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Mona Charen: Hurricane Irene, Evolution and Rick Perry

Flaws forecasting the storm highlight our prejudices against science

By Mona Charen | @mcharen |

The Hurricane Irene story ought to, but won’t, shed light on our prejudices regarding science.

The favored liberal Democratic narrative — we’ve seen it trotted out against Gov. Rick Perry in the past two weeks — goes like this: Democrats are the party of the enlightenment. They believe in science and facts. They know Charles Darwin was correct about the origin of species, and that human beings are responsible for potentially catastrophic global warming through production of carbon dioxide. Republicans, on the other hand, are the pre-modern party of superstition, religious explanations for natural phenomena and global warming denial.

Perry played to type when he told a young questioner that “evolution” was “a theory that’s out there,” but “it’s got some gaps in it.” That’s why, he said, “in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.” Well, he’s right that the theory has some gaps in it, but it remains the best explanation yet propounded to explain biological changes. He’s wrong, embarrassingly enough, about Texas. They don’t teach creationism in the public schools.

But Perry’s critics, who’ve been eager to lump his skepticism about man-made global warming into the same category as his openness to creationism, look equally foolish. Again and again, those who believe in anthropogenic global warming declare that, “The science is settled.” But science is never settled.

At the heart of the scientific method is openness to data and testing. And while creationism can’t be said to be an alternative scientific theory to evolution (because it can’t be tested) there are countless competing theories for observed changes in global temperatures during the past century. And there are many reputable scientists who dispute that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are wholly responsible for those changes.

There are even more scientists who agree that carbon dioxide is warming the planet, but firmly oppose the hysteria and catastrophism of Al Gore and his acolytes who demand dramatic (and hopelessly unrealistic) changes in our way of life to counter it.

Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at MIT, observed in 2009 that “the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA) is always changing. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally — such as for the last dozen years or so — it does little that can be discerned. Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre.”

Professor Lindzen was referring to the inconvenient fact that there has been no increase in global temperature since 1998. This is utterly inconsistent with the computer models that predicted steady and relentless warming if we did not radically reduce carbon emissions. The famous “hockey stick” graph offered by University of Massachusetts professor Michael Mann, which became the emblem of global warming panic, has been shown to be a fraud (Technology Review, Oct. 15, 2004).

Speaking of computer models, consider the recent attempt to predict Hurricane Irene’s path and strength. The New York Times’ Henry Fountain analyzed the meteorologists’ failure to predict the storm’s strength: “Forecasters had expected that a spinning band of clouds near its center, called the inner eyewall, would collapse and be replaced by an outer band that would then slowly contract. Such ‘eyewall replacement cycles’ have been known to cause hurricanes to strengthen. While its eyewall did collapse, Irene never completed the cycle.”

A hurricane expert consulted by Fountain noted that the Hurricane Center had done well in predicting the path of the storm, “but it was not surprising that the strength forecasts were off — the accuracy of such forecasts has hardly improved over the past several decades.”

This is not to mock or castigate meteorologists. There are so many factors that influence storms — wind shear, ocean temperatures, fluid dynamics, drier air masses that drift into a storm’s path and other things. It’s difficult to predict a storm’s intensity. Let alone next week’s weather.

It’s even harder to predict the overall direction of global climate. In addition to the factors named above, global climate is affected by solar radiation cycles, La Nina and El Nino, the Pacific Decadal and the Atlantic Multidecadal oscillations, the amount of algae in the seas and seismic activity, to name a few. Yes, most climate scientists believe that anthropogenic global warming is happening, but the rate, the degree and the effects are all still very much in dispute.

The pro-science posture then, is to recognize the limitations of what we can currently predict and to remain open to evidence. Shrieking your insistence that the “science is settled” only demonstrates an unscientific and dogmatic orthodoxy.

Mona Charen writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information or to contact her. Follow Mona Charen on Twitter: @mcharen.




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» on 08.31.11 @ 12:23 AM

Well, at least Ms. Charen only damns science with faint praise, rather than rejecting it outright….

So… faint praise for Mona Charen…(clap, uh, clap)

» on 08.31.11 @ 12:46 PM

Actually, Ms. Charen does nothing of the sort.  Science is what it is.  It’s a tool like any other tool.  It can be used corrrectly, or incorrectly, based upon the wielder of the tool.  What is being pointed out here is that certain parties refuse to accept anything other than their own dogmatic beliefs that in many instances have been proven wrong. 

