We Need to Talk About Science

August 15, 2019 0 Comments

A general impression exists about how science works. Scientists speculate about how the world works. They conduct studies to confirm or refute their speculations. They report the results. They have conferences where they discuss different ideas. New ideas are evaluated with new experiments, and so on. Gradually we get a better picture of how the world works.

Sadly, this is not the way it works all the time.

Instead of encouraging and evaluating new ideas, many times there is incredible resistance to change. Scientists sometimes cling to old ideas and try to prevent new ideas from being published. Considering that most people in society are resistant to change, it is no surprise this happens in science as well. There are many famous examples from the past of scientists belittling alternative ideas, but then being proven wrong. It is common enough that Max Planck famously stated that (paraphrasing) “science advances one funeral at a time”. The meaning of this statement is that established scientists are so set in their ways/theories that they prevent any advancements in their field until they die – then new ideas are allowed the light of day.

One thing I feel fortunate about is to live in a time with more communication around the world. There are many platforms online and off where scientists or even regular folks can air their theories and have a discussion. I come across these alternative ideas once in a while and I appreciate them – whether far-fetched or reasonable. As an example, here are a couple of videos of alternative theories on how the universe and stars work. The syzygy theory about sunspots. The electric Universe. Sky scholar’s views of the sun. A different explanation for quantum entanglement. These theories might have flaws and be easily disproven or maybe provide some new insight into the workings of the Universe. At a minimum, at least they are allowed the light of day. Even back in Max Planck’s time, when scientists hurled invectives at each other, they were at least allowed to speak at conferences or elsewhere.

That might not be the case going forward…especially in regards to climate science. While the effort to squash new ideas in climate science is not new (recall the climategate emails), it might be getting worse. According to several sources, a professor at Princeton recently stated that no one except climate scientists should be able discuss nor challenge any of the current thinking on the topic.

This would appear to be the antithesis of what professors and the whole University system are supposed to be fostering – open debate, intellectual challenges, and new ideas. There is no field of science that should be closed to new ideas. Progress happens because people (professors or not) keep discovering new things and improve upon old ideas.

This is happening to some extent on the Internet as well. You cannot watch many videos offering new ideas on climate science without Google trying to alter your viewpoint. Tony Heller is skeptical of modern climate science and the hysteria that goes along with it. He uses snapshots of historical data to refute some of the more extreme scenarios you find in mainstream media outlets. Check this video. In the video you will notice a link to Wikipedia entry about “Global Warming”. Tony Heller did not put the link there. Google did. Google does it to fight “misinformation” on climate science. Using legitimate data to question leading theories (as Heller does) is not misinformation. You could make the argument that Heller cherry-picks data to give a less dire picture of climate changes around the world. Still, I want to hear his ideas. I want to see what other people think about it. I don’t need Google to watch out for me and be my intellectual guardian.

Even outside of climate arguments (at universities or online), I have encountered some chilling trends in online discussion. I recently started a discussion about canning food at physicsforums.com I had read about some people preserving food in jars with their oven instead of a pressure-canner(cooker) or boiling water canner. The people who preserve it in the oven say it works great, but they are often harassed online for “not being safe”. Because I was curious, I raised the question at physicsforums. I mentioned that the jars in the oven would reach the same temperature as those in boiling water and maybe even those in a pressure cooker. Since the jars are somewhat sealed by the screw top lid, perhaps the pressure also builds up a bit inside the jars in the oven. Any small increase above the boiling point would be superior for preservation over just boiling water. Some people mentioned the threat of jars exploding as one downside to using the oven – but that also would seem to prove a pressure build up.

To make a long story short, I was hoping some curious physicists would chime in and give their opinion. or suggest an easy experiment to prove if either method was better. The answer I got from one of the forum moderators was – “the USDA recommends boiling water canners or pressure cookers”. That’s fine, but I was hoping to find out if there have ever been experiments proving one of the methods as being superior. When I persisted my questioning, the moderator closed the discussion. When I appealed to a different moderator about the situation, they essentially said “you got an answer, so the discussion will stay closed”.

Whether talking about preserving food or the dangers of a changing climate I always hope to find or generate some vibrant discussion. Some people in some other corner of the world might contribute something useful to the discussion. They might help us find good solutions to lower pollution and stay safe and adapt in the future as the climate changes. Talking it over in public and online has traditionally been the best method of sorting through all of the ideas and I hope this continues in the future.

Meteorologist Justin Loew


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