Let’s talk about science

This is a running blog, but today, we’re gonna talk about science.

The scientific method is a process of asking questions and answering those questions with evidence collected by the observer. As humans, we are very good at recognizing patterns, but sometimes our preconceptions get in the way of that recognition which causes us to see things that are not really there (or not see things that are). The scientific method is our way around it. It is strict, rigid and requires analysis of the evidence we collected.

The history of science goes back as long has humans have, and although versions of the scientific method have always been in use, it’s beginnings are generally attributed to Aristotle. There are two things that set the scientific method apart from just general data collection; (1) that you ask the question with a hypothesis BEFORE you collect the data, and (2) that you do not PROVE anything, you just disprove your hypothesis.

Example:

If I am curious about climate change and it’s causes, I do not start collecting data about CO2 levels in the atmosphere until I have a hypothesis.

Hypothesis: The temperature of the planet is rising because of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

 Observation: I collect data on the CO2 levels in the atmosphere along with temperatures of the planet through soil cores, which allows me to know what those temperatures and CO2 levels were in the past. I collect data that tells me what the temperatures and CO2 levels have been for the past 200 years. (don’t worry, I’m just skipping over methods, but assume I have good ones, which climate scientists do)

What did I find? CO2 levels and temperatures both are going up at about the same rate since the industrial revolution, while they remain largely stable before that.

Conclusions (this is important): I cannot disprove the hypothesis that CO2 levels cause a rise in the overall global temperature.

Ok… so why was the conclusion so important? The real power of the scientific method comes from disproving a hypothesis, NOT proving it. It might seem like weird rhetoric, but it is unbelievably important. My experiment to test the hypothesis that CO2 levels are causing a rise in the global temperature did not prove anything at all. CO2 levels and temperature could be rising at the same time due to some outside factor. All I can say after my experiment is that I cannot reject my hypothesis that rising CO2 levels are causing a rise in the global temperature.

So… now that we got how the scientific method works down, lets talk about science a little.

Science has always been rejected by the general public, even when the evidence for a particular theory was overwhelming. We need only look to Galileo, who tested the idea of heliocentrism (that the sun is the center of the solar system). His ideas, although supported by evidence-based science, were fought by the church because they went against the perception that the Earth was the center. Now, going back to the scientific method, a lot of that resistance to Galileo’s ideas has to do with how the science was framed. Galileo did not PROVE that the sun was the center, he simply DISPROVED that the Earth was and could not disprove heliocentrism. There could have been an entirely different explanation. But all Galileo could do was disprove his hypothesis.

It turned out he was right.

Galileo was the most famous case of science denial in history, but this same thing happened again and again. We still, as a country, are resistant to Charles Darwin’s findings about evolution, despite the evidence that is on his side.

Let’s go back to climate change.

The evidence for human caused global warming is unbelievably overwhelming. The trajectory of our climate is a scary one. Scientists predict a potential 6 C rise in the global temperature over the next 100 years. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT MUST BE TALKED ABOUT. However, Donald Trump instituted a gag-order over all science produced by the EPA, National Park Service, USDA, etc. His administration has even gone so far as to force scientists to run their science by him and his politicians before they can release their findings to the public. That means that we have added a new step to the scientific method in America. After your conclusions, you must make sure that it is approved by Trump.

THIS IS NOT SCIENCE.

Due to the real power of the scientific method, science always has a way of coming out… and it always wins. Unfortunately, our science right now suggests that if we continue on the path we are on, the global temperature will cause for unlivable conditions on this planet. Yeah, science is right and will prevail, but we may not.

climatechange
The X-axis is year, Y-axis on right is average global temperature, and Y-axis on the left is CO2 in parts per million in the atmosphere. This shows the correlation between temperature and CO2 levels.

I don’t mean to sound like an alarmist, but this stuff is real. This is our reality right now. No alternative facts, just truth. Climate change is the big issue of our time and how we act right now will have effects on generations to come.

Don’t be scared. Be vigilant. Call your congressperson, senators, the white house, etc. Call your policy makers and remind them of the real power of the scientific method. Remind them that science is real and that it is going nowhere. Climate change is not a conspiracy theory. The evidence is there. We just have to listen.