Trump Cabinet Science-Denial or Scientific Skepticism?

One shocking claim has dominated the nomination battles for Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointees, from Science magazine, Mother Jones, and mainstream media to constant invective from Democratic senators — the candidates are science deniers!

The idea that people will not accept the findings of science drives a certain class of self-described intellectuals crazy. Even those who can comprehend the Yale University Cultural Cognition Project research warning that scientific findings are screened by individuals through pre-existing cultural beliefs and are interpreted in ways to reinforce those beliefs still insist their own scientific beliefs are objective and settled.

That research finds progressives risk averse, biased toward control of their environment, while conservatives tolerate risk, partial toward greater freedom — the recognition of which does not overcome the progressive insistence that relativity explains all motion or that global warming is “settled science.” Conservative wise man Eric Voegelin traced the progressive predisposition to the positivist philosopher Auguste Comte, who invented the social sciences to replace religion with objective empirical research that would eventually allow humans to achieve perfection in this world rather than waiting for the next.

The fact that this hope has fallen a bit short over the following century has not diminished its appeal. For progressivism, it is just science, at least when it agrees with its own reductionist, materialistic predispositions by academic fields dominated by fellow progressives. While it might surprise that 43 percent of physicists believe that God or some higher spirit affected material development, it is even a majority belief among biological and chemistry scientists. On the other hand, few hold this belief in psychiatry and many other social sciences.

In fact, settled science is rather difficult to find, even the purely physical sciences. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene explained: “[G]eneral relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right” as currently formulated, even though they are “the two foundational pillars upon which modern physics rests.” The journal Physical Review Letters reported that a major study of the light sterile neutrino, widely expected by scientists to undermine Standard Model physics, found at a “99% certainty” level that neutrinos do not even exist.

An article in Current Biology questioned whether biologists’ long-held conception of the basic structure of the animal cell is in fact universal. Ninety-eight percent of human genome DNA had long been determined to be “junk” and only 2 percent meaningful — until the ENCODE project recently reported that in fact at least 80 percent of it was active. Scientists have known for years there are 83 distinct areas in the brain, but the journal Nature published a study last year more than doubling the number of brain regions to 180.

The one field where the science must be “settled,” of course, is global warming. Or is it “climate change,” when clearly no skeptic doubts climate changes? Why the alteration in terminology? Perhaps because, in 2007, the world’s leading experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported its “central forecast” for long-term warming to be 3 degrees C. Yet, since then its reports have not listed a single central estimate but did reduce its minimal expected warming down from a 1.5-degrees rise to only a 1.0-degree temperature increase.

The U.S.’s NASA-Goddard Institute did announce that 2016 was the “hottest year on record,” but while NASA had formerly warned against accepting “misleading” specific temperatures without considering the ranges of scores within the measurement margin of error, it did not repeat that warning in 2016. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Holman Jenkins showed, after taking into account error margins, 2015 and 2016, two El Ni√±o years, were actually tied for being the warmest years recorded, and 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014 were all tied for second place, close behind.

As climatologist Judith Curry testified to Congress, IPCC models have forecast surface temperatures to increase 0.2 degrees C each 21st century decade. But during the first fifteen years, actual temperatures only increased 0.05, four times lower than predicted. And the models cannot explain why more than 40 percent of the temperature increases since 1900 took place between 1910 and 1945, which produced a mere 10 percent of the carbon emissions.

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Comments (3)

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    What a wonderful post. Just to add once more that there was a time when Galileo, Kepler and a few others were also called “deniers”! Do most people nowadays have liquefied brains?

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    Any science that cannot tolerate skepticism is NOT science. Period.

    Invoking the word “deniers” in the realm of science is akin to replacing scientific methodology with religious tyranny… Hello Spanish Inquisition. (insert Monty Python images here)

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    The actual science deniers are folks like Hansen, Mann, Cook, Gore, et al that deny mathematics to flout their crappy data models as climate-gospel

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