The recent revelations that, just like the “hockey stick,” scientific zealots apparently manipulated polar bear data to support a theory instead of maintaining an objective and open mind about science.  You see, science isn’t the problem as Ms. Charen points out.  More often than not, it’s those who wish to use science to further their own goals that taint the outcome.  Especially when money is at stake.  Government funded studies have a tendency to support the political hand that feeds them, resulting in a “tail wagging the dog” syndrome. 

If we truly respect science and all that it reveals, we must stop this nonsensical cycle.  Mr. Gore, for example, has a vested interest in promoting the impacts of carbon in the discussion.  His stake in the Climate Exchange could potentially net him several hundred billion dollars.  That is, if he and his partners are successful in getting a price put on the air we breath.

» on 08.31.11 @ 04:56 PM

Charen is mostly right. Science is almost never permanently “settled” on anything.

The Scientific Method is about continuous questioning, examination, and
reconsideration.

That put it on one side of the table, with religious dogma on the other.

Perry is an aw-shucks professional politician who goes along to get along. Always has been. And he’s good at it.

He grew up a rural farm boy, flew air transports for a while, got a college degree
but was never an egghead kind of guy.

That’s an Achilles Heel of sorts - science, technology, the greater world truly are
foreign to his life experience. He’ll need top-flight handlers to help him cover.

On the other hand, Obama’s super-educated, super-detached Smartest Guy in
the Room aura certainly hasn’t helped him win friends or influence people, has
it?

So let’s not pretend that Perry understands or cares about Science, unless it
directly relates to Texas jobs, or political donations. He doesn’t.

But is that necessarily a fatal-flaw?

» on 08.31.11 @ 06:34 PM

Socaljay - I would not have guessed that Al Gore is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, just so that he can get his hands on hundreds of billions of our dollars. I’m glad that you have revealed the dastardly plot; I had the impression that he was sincere.

Mona - I am happy to hear that, despite what its governor claims, Texas does not teach creationism in its schools. But why we should believe you rather than Perry? It’s an odd thing for the governor of a state to be wrong about, unless he’s really out of touch with what’s going on in the schools.

» on 08.31.11 @ 07:11 PM

AHamilton, If I recall correctly without digging for the information, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) was part of a global initiative to trade carbon credits.  CCX was touted as being approx. 1/10th of the global market, estimated at roughly 10 trillion dollars.  Mr. Gore was reportedly in on the early development of this scheme to put a price tag on air as were many corporate interests, and looked to make healthy gains if the project succeeded.  CCX is now defunct, but I believe that its European counterpart, owned by the same interests, is still alive.  You can imagine that with trillions of dollars at stake, Mr. Gore has more than enough reasons to beat a dead horse.

On another note, I might be mistaken but the recent textbook revolt in Texas did mention something about the creationism issue as a reason to break ranks.  Could it be possible that the Gov. was referring to these pending or current changes?

» on 08.31.11 @ 07:52 PM

So far so good folks. Publius right on, you too Hammie. Socaljay, I find it increasingly frustrating that pundits, politicians and others on the right don’t do their homework before leveling complaints at the AGW alarmists. The planet is getting warmer, that is changing the climate and yes our activities including burning fossil fuels have an effect. Every time someone on the right sites weather as a reason for denying GW I want to rip their ignorant head off. Same goes for these idiots on the left who think bad weather is due to GW. Crimony, weather is not climate you dolts! Anyway good stuff on that big fat liar snake oil salesman Al Gore. What an embarrassment that guy turned out to be. The whole science community wishes he would shut up and go away.

» on 08.31.11 @ 08:36 PM

AN50, actually I do a great deal of research before I open my mouth to speak.  I never have said that global warming isn’t happening.  I am just not convinced that we are the primary cause.  If that were the case, then scientific evidence showing previous episodes of global warming long before the industrial age would carry no merit.  Do we have an impact on the environment?  You betcha!  Should we be mindful of that?  Absolutely!  But anyone who is older than 40 should clearly remember the outcry in the scientific community about global freezing.  Follow the money.

