A Blog of Very Little Brain

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A heated debate

with 3 comments

This is from a post at OneAndOneIs2, concerning the cuddly issue of Global Warming (cue Tannhauser Overture).
Now, this is an interesting article, not discussing an opinion on the matter, but rather, discussing arguments made from anti-global-warming sides. It can be deducted that he is not supporting the “green” opinion, but I’d rather not jump to conclusions here. At any rate, what I want to do is not to debate his point (which is, rather not “Global Warming isn’t damaging”, but “The arguments anti-global-warming organizations are using are as solid as a wet puppy in a monsoon”), but, see where the arguments he’s citing arrived from, and if they are still invalid in that sense. I’ll try to make is short.

Fourthly is the massive exaggeration of Carbon Dioxide’s role in the greenhouse effect. It beggars belief that people actually claim that CO2 is the gas responsible for most of the greenhouse effect.

Is it Hell: More than 90% of the greenhouse effect is generated by water vapor. The amount of the greenhouse effect generated by CO2 is almost trivial in comparison. It certainly is a greenhouse gas, but please, don’t misrepresent it as the greenhouse gas. It just isn’t.

He’s half right there, CO2 isn’t really what’s causing the Greenhouse Effect, but that’s not what the actual claim is making. CO2, along with water vapor, and other natural gases, including Ozone, are responsible for the majority of the Greenhouse Effect, but, some of them are now induced in large quantities to the atmosphere, disturbing the balance, and that CFC, which is an artificial gas, that has been introduced to the atmosphere in large quantities, and which has a substantially larger influence on the Greenhouse Effect.
The Greenhouse Effect isn’t bad in its function, as it’s what prevents dangerous radiation from entering the atmosphere, but, this is only in its natural occurrence, with the correct natural balance. Introducing large quantities of natural gases, such as CO2, Methane, and others destroy this balance. Now, that’s a big word, I’d use “influencing” or “shifting”, but a balance is something that, once disturbed, is, in effect, destroyed until restored. Think of a border skirmish between two countries. In essence, the current status between those two hasn’t been changed. In fact, those two countries are in a state of war. Eventually the skirmish will be won by one side, or both will cease fire. The two countries must announce that no war is being made. If they don’t, one, or both of them will send troops to the site. No announcement is need to be made, and in some countries, no formal decision must be made (as in government permit, or a parliament approval), it can basically escalate from that point to total war (which is formally declared, but that doesn’t mean much by now). Now, this isn’t a domino effect argument, as I’m not saying “the border skirmish will lead to war”, but that to prevent it, a halting action must be taken, the inertia leads it on the skirmish-war trail, it will not stop on its own. Therefore, causing an imbalance in the Greenhouse Effect, will lead to the destruction of the balance there, unless stopped. Already CFC is allowing UV radiation to enter the atmosphere.
Also, when people think of Greenhouse Effect, they think “more humid” and since humidity is part of the heat stress concept, they think “hotter”, which leads to Global Warming. It isn’t. Imbalances in the Greenhouse Effect are what cause it.

Now, mind you, claiming it’s all around the CO2 is not wrong, but can be harmful. It completely ignores two important factors, one, that there are more pollutants than CO2, and two, that CFC is a much worse pollutant, by a scale of 1 to about 14,000.

Fifthly is the overwhelming ignorance of how CO2 is generated and removed. There is no greater example of this than the claim that “The rain-forests are the lungs of the planet” – whomever came up with this one clearly has very little knowledge of basic plant and food chain biology.

