Thursday, October 17, 2013

Really simple climate change

My background is chemistry, one of the most experimental sciences. No doubt that’s why I look at the empirical evidence when it comes to claims made by other sciences.

Unfortunately it seems to me that far too many pundits, both amateur and professional, rely on arguments from authority instead of empirical evidence when comes to climate change.

Of course climate experiments have an inevitable tendency towards ambiguity because climate is not a great subject for experimental science in that none of the variables can be controlled.

Yet to my mind, this is still where the climate debate should begin – experimental design. If scientists make claims about a causal link between some climate parameter and global temperatures then we should surely demand a repeatable experiment to support those claims.

Yet how do we design a controlled empirical trial of climate change theories when we can’t control any of the variables?

A really simple approach
Suppose we confine ourselves to inventing a simple trial of global temperature prediction which may be applied to any climate theory.

For example, we could say that global temperature predictions must be accurate over a period of thirty years – at the moment that would be from 1983 to 2013. I suggest thirty years because the climate appears to be crudely cyclical and some of the cycles may be long. Even thirty years is much too short, but it will do for falsification if not verification.

Therefore, according to this really simple test:-

Anyone who in 1983 predicted a pattern of global temperatures which in 2013 has turned out to be correct, then their theory passes our test. Whatever theory they used. Evidence might be a paper published in 1983 or earlier, or maybe even a newspaper article.

As far as I know that’s nobody.

No matter – we can easily shift the test period by five years. So anyone who in 1988 predicted a pattern of global temperatures which in 2018 turns out to be correct, then their theory passes our test. Whatever theory they used.

As far as I know that’s nobody again – no need to wait until 2018.

And so on and so on. In my view we don’t set the bar anywhere near high enough to assess the performance of climate theories. Yet demanding real world performance is no different from checking the fuel consumption claims of car manufacturers.

As with all things climate-related there are caveats, but one attraction of such a robustly empirical approach is that anyone may take personal ownership of their stance on climate change. There is no need to be browbeaten on this issue – it doesn’t require scientific qualifications or even expertise. Do you need engineering expertise to measure the fuel consumption of your car?

We turn around the usual relationships with climate scientists with: don’t tell me – show me. We also create a more level playing field for alternative climate theories and that is surely the most interesting aspect of raising the bar.

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Sackerson said...

A modelling competition! Excellent!

A K Haart said...

Sackers - all theories called to the bar - where so many fall over after overestimating their capabilities.