A hur­ri­cane, evo­lu­tion and Rick Perry

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The Hur­ri­cane Irene story ought to, but won’t, shed light on our prej­u­dices re­gard­ing science. The fa­vored lib­eral Demo­cratic nar­ra­tive, we’ve seen it trot­ted out against Rick Perry in re­cent weeks, goes like this: Democrats are the party of en­light­en­ment. They be­lieve in science and facts. They know that Dar­win was cor­rect about the ori­gin of species, and that hu­man be­ings are re­spon­si­ble for po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic global warm­ing through pro­duc­tion of car­bon diox­ide. Repub­li­cans, on the other hand, are the pre-mod­ern party of su­per­sti­tion, re­li­gious ex­pla­na­tions for nat­u­ral phenom­ena and global warm­ing de­nial.

Gov. Perry played to type when he told a young ques­tioner that “evo­lu­tion” was “a the­ory that’s out there,” but “it’s got some gaps in it.” That’s why, he said, “in Texas we teach both cre­ation­ism and evo­lu­tion in our pub­lic schools.” Well, he’s right that the the­ory has some gaps in it, but it re­mains the best ex­pla­na­tion yet pro- pounded to ex­plain bi­o­log­i­cal changes. He’s wrong, em­bar­rass­ingly enough, about Texas. They don’t teach cre­ation­ism in the pub­lic schools.

But Perry’s crit­ics, who’ve been ea­ger to lump his skep­ti­cism about man­made global warm­ing into the same cat­e­gory as his open­ness to cre­ation­ism, look equally fool­ish. Again and again, those who be­lieve in an­thro­pogenic global warm­ing de­clare that, “The science is set­tled.”

But science is never set­tled. At the heart of the sci­en­tific method is open­ness to data and test­ing.

And while cre­ation­ism can­not be said to be an al­ter­na­tive sci­en­tific the­ory to evo­lu­tion (be­cause it can­not be tested) there are count­less com­pet­ing the­o­ries for ob­served changes in global tem­per­a­tures over the past cen­tury. And there are many rep­utable sci­en­tists who dis­pute that car­bon diox­ide con­cen­tra­tions in the at­mos­phere are wholly re­spon­si­ble for those changes.

There are even more sci­en­tists who agree that car­bon diox­ide is warm­ing the planet, but firmly op­pose the hys­te­ria and catas­trophism of Al Gore and his acolytes who de­mand dra­matic (and hope­lessly un­re­al­is­tic) changes in our way of life to counter it.

Richard S. Lindzen, a pro­fes­sor of me­te­o­rol­ogy at MIT, ob­served in 2009 that, “the glob­ally av­er­aged tem­per­a­ture anom­aly (GATA), is al­ways chang­ing. Some­times it goes up, some­times down, and oc­ca­sion­ally, such as for the last dozen years or so, it does lit­tle that can be dis­cerned. Claims that cli­mate change is ac­cel­er­at­ing are bizarre.” Pro­fes­sor Lindzen was re­fer­ring to the in­con­ve­nient fact that there has been no in­crease in global tem­per­a­ture since 1998.

This is ut­terly in­con­sis­tent with the com­puter mod­els that pre­dicted steady and re­lent­less warm­ing if we did not rad­i­cally re­duce car­bon emis­sions. The fa­mous “hockey stick” graph of­fered by Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts pro­fes­sor Michael Mann, which be­came the em­blem of global warm­ing panic, has been shown to be a fraud (see “Tech­nol­ogy Re­view,” Oct. 15, 2004).

Speaking of com­puter mod­els, con­sider the re­cent at­tempt to pre­dict Hur­ri­cane Irene’s path and strength. The New York Times’s Henry Foun­tain an­a­lyzed the me­te­o­rol­o­gists’ fail­ure to pre­dict the storm’s strength. “Fore­cast­ers had ex­pected that a spin­ning band of clouds near its cen­ter, called the in­ner eye­wall, would col­lapse and be re­placed by an outer band that would then slowly con­tract. Such ‘eye­wall re­place­ment cy­cles’ have been known to cause hur­ri­canes to strengthen. While its eye­wall did col­lapse, Irene never com­pleted the cy­cle.” A hur­ri­cane ex­pert con­sulted by Mr. Foun­tain noted that the Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter had done well in pre­dict­ing the path of the storm. “But it was not sur­pris­ing that the strength fore­casts were off , the ac­cu­racy of such fore­casts has hardly im­proved over the past sev­eral decades.”

This is not to mock or cas­ti­gate me­te­o­rol­o­gists. There are so many fac­tors that in­flu­ence storms, wind shear, ocean tem- per­a­tures, fluid dy­nam­ics, drier air masses that drift into a storm’s path and other things. It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict a storm’s in­ten­sity. Let alone next week’s weather.

It’s even harder to pre­dict the over­all di­rec­tion of global cli­mate. In ad­di­tion to the fac­tors named above, global cli­mate is af­fected by so­lar ra­di­a­tion cy­cles, La Nina and El Nino, the Pa­cific Decadal and the At­lantic Mul­tidecadal Os­cil­la­tions, the amount of al­gae in the seas, and seismic ac­tiv­ity, to name a few. Yes, most cli­mate sci­en­tists be­lieve that an­thro­pogenic global warm­ing is hap­pen­ing, but the rate, the de­gree and the ef­fects are all still very much in dis­pute.

The pro-science pos­ture then, is to rec­og­nize the lim­i­ta­tions of what we can cur­rently pre­dict and to re­main open to ev­i­dence. Shriek­ing your in­sis­tence that the “science is set­tled” only demon­strates an un­sci­en­tific and dog­matic or­tho­doxy.

Mona Charen is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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