In a sense. The lungs store air (made out of mostly Nitrogen, some Oxygen and other gases and particles), then separate the Oxygen from it, and send it to the blood. The Trees store CO2, separate the Carbons from it, and use the Carbon to build themselves, and, in a sense, the Earth. Basically, every organic matter is made of Carbon (and other stuff, granted). When it decomposes, it releases the carbons inside it back to the atmosphere. Trees are, in essence, huge Carbon storage units. Also, when we breathe air, we also breathe toxins and heavy metals (sadly). Our bodies are incapable of detoxifying those in large enough quantities, and these poison our bodies. Now, cruel as it may sound, I find it better if some amount of those is absorbed in other things rather than me. Those things can be, for example, trees. The Green Lung term doesn’t refer to Oxygen being sent to the air, but rather, to the pollutants and toxins that are not. Those chemicals that are stored inside the tree are the real clincher here. Deforestation in essence, causes the release of the stored Carbon and the pollutants and toxins stored in the tree back to the atmosphere, and in large quantities. That’s the big problem with deforestation, not that they “breathe Oxygen”.

Eightly, and lastly: For God’s sake, stop with the “There is overwhelming consensus amongst scientists” thing.

The popularity of a belief is … irrelevant to science. Science is about fact, not belief. Even if the whole world believes something to be true: if the facts show that it is not true, its popularity is irrelevant. That’s the whole point.

Of more relevance is the track record of scientific consensus: There has been widespread consensus that the earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe, that it was created by a god, that illness was not caused by bacteria, that continental drift could not occur. . .

Virtually everything that is currently held as being established truth was at one time at odds with the scientific consensus. Ever read about the reaction to Darwin’s theories on evolution? Pasteur’s theories on micro-organisms? The word “vaccination” was derived from the first vaccine: Infecting somebody with cowpox stopped them getting smallpox. And yet vaccination was almost universally ridiculed at its inception by people who couldn’t see how you could keep people healthy by pumping germs into them.

Going purely by the statistics, you could actually make a very good case that any issue that is widely agreed with by the majority of contemporary scientists is almost certain to be wrong. It always has been so far.

…It has no place in science. In fact, it’s almost an embarrassment. Stop treating it as a killer argument, FFS!

Compelling argument, so I brought it in nearly wholesale. Let’s parse the rhetoric a bit. The writer makes two arguments: One, that consensus is irrelevant to science, which is true, and Two, that a consensus among scientists has an abysmal track record, which isn’t. He also, while not actively making any connections between the two, uses that connection to say “consensus is not only irrelevant, it is Dark-Ages bad,” a connection that is not only false, but is also rhetorically false.

His first argument “belief is irrelevant” is solid rock. Belief isn’t relevant to science. The human body can normally function in the the range of temperatures running from 36.1°C to 37.8 °C, a human running a 40°C temperature is dangerously ill, despite how well he “feels”. Same goes to “consensus”. Theories are not proved by votes, they need to be backed up by observations, repeatable experiments and one should be able to foretell the results of an experiment based on the theory (Which goes back to explaining why “Intelligent Design” isn’t a scientific theory. This also explains why science isn’t the next religion. One does not need to believe in the truth of the findings to use them. I don’t need to believe in C to be using it. I very much do not believe in Java and .NET, but I use them. Someone who doesn’t even know what those are is currently using programs written in these languages and development platforms. If the last three lines sounded stupid, this is exactly how “believe in science” sounds.

However, his second argument is totally bollocks (pardon my Cockney). Scientist consensus can’t have a bad track record, as there has never been one. His examples, (The Earth is Flat, Center of the Universe, etc. etc.) were not scientific in nature, but those that were dictated by a religious or secular force of authority. In this sense, the argument “government-forced scientific views are not good” is quite an appealing argument. But it’s not what we’re talking about here.
The argument is that, since science deals with facts, a theory can only be false or true, therefore if two-thirds of scientists say A and a third say B, it doesn’t mean that A is true, but that both are false.
Contrary to common conception, finding one case that goes against the theory isn’t falsifying it. A theory can say “All planets revolve around Sol (our star)”, but what about the planets that revolve around one of Alpha Centauri’s suns? They are probably not orbiting our sun, does that mean “No planets are revolving around Sol”? Of course not. Then how about “All planets in our solar system revolve around Sol”?. That’s not falsifying, that’s augmenting. If, say, someone finds that Pluto actually orbits something else which only makes it look as if it is orbiting the sun, then “All planets in our solar system are revolving around Sol” will be falsified. Therefore the existence of A and B as alternative theories does not, in necessity, falsify either. It might be that A will be used to augment B, or that A is a corner-case of B, or the other way around.
Theories are created explain observed phenomenas. Group A observed that the planets are moving in an orbit around our sun. Group B found a planet that doesn’t. Saying “There is a planet that revolves around our sun” isn’t making a theory, but simply repeating the observation. Explaining the trajectory of the orbit as a factor of the star’s gravity is. Eventually both will come to the understanding that “All planets revolve around stars”. Which will be fine and dandy until someone finds a rogue planet, and the whole dance starts again.

