Monday, January 26, 2009

Science, Politics and Money: The Case of Global Warming

In a nutshell:
Science is about finding the truth, no matter what the truth is.
Is that really so?

Seems like the broad public is not always aware of the extent to which political and monetary issues affect the chances of scientific research to take place and to reach public cognizance. ,


Photo source: The Cloud Mystery Gallery

In a fashionable delay of about a year, "The Cloud Mystery", starring the physicists Nir Shaviv (no family relation) and Henrik Svensmark, was broadcasted in Israel. Not that the timing matters much: I'm pretty sure most of the readers, no matter where, have not heard about the film, its makers, and most of all – its thesis.

Nothing surprising about that, is there? How many scientific theses is the broad public aware of? Not many; mainly those that may have some specific bearing on the average person's immediate life. But lo: Shaviv & Svensmark's thesis does have a bearing on our immediate lives!

a. Are Humans to be Blamed for the Global Warming?

Think of the most immediate problem the human race, and our planet in general, is facing. Global warming seems like a very plausible candidate for this issue. Doesn't it? No, it doesn't, says a fairly recent theory, developed by Shaviv, Svensmark, geologist Jan Veizer and just a small bunch of other scientists. "Cosmoclimatology is the name given by Svensmark to the new kind of climate science featured in 'The Cloud Mystery'", as stated in
The Cloud Mystery webpage. I shall call this theory of cosmoclimatology CC for short. CC challenges the widely accepted assumptions about the considerable human part in causing global warming. It presents interesting evidence supporting the claim that solar activity and galactic motions affect our climate and bring about a global warming – which will subside without real damage to Earth.

What does it all mean?

It means that humans, according to CC, are not to be blamed for the global warming; their activity has but a minuscule, insignificant effect on Earth's temperature. The increase in Earth's temperature is a natural outcome of cosmic rays, and what's more important: this process is cyclic. The Earth, according to CC, will cool again, long before the warming may become a problem. It has all happened before, explaining the ice ages of our planet.

b. Who governs science?

Seems like we may all take a sigh of relief: icebergs are not about to melt, oceans are not about to flood – we're saved! So why haven't we heard about any of it?

One possible answer is: CC scientists are wrong. The scientific world refuses to accept their findings because they are not well based.

Here is where politics and money enter the picture. I, for one, have not even a clue as for how to scientifically judge CC as right or wrong. Yet, something tells me it deserves my attention.

Martin Durkin, creator of "
The Great Global Warming Swindle" (2007), pointed out that scientists depend on research funds. Shaviv states, in a recent interview (in Hebrew, sorry), that the U.S. government alone has spent in the past few years almost two billion dollars on climate research. There are clearly people and organizations that are making a lot of money out of this potential threat. Political gain is obvious here, too: what can be easier for a politician than to ride the environmental wave? The same goes even for commercial companies: almost any respectable company nowadays is advertizing its being "friendly" to the environment. Usually this is not even true, but great for increasing sales.

Many people are making money or gaining political power by joining and encouraging the general tendency of worrying about the global warming. Of course, this alone does not mean that global warming is not a genuine issue that should worry us. However, it does mean that global warming is an issue in need of a very careful scrutinization, that would make sure it is not just being cynically used by interest-driven parties.

For the sake of fairness, we should also consider whether CC scientists are not driven by their own interests. I think the answer to this question is fairly easy: we may suppose that these scientists are gaining some attention simply by being bold and innovative (even if they're wrong). However, the academic world is so built that this kind of attention is more harmful than it is useful. Stated simply: a scientist with no monetary support and academic recognition is no scientist. My conclusion, therefore, is that whether CC is correct or not, it is definitely worth attention, recognition, and further research.
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8 comments:

kelly said...

I must say your article (which I initially read in BloggersBase) is SOMETHING! I once blogged about the world's greatest lies. And if global warming is just to get ppl to donate, I'll have no hesitation of posting that to my blog so more people know.

Keep blogging!

Adva Shaviv said...

