The Warfare Thesis in ActionJames Lawrence Powell holds a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, taught Geology at Oberlin College for over 20 years, served as Acting President of Oberlin, President of Franklin and Marshall College, President of Reed College, President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and President and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, appointed Powell to the National Science Board, where he served for 12 years. He is the author of eleven books and currently serves as Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium. James Lawrence Powell also believes in AGW (anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming).
Powell has created what some are calling the one chart that proves AGW. It is a pie chart comparing scientific papers about “global warming,” “global climate change,” or “climate change.” Powell has reviewed these papers and found that only a couple dozen of them, out of almost 14,000, reject AGW. So what can we conclude, Powell asks.
According to Powell, these papers demonstrate that there is a mountain of scientific evidence in favor of AGW and no convincing evidence against it. That those who deny anthropogenic global warming have no alternative theory to explain the observed rise in atmospheric CO2 and global temperature. And that these two facts together mean that the so-called debate over global warming is an illusion, a hoax conjured up by a handful of apostate scientists and a misguided and sometimes colluding media, aided and abetted by funding from fossil fuel companies and right wing foundations.
An over-the-top caricature? No, I’m quoting from Powell’s site. For Powell it is all about the Warfare Thesis, with the truth-seeking scientists in their unstained clean white lab coats on the one side, and the unwashed, unruly superstitious mob fueled by sinister forces on the other side:
On the one side, we have a mountain of scientific evidence, on the other, ideology and arm-waving. On that basis, we are endangering our grandchildren’s future and pushing humanity toward the destruction of civilization.
I have no idea what Powell’s motives are, but given his background it would be surprising if Powell actually believed any of this. Perhaps so, but anyone vaguely familiar with the world of science knows that counting papers is not the way to scientific realism and truth. There are so many obvious, well known problems with Powell’s logic here it is difficult to know where to begin.
First, notice that Powell did not actually say that the 14,000 papers proved or demonstrated AGW. That’s because they don’t. Powell is an inside player and he knows not to make such a mistake.
In science, research programs tend to work within paradigms. Scientists are not forever questioning theories as the textbooks like to say; rather, they explore the details of the paradigm they are working within, whether or not they are true or make sense of the data. That’s a generalization, but in many fields it is often true.
If you look for papers with keywords such as “global warming,” “global climate change,” and “climate change,” as did Powell, then you’re going to find papers that are exploring AGW not questioning it.
That’s the way science works, and Powell of course knows this.
Imagine 50 years ago searching through papers about neo Darwinism and the New Synthesis and wondering whether the papers will be for or against evolution. That would be silly. The ratio would be at least as skewed as Powell’s pie chart.
But of course today we know that neo Darwinism is false. Mutations are not neutral, and the adaptation we observe is not slow and caused by the selection of blind variation. And even evolutionists agree that there must be some other mechanism to account for large-scale evolutionary change.
This is by no means an isolated example. The history of science is full of examples of paradigms gone wrong, masses of scientists who go along to get along, and non scientific influences. Social pressures, political pressures, funding pressures, career and prestige pressures—they are part of the job.
And no less so in the field of climatology where heavy-handed AGW zealots have engaged in political maneuvering, peer review manipulation, blackballing, and so forth.
Meanwhile AGW has not fared well on the science. To the point that serious thinkers are voicing concerns. The science is just not that simple.
But it never was about the science. As usual, this is not about the facts, it is about the narrative. Powell had that part right, and it is only getting stronger. Academics are calling for the incarceration of AGW skeptics, and powerful politicians, only a little less enraged, want malpractice suits. NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress that oil company CEOs “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” You can see more examples here, here.
It really doesn’t matter whether the Earth is cooling, warming, or maintaining an equilibrium, any scenario can be cast into the narrative of the good guys versus the bad guys. That narrative was nowhere more obvious than in yesterday’s Climate March in New York City where Leonardo DiCaprio refused to answer questions about his yacht and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. accused industrialists who do not agree with AGW of treason and said they should be imprisoned as war criminals. Likeminded politicians are “contempable human beings,” though the son of the late great Attorney General lamented that they could not be prosecuted.
What we are seeing are classic defamation tactics. Evolution’s Warfare Thesis has lit all kinds of fires and emotions are running high. With evolution there is no law, just narrative. Today it focuses on climate, but it could jump to any number of issues.
So is AGW true? I have no idea. But neither does Powell, Kennedy and the rest. And we’re not going to figure it out with vigilante justice fueled by pseudo science.