So, consensus is irrelevant, but the existence of two alternating theories is irrelevant as well. Both theories are backed by repeatable experiments and managed to foretell the results of other repeatable experiments. They are both “true” until either 1. Either theory will turn out to have a flaw, a miscalculation, etc. and be nullified, 2. One theory augments the other, 3. One theory will turn to be a corner-case of the other, or, 4. Both theories will be shown of being a part of a larger encompassing theory (like what happened with the Light-is-waves Vs. Light-is-particles theory duel).
However, assuming either of A or B also say “And this might be/is dangerous”, we need to examine it carefully. Proving “Global Warming is dangerous” means that, if this theory is true, we are in danger to our existence. Proving “Global Warming isn’t dangerous”, does not falsify the first theory, it might augment it (for example, to say “Global Warming is dangerous, but the amount of CO2 in the air is not dangerous”), become a border case, etc. But this isn’t a logical debate. You don’t drink poison, even if there are those who say that it’s not as dangerous to you as you might think (“I mean, what’s a night in the OR between friends? It’s not like you’ll instantly die or anything”). The existence of a warning in the form of the anti-global-warming group, means that we should check the findings and the explanation, and, unless we can find flaws in the theory, we need to take measures against it. If the theory is falsified/nullified, the relative harm done will be less than the harm done if that is true (Suppose CFC is banned, and the theory that it’s causing damage is false, we only lost air-conditions and sprays. If it’s true, we “lost” the extinction of the human race. Good trade, said the man who lost his queen after attacking a pawn.
The same argument goes with the cellular companies. They claim “there are no substantial research that found a connection between cellular radiation and cancer”. They also say “Taking down cellular antennae, will not only damage your quality of life (or reception, as the Indians call it), but will cause the phones to emit more radiation.” The answer, of course is “There are researches that showed there is danger. It might not have been proved beyond all doubts, and there might be contradicting theories, but losing cell-phones is still the smaller part of the bargain when cancer is concerned.” This is what the other part of the Cellular companies argument, that with no cellular phones, our quality of life will be impaired (acing the loss of current comfort against a possible future harm has never been humanity’s better traits). (Oh, and the last part of the argument “Cellphones will release more radiation”. More of the the “not-been-totally-proven-as-harmful” radiation? Why should we be worried about that if said never-proved-as-harmful radiation will be higher? Also, companies claim to have tested each phone to ensure it doesn’t release dangerous amounts of radiation. This means that even in the middle of the desert, with zero cellular coverage, my phone’s emission will not endanger me. So why does the increase of radiation emitted by the cellular phones in result of lesser antennae should worry me?).

Back to course. Science use a lot of words that are interpreted falsely by the non-scientific populace. “The accepted theory of…” sounds like the consensus thing, but it isn’t. It means a theory proved back and forward which is used as base to other theories and researches, like the body heat mentioned above which is used to measure psychological changes in a person. Theories are based on observations, and attempt to explain them. Sometimes the observations are false, sometimes the explanation is false. If such, those theories shouldn’t be able to correctly foretell the outcome of future experiments. Assuming both “Global Warming-bad” and “Global Warming-not bad” theories have managed to do so, and does not have any yet-undiscovered flaws, they will probably intersect in some level in the future. Or that such a flaw will be discovered to either side. Until then, we do need to heed the one that warns us, as the possible loss will be, by an enormous scale, more harmful to us.

