While I’m hammering the notion of dissent in science, there are a couple of pieces to discuss. The charming ScienceBlog had an article a while back headlined Newspapers’ focus on balance skewed coverage of global warming. The upshot is that articles about global warming tend to over-emphasize the existence of any disagreement about the nature of climate change. Almost every scientist who has looked at the data and the models that have been published agrees that average temperatures will rise measurably in the next 25 years, and will continue long after that. Most scientists also agree that that process is underway already, and the consequences for life, human and otherwise, will be substantial.
There are a small number of people who disagree. Many work in or near the fossil fuels industry. They argue that we can’t be 100% sure that everything that works in the lab will work planet-wide. Our models are based on assumptions and the limited understanding we have of complex weather patterns. This is all true.
It is also irrelevant. In a court of law, we couldn’t get a conviction from what we have. We probably also couldn’t get a conviction from a jury over relativity, special or general, and probably Newtonian laws of gravitation could get a hung jury with the right lawyers.
Fifty years ago, the tobacco industry, aided by truly great scientific minds like Ronald Fisher, avoided legal action against cancer sticks through similar arguments. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Laboratory studies of rats may not generalize to the complex real world of humans. Studies by independent scientists showing that tobacco causes cancer can be matched by Big Tobacco funded research showing no effect.
Now, Big Tobacco argues against any liability for their products because evidence, and a growing consensus, existed about the dangers of smoking when many modern cancer patients started smoking. In essence, they argue “It’s your own damn fault for believing us.”
They are probably right, as will the climate science skeptics be 30 years from now when Florida is almost entirely under water.
It isn’t clear that the “Intelligent design” gang will ever be made to fess up. After years of hard work, they snuck a plagiarized article into a small journal. They can now claim some sort of parity with real scientists. “Look!” they’ll say, “our one paper more than balances 150 years of meticulous research which entirely supports the neo-Darwinian synthesis. We are no longer crackpots, but published scientists.”
A skeptical public would consider this argument, and would consider that they only got published by cheating. A scientifically literate press would essentially ignore this paper next time Kansas drops evolution from the schools. This isn’t good science, and The Panda’s Thumb has a bunch of articles explaining why. It doesn’t inform the debate, because it isn’t good science. Only good science counters good science. One great experiment can unravel a brilliant model, but one crappy article doesn’t matter to anything.