Is there really a consensus? What does that mean,
We're frequently told the global warming debate is over because a "scientific consensus"
exists. Does this mean that all scientists of any stature believe
the planet is in peril? Actually, vigorous debate continues. Smart people with
impressive credentials can be found on all sides of this question.
one of the finest scientific minds of our time, disagrees with much of
the global warming thesis. A petition
rejecting global warming has attracted the signatures of 31,000 Americans with
science degrees - including 9,000 with PhDs. A partial list of international
scientists who dissent from global warming theory has its own
If "consensus" means that a majority of the world's scientists believe in
global warming - that's probably true. It's also true that prominent science journals
and international scientific bodies have endorsed the concept.
But scientific validity isn't determined by majority vote. It was Galileo -
not the consensus of his time - who had it right. When French researcher
concluded, in the early 1800s, that
bloodletting was of limited use in treating
pneumonia, he was challenging 2,000 years of standard medical practice.
Albert Einstein said: "The important thing is not to stop questioning." So
why do so many people insist the
science is beyond dispute and that there's nothing further to discuss?
Reason 1: People who believe they're
saving the planet can be impatient. Because they feel a sense of
debate seems pointless to them. They're interested in action, not more talk.
But if the diagnosis is wrong, taking action may harm the situation rather
than help it. Reasonable people acknowledge other points-of-view and give
everyone the opportunity to hear all sides.
Reason 2: We
trust experts. When we're told the world's leading experts in a particular field
have examined matters carefully and agree there's cause for alarm, it's
perfectly understandable that we take their word for it. Ordinary people behave this way. So do scientists in other
fields. And so do journalists.
Reason 3: We believe journalists. Much of
what we know about global warming was written by journalists - most of whom took few, if
any, college-level science courses. They don't understand complicated
scientific matters any better than the average person.
Additionally, journalists often rush to meet deadlines. Reporters rarely have
time to read more than the summary of any
scientific report. In the case of global warming, that's a critical fact to
keep in mind.