Scientific method 1

December 17, 2009

Martin Cohen's article "Beyond debate?" (10 December) deserves some comment. The author's logic and judgment of things scientific can be read from his comment: "how rational is it to pass laws banning one kind of light bulb ... in order to 'save electricity', while ploughing money into schemes to run cars on ... electricity?"

Is it necessary to point out that the new bulbs "save electricity" and thereby decrease the amount of fossil fuel burnt in oil, gas or coal-fired power stations? And because the vast majority of cars now run by burning diesel or petrol, cars run on electricity will decrease the amount of fossil fuel burnt because they will use electricity generated partly by hydro, wind and nuclear energy.

To claim qua Paul Feyerabend that "science is a 'second-rate myth'?" speaks for itself. Perhaps he is unaware that the computer on which he wrote this silly phrase is the sophisticated product of scientific minds such as Alan Turing and John von Neumann, not to mention solid-state physics.

If science in general is a second-rate myth, global-warming deniers such as Cohen will never be able to prove scientifically that global warming is not happening.

After quoting the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, R.K. Pachauri, to the effect that "numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed", Cohen retorts that "none of this is science". Is he saying that these observations were not observed properly? This is quite mystifying. Most of us think that science begins with honest observations, so how can these observations fail to count as "science"?

Surely all sensible people agree that global warming is happening: the question is why? The answer that CO2 has a greenhouse effect is a robust, material truth. It is certainly in principle capable of being falsified by experiment and observation. So it is up to Cohen and those who agree with him to disprove this message by doing a scientifically repeatable experiment. Not only is he not proposing to do this: he has insulated himself in advance from an adverse result by siding with Feyerabend.

Christopher Ormell, PER Group.

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