Written by Erez

Monday, July 24, 2006 at 15:38

Posted in Science

3 Responses

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  1. Both your text and the text you’re commenting on could use some editing. Your first paragraph is barely readable.
    There are some other problems with the arguments.
    First, you seem to agrre that consensus is irrelevant.
    “overwhelming consensus amongst scientists” is not the same as belief. It means that it’s very likely that the evidence presented, that is, observations, explanations and testable predictions managed to convince people who are qualified to judge them. Consenus among scientists is relevant. Citations that back up the claim that such consensus exists are also relevant.
    “There has been widespread consensus that the earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe” (among the comment you comment on)
    These two actually contradict one another, but then the first one is a myth. There was no widespread consensus that the earth was flat even before the circumference of the earth was calculated by Eratosthenes. I guess some facts are less important than others.

    As for cell-phones, you write:”h, and the last part of the argument “Cellphones will release more radiation”. More of the the “not-been-totally-proven-as-harmful” radiation? Why should we be worried about that if said never-proved-as-harmful radiation will be higher?”
    You don’t understand the arugment of the cellphone companies. “more radiation” is the crux of the debate. There’re are all sorts of radiation all around us. Before cable tv that was the only way we could receive information to make nice colors on our tv sets, and that’s how we hear the radio.
    Yet standing next to a broadcasting antena may not be good to your health. It’s the same kind of energy that reaches your radio and goes right through all the time. The difference is the intensity.
    Standing a distance of 1 AU from the sun – good. Standing a distance of 0.1 AU from the sun – not so great (I was going to write “no such a hot idea” but well…)
    Cell-phones are not just receivers, they’re also transmitters, and the question is whether the intensity they need to transmit is too high. Low intensity – harmless. High intensity – not necessarily harmless.
    So keeping the radiaion to low levels is important, and one of the ways to do it to increase coverage- spread more low intensity antenas.
    Of course, to make that benefit real, they could have built in limitations, so could phones and infrastructure should be unified, so we’ll only one set of antenas, and all cell phones should have plug in capacity to any phone socket, with the charges being made to the number of phone I use, not to the landline – the result being that I as a customer, will be able to optimize my communications – from this technology it’s just a small step to phone number mobility (ability to change cell phone carrier without changing a number), a hostly debated consumerist issue that should be the consequence of beneficial technology, not orthogonal to it.

    “there are no substantial research that found a connection between cellular radiation and cancer” is essentially a correct statement. It doesn’t mean that no such link exists, it doesn’t mean that no such link will be found in some future time (there may be long term effects that can only be measured over the long term) and there’s the added problem of going from correlation to causality. They’re not the same.


    Monday, July 24, 2006 at 18:22

  2. Couple of remarks, ““… earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe” (among the comment you comment on) These two actually contradict one another, but then the first one is a myth.” Those are lifted from the article I commented on, and as I mentioned, they are both not the result of an empirical research, therefore cannot be examples for “how consensus is wrong”.

    As for cellular companies. Phones are transmitters, true, however, the cellular companies claim (and I’ve no problem with those claims, btw), that cellular phones authorised to be used are not transmitting harmful radiation, even at extreme cases (e.g. complete lack of transmission). Therefore, according to the cellular companies, the radiation transmitted from the cellular phones should not be harmful, regardless of how many antennae are there. The whole cellular debate isn’t one I’m happy to use as examples, as both sides use scare tactics and twisted truths, but the point wasn’t that cellular radiation, in the way it’s used today is dangerous or not, but that the existance of evidence claiming that it is, demands us to take measures on that. At worst, if we find that it’s not harmful, the inconvenience is lesser than finding that it is.


    Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 7:44

  3. Of course the numbers and spread of antena is relevant. Better coverage keeps the transmission level of the phone, the transmitter you carry on you, to a low level. Suppose we discover that the danger level is lower than we think it is now, then having kept transmissions to a low level will have turned out to be a lifesaver for many people.

    The Earth at the center of the universe:”.. they are both not the result of an empirical research .. ”
    It provided an explanation for a large set of observations. The explanation successfully predicted further observations. They had lousy data.


    Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 8:34

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