Remember the headline a couple of months ago: “Was Einstein Wrong?”
Well, it turned out that those pesky neutrinos were not really travelling faster than light after all. Their speed was simply measured incorrectly, due to a bad connection in the test equipment. Einstein’s theories have not been overturned.
There are parallels with the so-called climate ‘debate’. How should we react when some ‘breaking news’ appears to contradict the vast and growing body of evidence for human-caused warming? Of course, if you run a denialist website, you’ll trumpet excitedly in a blog post: “it’s the final nail in the coffin of AGW”. However, in reality, all contradictory findings do, is raise scientific questions; questions that require further study.
An analogy. Imagine that we’re assembling a jigsaw puzzle and the picture is starting to emerge. Then we come across a piece that seems not to fit at all. How should we react? The considered response is that there must be an explanation for why the piece appears not to fit. Have we looked hard enough? Is it an errant piece from another puzzle? Has the piece been damaged; perhaps left in the sun and lost its colour? Or suffered a printing defect? Should we put it aside, temporarily, expecting things to become clearer as we progress further with the big picture?
Of course it’s always possible—especially if we discover more pieces that don’t seem to fit—that our conclusions about the big picture were premature. Perhaps we need to reassess the emerging image and find one that’s a better fit? But, given all the other perfectly-fitting pieces to date, that’s a highly unlikely scenario.
Coming back to climate: ‘sceptics’ love to accuse we ‘warmists’ of always finding that “…no matter what happens, it’s proof of AGW“ (look for the comment by ‘vsaluki’ in this blogpost link).
But it’s really not like that at all. People with a scientific mindset are very right to be highly sceptical of any new research that appears to overturn the multiple lines of evidence that have accumulated to date. Attractive as they might seem, exciting bits of seemingly contradictory evidence—like those high-speed neutrinos—almost always turn out to be red herrings.
[This blogpost is based on the ClimateBite, “Science is a jigsaw puzzle, not a house of cards” ]