Sunday, 22 February 2015

What is Climate Science?

We're constantly bombarded with claims that the Earth is in terrible danger from the trauma of human-induced (anthropogenic) global warming.  We' told "the science is settled." and this is based on the opinions of "climate scientists".

So what is “climate science” and who are “climate scientists”?

Many universities now offer programs in “climate science”. The University of Iowa in the US is one.  Their definition of climate science is fairly typical and is shown below:

“Climate science is distinguished from the more general discipline of atmospheric science or meteorology by its emphasis on climate as opposed to weather. Climate science is the study of average conditions over some time period, whereas meteorology is the study of actual events.”

The definition goes on to quote Mark Train who famously said “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get”.


This definition and those like it, distinguish between “climate” and “weather”.

Weather is what we experience every minute of every day as in “I got caught in the hail storm. What s****y weather.”

Climate science, we’re told is the study of weather conditions over some period of time.

Let’s look at the words one at a time.


Science is supposed to follow the scientific method that we all learned about at school. It goes something like this:

1.      Conduct a bunch of experiments and make a bunch of observations about some aspect of nature.  For example I might observe all of the dogs in two particular houses in Cooloongatta Drive, Tyers and note that all three of them are Cocker Spaniels;
2.      Based on these observations, form a hypothesis (educated guess). I might hypothesise “All dogs in Cooloongatta Drive are Cocker Spaniels.”;
3.      If the observations are repeated many times and are always consistent with the hypothesis, then it might be elevated to the status of a theory; but
4.      If at any time an observation if found to be inconsistent with the hypothesis or theory, then all bets are off and the idea must be adjusted or discarded. As soon as I see a Labrador on Cooloongatta Drive, I have to throw away my, admittedly stupid, hypothesis.

Albert Einstein’s reaction to the 1931 book One Hundred Authors Against Einstein was: “If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!” Once a theory is falsified, then all bets are off and it’s back to square one.

A few other rules of the game:

·         Scientists have to report ALL observations, not just ones that confirm their theory. Failure to do this is called “cherry picking”, a euphemism for “cheating”.
·         Scientists have to LOOK for observations that might falsify their theory. If they don’t do it themselves, other scientists need to do it for them; and
·         The experiments leading up to a hypothesis or theory need to be available to other scientists for analysis and need to be repeatable.

Noted physicist Richard Feynman says all of this far better than I can an so here’s a link to a video: 


“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.”

You can read more quotes from Richard at Quotes from Richard Feynman

In later posts I will look at things like the world temperature record and the details of the hypothesis of human induced global warming in term of the scientific method.

In the next post I’ll talk about the other two parts of the definition:

1.      Average conditions; and
2.      Average conditions over time.

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