if the 97% figure is true (I’m not sure that it is), the consensus argument is actually proof of ignorance by those who use it, because using consensus to support a position is the logical fallacy known as “argument by authority.”
Science is never determined by a vote of scientists. For example, I’ve never been in a design project meeting where the lead engineer said, “Okay, now let’s take a vote to see which design is correct.” Engineers know that design approaches are based on analysis and testing, not majority votes. One of my favorite true stories on relying on a vote of experts to determine the truth can be found here: “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)“. (Also see “Global Warming:Consensus Is Not Science.”.)
2. The predictions made by those who believe in man-made global warming have, thus far, been completely wrong; our earth has stubbornly failed to conform to those predictions.
When predicted results do not occur, instead of concluding that the warming hypothesis failed, we see excuses (“our model was a bit faulty”) followed by tweaking of the models. However I have yet to see where the new models are back-tested far enough to actually validate their accuracy; i.e. an accurate model will explain prior climate, as well as recent climate. Experienced engineers, who rely on rigorous analysis and testing, are familiar with the tendency of inexperienced engineers to “tweak and tune” simulation results until the desired result is obtained, regardless of how far the simulation may depart from reality.
Senior engineers may also try to fudge their data to salvage a failed design hypothesis, because engineers are human. That’s why engineers employ a peer review process, to guard against the natural foibles of fellow engineers.
3. There are many respected scientists who disagree with the man-made global warming hypothesis.
These experts offer alternate and reasonable hypotheses, such as the effects of the sun. Indeed, there are some who believe that we are on the cusp on entering a mini ice-age, based on climate correlation to lower solar activity (e.g., “Sun’s activity will cause global cooling“).
On the international stage, however, proponents of global warming try to shut down peer review by qualified dissenters. This is a clear sign that the warmist arguments will not withstand objective scrutiny.
For example, Australian climate expert Dr. David Evans found an error in the climate prediction model used by the warmists (“World will start COOLING DOWN in 2017, claims one of planet’s top climate change experts“), which shows that climate sensitivity to CO2 is small, which negates the “man-made” claim of the warmists.
4. “What can it hurt?” is offered as a reason to implement global warming reduction measures.
This plea is based on the theory that the consequences of warming would be so catastrophic that it is reasonable to have a global big-government effort to reduce CO2. This statement is based on many fallacies; e.g. “appeal to consequences,” “appeal to emotion,” and the “politician’s syllogism” that states “we must do something!” regardless of whether or not that measure will be an overreaction, ineffective, or even make things worse. It is also reflects superstitious and hysterical thinking.
Ironically, some respected scientists have argued that some warming (man-made or natural) is likely good for humanity because maintaining warmer climates helps produce the higher crop yields required for growing populations.
A majority consensus is not a scientific proof. Science will be determined by the facts, as supported by replicable analysis and test. In the meantime, respect should be afforded minority opinions; there are numerous times throughout the history of scientific advancement when a minority (and often ridiculed) opinion has become generally accepted wisdom. Also, scientific conclusions are rarely “settled,” they will be tentative or conditional, based on the best available evidence at the time.
Is man-made global warming occurring? I don’t know. I do know that the warmists have not proven their case, that they tend to use logical fallacies and emotionally-driven statements to promote their position, that their predictions continually fail (followed by model tweak “corrections” that are not validated by back-testing), that they use ridicule and other ad hominem attacks against qualified scientists who disagree with them, and that they also seem to be closely allied to governmental entities that provide them with salaries and perks, which suggests confirmation bias. And if the warmists are wrong, the consequences of imposing a solution for which no problem exists can not only potentially make matters worse, it can also result in gross economic distortions which cost jobs and drain resources that could otherwise be applied to actual problems, such as earth-threatening asteroids, severe damage to the ocean by nanoparticles and other modern pollutants, ebola and other plagues, etc.
Because engineers are applied scientists, they employ critical thinking to successfully create the wondrous things which make our lives comfortable and fun. They are pretty good at keeping emotions at bay, and are adept at evaluating claims in a skeptical yet open-minded manner. Engineers are also willing and able to change their opinions — pro or con — based on a careful evaluation of new claims. This ability to rationally, albeit sometimes imperfectly, evaluate a variety of issues is one of many reasons why I believe that engineers are often the best ones to evaluate the important issues of the day.