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On Scientific Consensus

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jamessavik

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On Scientific Consensus

Alfred 1 Wegener (1880-1930) was a German meteorologist who picked up an interest in geology.

He wondered why some of the continents like Africa and South America fit together almost like a key.
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He began to wonder: do continents move?

In Victorian times such an idea seemed ludicrous as every good Christian fundamentalist knew that the world was 10.000 years old.

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Anyone who might suggest processes like Wegener s or his contemporary James Hutton that took place over hundreds of millions of years was obviously daft.

But Wegener s suggestion that continents actually did move over time answered questions in biology.

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Why are there related species on the different continents but- they are obviously distant relatives. Obviously well adapted for their environments, similar but obviously related.

This did not prove Continental drift but, it certainly made a case for further investigation.

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Wegener suffered for his outlandish theory. No one in the scientific community gave his ideas any credence and, he didn't get tenure at a prestigious university. In fact he was a laughing stock.

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He died at the age of fifty doing field work in Greenland.

However- his theory did not die. It didn't come back in a coherent theory until the technology was developed to gather the data needed to prove that continents did indeed move.

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The theory of Plate tectonics was born and still remains controversial in some circles but it is now a theory with hard data to back it up.

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This is a theme repeated time after time in science.

If someday someone will comes up with a theory better than plate tectonics, then science will adopt it. Otherwise, it works, it explains how demonstrable phenomena works and it can be measured.

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Always be skeptical when someone tells you that the science is settled.

Skepticism is the way of science: someone has an idea (hypothesis), then we test, test, test it. If it works, it becomes a theory. If not, we go back to the drawing board.

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Science is never static. Our understanding of our selves, our planet and our universe is always changing.

Anyone that tells you the science is settled doesn't have a clue how science works.

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If the history of science is any guide, the "consensus" is wrong more than its right. We need mavericks like Wegener to show us a new way of looking at our world.

The big question now is our climate changing?

Yes. It has changed numerous times.

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Climate in geological time has changed for a number of reasons from comet bombardment, volcanic out-gassing and variations in solar output.

The question of the age is that climate change man made or is it a natural cycle like a Grand Solar minimum.

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This question is by no means settled. Both hypothesis have their merits.

Pretending that we know this answer is the worst sort of scientific hubris.

We don't know. We need to know because both models will treat 7 billion humans harshly.
 
Only one is the right answer and getting it wrong would be a disaster.

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The next question is: What are we going to do? Sit on our butts and wait until it's settled? Or do we act just in case it's man made?

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Great blog, James ... good questions, Adi.

After the past two weeks around here ... the weather is weirder than i remember it ever being.

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