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How to Tell Science from Rubbish

The Value of Mental Models in Science
One basic axiom of science is that one's personal beliefs and desires are utterly irrelevant to what is actually going on in nature. As described in the last section, in practice, some scientists can express bias such as when they ignore evidence that contradicts their favorite hypotheses. Another example of how scientists can introduce a bias into their work is through the human-invented constructs used to organize the natural world. These constructs can be viewed as “mental scaffolding,” in that they organize the relationship between our observations of nature and what we suspect is happening. It cannot be proven that these mental constructs represent the “ultimate nature” of what is being observed, and the model that is chosen is up to the scientists who happen to be studying the matter. However, such models of the natural world satisfy our desire to know how nature works and include such concepts as "atoms," mathematical constructs such as "waves," and computer programs such as climate models. These results may not give us “scientific truth” but instead give us “scientific understanding.” Well-designed scientific constructs, although being the inventions of scientists, can be trusted because they predict successfully what else we should find in nature. In addition, new experiments and results usually force our models of nature to be refined and updated to reflect this new input.

This act of creating mental constructs is like being in the jungle and although not knowing every single individual plant and animal, but being able instead to find your way and survive. For instance, if we were in the jungle we might spot something in the river and come up with the working construct, "If it looks like a log floating in the water but has two eyes on top, it is most likely a crocodile."

What is Rubbish?
This brings us to our main topic of what constitutes "rubbish," the most extreme example of human bias in science. Rubbish are all those statements that express purely personal belief and desires that have been dressed up to look like real scientific insight. These statements can be recognized by the fact that they are entirely useless in predicting what has not been observed. In the case of the crocodile observation above, a biased scientist expressing rubbish might say, "I need a log to get across the river so this must be a log, and what is on top of the log cannot be eyes." With this distinction in mind, read the statements made by two well-known scientists, in a year of major weather anomalies:

"We do not at present have convincing evidence of any significant climate change from other than natural causes. Until we do, it would be a reckless breach of trust to put in force hasty policies that create real personal and economic hardships for most of the world's population". Dr. S-1 (1997)

"The United States and other industrialized nations are on the brink of adopting policies that will ruin national economies, and drive manufacturing and other industries into less developed and less regulated countries ... all to mitigate "disasters" that exist only on computer printouts and in the feverish imagination of professional environmental zealots." Dr. S-2 (1997)

Now decide for yourself whether these statements qualify as science or as rubbish. If you have decided that you have doubts about it, you have just acted like a real scientist.

Scientists tend to be full of doubt, so people pronouncing great assurances on matters under discussion among scientists are probably passing out rubbish. (Whom would you follow, the fellow who warns that the thing they see in the water might be a crocodile, or the one who is positive it is only a log?)

Here are some more statements to test your newly found rubbish-finding abilities:

"By emitting CO2 into the environment, man is not harming it, but rather benefitting it, certainly over any CO2 range that might possibly occur as a result of continuing fossil fuel burning." G. R. Weber, 1992, "Global Warming", Boettiger, Wiesbaden

“There is no mechanism that anybody can identify today that says any level of CO2 in the air is good or bad, from the standpoint of apocalyptic global warming…I understand that people get uneasy over the concept of more CO2 going in the air, but you can't live your life based on speculation. And we know today that using fossil fuels is a good thing. It leads to economic growth. It allows more people to live longer on earth. There are positive goods that come from using fossil fuels. There's a speculative bad that people are holding out there, saying, therefore let's stop using fossil fuels. And I think that's an imprudent approach”. Fred Palmer, president of Western Fuel Association, Inc. From a PBS interview “What’s up with the Weather.”

What do you make of these statements?

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