Climate Change Metaphors:  
Neutrinos prove Einstein (not) wrong!

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.

Nobel Laureate Mario Molina uses this unfinished jigsaw puzzle to convey the state of scientific understanding of climate change. (Dot Earth 2/2/12)

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” ]

2 thoughts on “Climate Change Metaphors:  
Neutrinos prove Einstein (not) wrong!

  1. John Russell Post author

    Thanks, John.

    I’ve thought a bit more about the subject of this post since I first wrote it. It seems to me that standing back from the actual science and looking at the subject from a dispassionate, philosophical standpoint, we can say that either man-made climate change (AGW) is a fact, or it’s not — which is reminiscent of the famous, “you can’t be a bit pregnant”, statement.

    So, given that fact, then we must also accept that every piece of new evidence of a changing climate is either being affected to some degree by human actions, or it isn’t. In other words it’s impossible to have a situation where we have 1000s of pieces of evidence supporting AGW co-existing with a single piece of evidence that refutes AGW — or vice versa for that matter.

    It then follows that for a single piece of apparently-contradictory evidence to be accepted, we must not only explain why it’s right, we must also explain why the 1000s of pieces of apparently-supporting evidence are wrong. And that means a lot of work!

    The odds of any new evidence overturning the consensus, are therefore very slim: which is why so much effort was expended to check out those, apparently, high-speed neutrinos. It was a fraction of the effort that would have been needed to explain why Einstein was wrong!

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