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Climate science as astronomy

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Here’s Matthew Bailes on climate science and astronomy:

It may come as a big surprise to many, but there is actually no difference between how science works in astronomy and climate change – or any other scientific discipline for that matter. We make observations, run simulations, test and propose hypotheses, and undergo peer review of our findings.

Other than the strange notion that all scientific disciplines run simulations (they do not), I get what Bailes is trying to do. If we somehow prove that there is “no difference” between climate science and astronomy, then surely we should equally trust their conclusions. If both climate scientists and astronomers undergo peer review and test their hypotheses, then there should be no need for opposition in either case.

This type of wishful thinking crops up all the time. But as Bailes himself admits, no one really cares that much about astrophysics discoveries. For better and for worse, climate science doesn’t share that fate. Whatever the epistemic similarities between the two (and I think Bailes was a bit careless there), the policy implications of climate science mean you can’t really equate them.

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Categories: Climate Change
  1. September 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Praj,

    You’ve raised an important point that somehow gets lost in this debate: the epistemic standards must be higher for scientific conclusions that have policy implications; and the standards of evidence will be proportionate to the magnitude of the political and economic change required. It’s not enough to say, “Well, there’s consensus among experts in this field, so let’s radically change the way we live.” It’s naïve to expect to everyone to undertake radical change on (what amounts to) faith (in someone else’s opinion), no matter how shrill one puts it.

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