By Ruth Weiner
The history of science is replete with stories of a skeptic overturning a long-held belief: Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Rutherford, Einstein. Acceptance of the new evidence and phenomenon becomes the consensus. However, in historic instances of substitution of a new consensus for an old one, the new consensus would be supported by independent observation and analysis of some sort. Moreover, the new consensus is often merely a refinement of the old consensus: e.g., quantum mechanics is the Heisenberg refinement of Newtonian mechanics.
In fact, a scientific agreement exists only as long as observations confirm it. Then a non-conforming observation becomes the basis of a new consensus.
Treatment of stomach ulcers is another interesting example. Stomach ulcers were thought to be caused by stress and diet, and treated accordingly and with mixed success, until discovery of the helicobacter. Stomach ulcers are now treated successfully as bacterial infections. I experienced this in my own doctoral research: the gamma-induced chemical bond breakage I observed and analyzed was completely different from the analogous phenomenon recorded and published by the leading expert in this particular field.
Scientific thought progresses as a result of skepticism about a consensus rather than by invocation of that consensus. The fallacy of the 97 percent is not that it was the wrong number or that the subject group was improperly identified, but that the phenomenon – that atmospheric carbon dioxide drives global climate change and global warming — has not been demonstrated in the physical world, nor is it currently demonstrated; perhaps it cannot be demonstrated definitively. The skepticism about this agreement, though widely ridiculed, has not been examined. The history of scientific unanimity suggests that skepticism cannot be dismissed summarily. The only phenomenon about which there can be a consensus of climate change experts, no matter how many agree, is that the earth’s climate changes continually and human activity has some unquantified influence on such changes.
The 97 percent agreement does not support the climate change role of carbon dioxide at all. There are other, considerably more substantive reasons to question the primacy of carbon dioxide’s role in global climate change.
Dr. Ruth Weiner is currently a senior consultant at AECOM and adjunct professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan. Together with Brian Grimes, she initiated the ANS Seaborg Congressional Fellowship program. She is a Fellow of ANS. Dr. Weiner is the author and co-author of several books and papers. She was awarded the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award by the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division of ANS.