No, the problem I have is the politics and activism that have created the tail wagging the dog syndrome.  Even the geo sciences have created a mechanism to find consensus through the probabilistic seismic hazard analysis methodology because the world of science is full of so many controdictions.  Take a single data set and present it to a room full of scientists and your bound to hear a room full of theories.  So, when I study an issue I look at all sides and come to conclusions based on the evidence presented.  Even you can’t deny that money, or the promise of money, is driving conclusions that otherwise would be more thoroughly challenged.

Recent revelations about the methodology used to drive certain positions have tainted a great deal of work.  Does that mean I’m in denial?  Nope.  But I’m looking for a bit more consensus than I’ve seen before jumping on the carbon credit bandwagon.  And I certainly discount everything that slimy snake oil salesman has to say.  I figured that out when many of his own scientific “supporters” challenged some of his assertions in “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Personally, I think mother nature is going to do what she does best, keep us guessing.

» on 08.31.11 @ 08:42 PM

AN50,

One thing I forgot to ask.  I read just in the past couple of days that there actually hasn’t been a change in global tempurature since 1998.  Is that correct?

» on 08.31.11 @ 09:28 PM

Socaljay-

I’m just saying: when a guy reaches Gore’s age and status he usually starts to think about his legacy, his grandkids, etc.  Thanks for sharing your theory that really he’s now trying to hoodwink the public in a long-shot try at making hundreds of billions of dollars.  Do you know if he has a plan how to spend his hundreds of billions of dollars, or is he just after it to be evil, like in a James Bond movie?

» on 08.31.11 @ 11:54 PM

AHamilton, I don’t think he was trying to hoodwink anybody.  I think he was gaming the system in the hopes that the idea would catch.  But the idea was rejected, for now. 

How is that different from the creator’s of Google?  Their invasive bots collect more data than people know.  How is that data used?  Does it violate privacy laws and if people knew, would they care? 

I think Mr. Gore likes being a player and thinks of himself as elite.  He was a VP afterall.  I just don’t buy in to what he is selling, which is snake oil.  The difference to me, I think, is that he wasn’t being honest about what his interest in the whole thing was.  Was he open like most entrepeneurs?  Would going after multi-billion dollar pot of money change his image?  Maybe. 

The Left does spend a great amount of energy vilifying Wall Street and corporate America.  I read somewhere that in the big money world, more influential people are aligned to the left than ever before.  What does that tell us about their message?  Would they willingly shoot themselves in the foot?  Or do they say one thing and do another? 

Even now, Mr. Gore is fomenting the flames of doomsday global warming in an attempt to do what?  Stay in the spotlight?  Reenergize the carbon exchange debate?  Don’t know and don’t care.  Is he evil?  Don’t think so.  Is his perspective different from mainstream America?  Probably.  I don’t think a billion dollars is anywhere in my future.  But for that kind of money, I’m sure there are many people out there trying to figure out how to make it work.

» on 09.01.11 @ 03:39 AM

Socaljay, sorry if I gave you the impression that you were included in my tirade. You and wireless seem to have a good handle on researching these things. You are absolutely right about the current stasis in climate. It is wildly frustration to the AGW religion but not entirely out of the realm of possibility, particularly when you begin factoring biological feed backs and compensations. That is why I jump so hard on the “settled” argument because we haven’t even scratched the surface of the complexity of our biosphere yet. Biology is a huge factor in how our planet was shaped (iron oxidation, atmospheric molecular oxygen, huge deposits of limestone, to name a few), yet the AGW alarmists seem only to concentrate on one biological component, humans, as if all other life has no connection or affect on the planet. It’s a bit narcissistic and egotistical if you ask me, must be all that phony self esteem they push on kids in school these days, filling mush headed dim wits with shallow self importance. No we are not all that significant a species and even though we could unleash nuclear Armageddon and incinerate the human species (along with many others) the planet and its biosphere will survive with out us and regenerate.
As for your observations about the left and their wealth, spot on. The biggest reason the richest people in the world like socialism is it is an upward mobility killer. It stabilizes economies at a subsistence level while allowing the wealth elite to go about their business unfettered by some lowly upstart entrepreneur, threatening to squeeze them out. It is not a conspiracy, because there are still wealthy, secure enough in their successes that welcome the competition.

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