The Construction of Dogmas in Climate Science

When you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).

Atmospheric CO2 is as important as oxygen for life on Earth. Without CO2, plant photosynthetic metabolism would not be possible, and the present life-forms on Earth would vanish. Over the last years, it has been a dogma to many that the apparent increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration is being caused primarily by anthropogenic burning of fossil carbon in the forms of petroleum, coal, and natural gas. This extra atmospheric CO2 is said to cause drastic global climatic change with a significant atmospheric temperature rise.  It is indeed a paradox that CO2, formerly “The Gas of Life”, is now being condemned as the “polluting” gas and a threat to human life, through a postulated “Global Warming”.
However, in the natural sciences, the scientific method is based on the testing of hypotheses with the help of (1) empiric observations, (2) laboratory experiments, and (3) the theory based on these. If these three parts produce identical results, and the theory is so robust that it will predict future results which will be identical to new observations and experiments, we have found a hypothesis with high significance.

With further testing this hypothesis can be exalted to a law of nature, which in turn can be used to reject other hypotheses not supported by observations and experiments. It is, of course, fundamental that all three major parts of the scientific method is based on sound statistical procedures regarding sampling theory, data representation, significance, error propagation, causality, etc., and should be unbiased and free of advocacy. If any part of the evidence does not support the hypothesis, the hypothesis should be rejected (Churchman, 1948).

In recent years, environmentalism seems to have taken a prominent place on the political scene. Many who champion this new “ism” sadly allege that Man is destructive, unnatural, and guilty of destroying the entire planet. The “proofs” used in this respect are based on selected portions of science which, in many cases, are not based on the objectivity of the scientific method of natural sciences (Sanford, 1992).

Rather the “proofs” employ a rejection of reason, and are based on the scientific method of philosophy, where the fundamental three parts of the scientific method of natural sciences do not apply.

In natural sciences, knowledge is obtained by validating the content of one’s mind according to the facts of reality. Truth then corresponds to reality. In philosophy the world is largely artificial, and truth is redefined to mean coherence among ideas — much along the views of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Hence a dogma can be constructed by ignoring reality, and rather appealing to authority or consensus as invalid substitutes for reason. In philosophy hypotheses can be proposed, validated, and accepted without reference to facts (Sanford, 1992). We see that most often the treatment of what is normal or natural is lacking from the environmental “dooms,” and that we only are told what is “abnormal” or “unnatural” without an indisputable baseline reference.

To construct a dogma, the philosophical methodology is to start with an idea one “feels” is correct and then to find the necessary evidence one needs to support it. Reason will then have to be substituted by intuition, belief, faith, emotions, or feelings as the ultimate source of knowledge. Sanford (1992) further points out that the “ecosopher” Arne Næss (1990) begins a book with the section “Beginning with intuitions” and a feeling of “our world in crisis.” The dogma will be accepted as truth by the people at large if it will be supported by “authorities,” “experts,” and well-known important people, not necessarily with their expertise in the relevant field; and especially so if the dogma is being supported by international bodies or assemblies, and given a wide and one-sided coverage by the media. The dogma will be even more appealing if it appears as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The marketing and influence, i.e. the psychology of persuasion of a dogma, will therefore be important for it to be accepted as truth. The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will appear to be correct among people.

People are usually not able to use all relevant information available. They use instead only a single, highly representative piece of the relevant information. When something is presented as a scary scenario, such as climate change, it creates an emotional reaction that makes it difficult to think straight (i.e. consider all facts), especially if there is fostered among the public a belief that decisions regarding this common crisis must be made fast (Cialdini, 1993). This is what has been called the “scare-them-to-death” approach (Böttcher, 1996), and makes the foundation for creating a doomsday dogma. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist and leading proponent of the global warming theory, says: “To capture the public imagination … we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have,” thereby acting as an advocate for his subjective belief in the “Greenhouse Effect Global Warming” dogma rather than as an objective scientist (Sanford, 1992).

A doomsday dogma made under these conditions will very likely cause a political turmoil. The old saying “Everybody talks about the weather, and nobody does anything about it” is claimed to be invalid, especially when Man’s burning of fossil fuel allegedly will change the world’s climates. The creation of a “CO2 Greenhouse Effect Doom” dogma will easily give more power and money to politicians and government officials, letting them introduce legislation and taxation on energy consumption and people’s way of living by implementing policies infringing on technology, industry, and freedom.

Prof. Tom V. Segalstad is Head of the Geological Museum within the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo (Norway) and a Scientific Advisor to CFACT Europe. He was an official Expert Reviewer to the IPCC Third Assessment.


  • Churchman, C.W. (1948): Theory of experimental inference. Macmillan, New York, 292 pp.
  • Sanford, R.F. (1992): Environmentalism and the assault on reason. In: Lehr, J. (Ed.): Rational readings on environmental concerns. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 16-31.
  • Næss, A. (1990): Ecology, community and lifestyle. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 223 pp.
  • Cialdini, R.B. (1993): Influence: the psychology of persuasion, 2nd. rev. ed. William Morrow & Co., Inc., New York, 320 pp.
  • Böttcher, F. (1996): Climate change: forcing a treaty. In: Emsley, J. (Ed.): The Global Warming Debate. The report of the European Science and Environment Forum. Bourne Press, Ltd., Bournemouth, Dorset, UK, 267-285.

You can read the whole paper “Carbon cycle modelling and the residence time of natural and anthropogenic atmospheric CO2: on the construction of the ‘Greenhouse Effect Global Warming’ dogma” by Tom V. Segalstad, one of the chapters in the book Bate, R. (Ed.): “Global Warming: The Continuing Debate”, European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), Cambridge, England (ISBN 0-9527734-2-2), pages 184-219, 1998.

The paper can also be found together with his chapter in ESEF’s previous book on Global Warming.



About the Author: CFACT

CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.