Thanks so much, Kelly! :-)

As I commented in Bloggersbase, not being a scientist,I can't judge whether Shaviv et al are right or not. I am convinced that they are honest, but of course, honesty doesn't guarantee truth.

What made me take this so seriously is the fact that this group of serious researchers is ignored, in the best case, and faces obstacles, in other cases. When I see a consensus that is SO wide, as to not to let anyone else open their mouth and express opposing opinions - it gets me suspicious. Why would anyone try to shut their opponents' mouths, unless their interests are in substantial danger?

Anonymous said...

Before praising Shaviv's work I suggest you read

http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~stefan/Publications/Journals/rahmstorf_etal_eos_2004.html

One of the conclusions of the above article that examined Shaviv's work was that "The authors applied several adjustments to the data to artificially enhance the correlation..." so much for Shaviv's honesty :-(

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi anonymous responder,

Thanks for the link!

As I specifically stated, I have no knowledge that would allow me to judge scientifically in this issue. This puts me in an impossible position, because I now have to say: I read the article you referred me to, but I can't judge it, and obviously the writers belong to the majority of researchers who contradict Shaviv et al's thesis - perhaps out of the same interests discussed in my post.

It is an impossible position, because if I respond thus, I actually say - there is no way to refute my thesis, and thus it is worthless (of course, a good theory has to be refutable under definable terms).

Therefore, I have to conclude that:
a. Scientifically, I don't know who's right.
b. It is possible that Shaviv et al are wrong (though I believe they sincerely believe they are right).
c. Besides the scientific question (which remains a mystery to me), I have no doubts whatsoever as to the fact that money is strongly involved in the issue of global warming. More than one party has lots to gain by continuing to concince people that we have to fight global warming - and some also gain from the opposite stance (though much less, or so it seems).
d. Therefore, it doesn't seem at all groundless to me to think that they are NOT wrong. My practical conclusion would be: it is best to keep in mind that many crucial issues are more political than scientific (I believe most everyone would agree with me on that). Cutting the budget for fighting global warming, on this basis alone, would be irrational; however, giving some extra thought to such principal issues is recommnded. Sometimes a change of attitude can come simply from the broad public starting to question what was until then taken as granted - and if it turns out that it IS true, and that it should continue to be the accepted attitude - all the better!

Perhaps Shakespeare summed this up best: when somebody protests too much (as seems to be the case in the Shaviv matter), suspicion tends to arise. Sometimes unjustifiably.

Anonymous said...

Your premise does not make sense. Science, money, and politics are involved in many other important endeavors. How about finding the cure for cancer, or AIDS? There are billions of dollars invested in that, and there are conflicting interests. Does it mean that cancer or AIDS do not exists, or are not important problems?

Adva Shaviv said...

You seem to have missed my last sentence, which concisely presents the whole problem: whenever someone is trying too hard to prove some esoteric (for the time being?) thesis wrong, there is room for suspicion. When the so-much-greatest part of the scientific world agrees that global warming is man-made, why shold anyone be so worried about tiny creaks in the consensus, unless they know something that they're not telling? The same doesn't apply to AIDS or cancer. Whenever it DOES apply, then yes, I see it as a cause to suspect over-protestation.
I can't help noting, too, that you choose to remain anonymous while joining the attackers...

Anonymous said...

First, the consensus on man-made global warming is not so overwhelming as you suggest. There are still many respectful scientist that claim otherwise, and the scientific (or you may say political) argument is still going on.
Second, it does apply to AIDS and cancer. For example, some scientist claim that it is a waste of money to look for a cure, and it is more cost effective to find a vaccine. While other scientist claim that it is better to find a cure. It is claimed that the later view is supported by pharmaceutical companies, since they can gain much more by selling expensive medications.
Third, I prefer to remain anonymous, since than I feel more at liberty to say what I really think...

Adva Shaviv said...

Thanks for your further comments. Perhaps it will not be for our own generation to reveal the truth in this specific case (as in many others)...

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