The science deniers’ greatest hits

Science is a process, not a destination, and must not be immune to falsification by experiment

By Bill Frezza

gali2“And yet, it moves.”

Thus muttered Galileo Galilei under his breath, after being forced by the Inquisition to recant his claim that the Earth moved around the Sun, rather than the other way round. The public vindication of Copernican heliocentrism would have to wait another day.

Today, Galileo’s story is a well-known illustration of the dangers of both unchecked power and declaring scientific matters “settled.” Yet, throughout history, Galileo wasn’t alone.

Scientists once knew that light moved through space via the aetherluminiferous aether – how else could its waves travel? In 1887 Albert Michelson and Edward Morley proved that it wasn’t so, thanks to a “failed” experiment that was actually designed to conclusively demonstrate the existence of this invisible medium. Poor Michelson suffered a nervous breakdown when faced with such unexpected results.

In 1931 a book published in Germany, One Hundred Authors against Einstein, defended the “settled science” of Newtonian physics and proclaimed that Einstein’s theory of relativity was a fraud. Einstein was reported to have replied, “Why one hundred? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.”

On these pages I recently recounted the story of the early twentieth century belief in Eugenics, a “science” widely adopted by governments around the world as a basis for social policy – with horrifying results.

ulcerbacAustralian physicians Barry Marshall and Robin Warrens were ridiculed when they hypothesized that ulcers were caused by microbes, which “every scientist knew” couldn’t survive in stomach acid. Doctors were sure that peptic ulcers were caused by stress and spicy foods. In frustration, Marshall drank a Petri dish full of cultured H. pylori, proving the “settled science” wrong.

Hopefully, the Nobel Prize he and Warrens received compensated for the illness that resulted.

And remember the government’s dietary guidelines, including the warnings against salt and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid urging Americans to eat more carbs and fewer fats? That didn’t work out so well, did it?

We all grew up knowing that life began in the “primordial soup” of the seas, sparked by lightning. A recent paper in Nature casts doubt on that theory, producing evidence that life may have begun in hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor. The jury is still out on this one.

And that’s the point.

It’s worth keeping the above examples in mind, when someone proclaims that surely we are much smarter today than we were in the past. That we can finally put our faith in scientific certainty, especially when journalists and politicians and subsidized scientists tell us that 97% of scientists agree on something. That once consensus is reached among experts, it’s important to stop listening to criticism.

If you have any doubts, just Google up the phrase “Science Says,” ghgreenand view the parade of claims that carry that new and improved Good Housekeeping Seal of Infallibility.

Yes, reactionaries on the payroll of nefarious forces insist on reminding us that science is a process, not a destination. What difference does it make if a hypothesis has been artfully constructed to render itself immune to falsification by experiment?

Who cares if computer simulations enshrined at the heart of public policy have never made a correct forecast? How dare anyone imply that billions of dollars in government grant funding create perverse incentives for researchers to support the party line?

The important thing is that “settled science” can be used to spur the public to act.

And exactly what has the “settled science” of cataclysmic anthropogenic global warming convinced us to do? One thing above all: Deliver unprecedented power to politicians, activists, and bureaucrats.

fatcatPower to commandeer entire industries. Power to pump billions of taxpayer dollars into half-baked schemes cooked up by crony corporatists. Power to redistribute income on a global scale.

And to maintain this power, when cracks begin to show in the narrative, power to criminalize dissent, much as the Inquisition did to Galileo.

Real science is characterized by healthy skepticism, relentless questioning, and a constant testing and re-testing of theories, systems, and models. Casting dogma in stone – and then stoning non-believers – is a hallmark of intolerant religion, not science.

And when we finally wake up from our global-warming-inspired public hysteria, our progeny will pat themselves on the back for being so much more advanced than we were. Before, alas, the cycle repeats again.

frezzaBill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the host of the Real Clear Radio Hour.


About the Author: CFACT

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

  • kuhnkat

    The Michelson Morley experiment was inconclusive. If the aether is moving at the same speed and vector as the equipment, as it may well be locally, then the experiment has nothing to show…

    • Brin Jenkins

      Is this signifcant? Please explain a little.

  • Frederick Colbourne

    “The science deniers’ greatest hits”

    You missed the biggest hit of all. And it was, like climate, an aspect of Earth science.

    Earth scientists denied continental mobilism, proposed as early as 1880 by Heinrich Wettstein, a Swiss forerunner of global mobilism. The theory of continental mobilism was suppressed until the 1960s.

    Wegener’s theory of continental drift was the most widely known of the mobilism theories.

    Albert Carozzi (1983) Heinrich Wettstein (1880), A Swiss Forerunner of Global Mobilism. Earth Sciences History: 1983, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 41-47.

    Emile Argand is cited as a proponent of continetal drift. However, he developed his own approach based on evidence collected from the Swizz Alps and the Himalayayas

    While Wegener did not get the physics right, his interpretation of the evidence was closer to our present views than were those of his critics. His opponents merely ignored the evidence, insisting that there was no mechanism for plate tectonics.

    And in Wegener’s day, although one or two others had got the physics right, the geological dating for the Cretaceous was wrong by at least 30 million years, too short a time for the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.

    The initial reaction to Wegener’s hypothesis was hostile (Gohau, 1991). In the 1920’s, the president of the American Philosophical Society, W. B. Scott declared it was, “…utter, damned rot!” (Dott and Prothero, 1994). The note in Science by Edward Berry (1924) entitled “Germanic pseudo-science” is an extreme example

    The parallel with climate studies is the conflict between the deductive and inductive approaches, theory and evidence.

    Anthropogenic climate warming (AGW) proponents rely on a theory that ignores a vast amount of evidence that climate change has occurred and continues to occur naturally, the null hypothesis.

    The argument against the null hypothesis relies on the logical fallacy “argumentum ad ignorantiam”. We don’t know any natural forces that could cause climate warming, therefore it must be caused by mankind.

    This argument from ignorance was used by the opponents of continental mobilism: we don’t know of any forces that could move continents, therefore continents do not move, at least not laterally.

    Professor Naomi Oreskes authored an outstanding study of the history of continental drift.


    Dr. Oreskes is a also vocal climate alarmist who was a co-author of Merchants of Doubt. She also authored the following critique of models in earth science.

    Abstract: Verification and validation of numerical models of natural systems is impossible. This is because natural systems are never closed and because model results are always non-unique. Models can be confirmed by the demonstration of agreement between observation and prediction, but confirmation is inherently partial. Complete confirmation is logically precluded by the fallacy of affirming the consequent and by incomplete access to natural phenomena. Models can only be evaluated in relative terms, and their predictive value is always open to question. The primary value of models is heuristic.

    Oreskes, Naomi, Kristin Shrader-Frechette, and Kenneth Belitz. “Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences.” Science 263, no. 5147 (1994): 641-646.,%20Validation,

    Which makes me wonder. How can Dr Oreskes accept AGW? She is critical of models in Earth science. And she is fully aware that scientists who act as gatekeepers of dominants paradigms even to the extent of ignoring evidence and even manufacturing evidence. (Land Bridges” by Charles Schuchert and “Isthmian Links” by Bailey Willis).