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Introduction
Scientific method
Science in practice
Science and climate change
Ignorance versus science
Ignorance in Australian Parliament

The problem and prevalence of ignorance

One need only look in a book shop to see how ignorance has overwhelmed science and philosophy; the section on 'new age' books is always much larger than that on popular science, the section on religion is always much larger than that on philosophy.

Written 2009/11/10, modified 2015/02/26
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
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Introduction

Climate change is the greatest threat facing the world today, there is a strong consensus among climate scientists that the world's climates are changing and that this is being forced by the activities of humanity, yet many are ignorant of this, even among those in a position of power.

While climate change is the greatest threat, there are many other threats that, if we do not reverse them, could cause the collapse of our present global civilisation; yet far more people are concerned with beliefs that are entirely without evidentiary support than are trying to move the World toward sustainability.

Science has provided us with an unprecedented depth of knowledge in almost every subject, yet among the general population there is ignorance; ignorance even of what science is, is profound. The great majority of people, probably even of university graduates, would be hard pressed to explain the Scientific method.

Never in history has there been so many democracies in the world, yet voters give very little thought to how they vote; consequently many countries are effectively run by moneyed interests rather than by 'the will of the people'.

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The scientific method

Science is about the application of the scientific method. A description of the scientific method goes something like this:
  1. An observation, or more likely a series of observations, are made;
  2. A hypothesis is produced, that, supposing it to be true, would explain the observation(s);
  3. Experiments are devised to test the hypothesis;
  4. If the experiments fail to disprove the hypothesis then it can become a scientific theory.
Note that the theory need not be proven (usually it cannot be proven), but every test that it passes increases its standing. A hypothesis that cannot be tested is considered to be of dubious value.

The scientific method is also explained in Wikipedia.

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Science in practice

"Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a method".
 

Learned, or scientific, journals

Learned journals are usually published by scientific societies, for example a learned journal on cosmology would be published by some group of cosmologists, most of whom would be qualified in, and practicing cosmology. The publishers send copies of articles (usually called 'papers') to referees (specialists in the same scientific field, peers) for comment. If the referees find that the logic behind the theory is faulty, or there are serious flaws in the methods of collecting evidence, or if the work is not original, he/she will pass his reservations back to the publisher. The publisher may then recommend that the author does more work, or simply refuse to publish the paper. If the referee's reports are favourable, the paper will probably be published.

Over a period of time scientific journals build up 'prestige' if they publish good science; if they publish dubious work they loose prestige.

Also see Impact factor.

A scientific theory is built up over a period of time. Most theories would begin their public life by being published, together with evidence supporting the theory, in a 'learned journal'. It would be expected that the author of the theory would have studied previous research relevant to his theory, if any.

Anyone who believes the published theory is wrong can publish a refutation; an explanation of evidence that indicates the fallacy of the theory.

If a theory is important, and is not refuted over a period of time, the original paper will be referred to (referenced) by other scientists in the same or other learned journals. The number of these references provides a measure of the acceptance of the theory among the community of scientists in the particular specialty.

Theories are not all that are published in scientific journals. Anything of interest to the scientists whose field is dealt with by the particular journal may be published; for example Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California in San Diego, published a study that she did showing that there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific publications on the human cause for climate change.

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Science and climate change

Thousands of papers relating to climate change have been published in relevant learned journals (see Science in practice). Of those that relate climate change to human activities, very few or none provide evidence that human activities are not largely the primary cause of climate change, most show strong links between the two. I refer in particular to the published study into the consensus on climate change among relevant scientists mentioned above.

From my reading of the popular science journal, Scientific American (to which I have subscribed for about 35 years), I can say that it shows a similar preponderance of articles relating climate change to human activities; while it does (correctly) give consideration to some of the more reasonable of the contrary opinion.

Of course not all supposedly scientific journals are equal. On the face of it one would suppose that the journal of The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM) would be a respectable learned journal. (The head of OISM is one of the main organisers of the "31 072 American Scientists" who deny climate change.) If you look into the OISM and its climate change publication you find that it is in fact of very dubious credibility.

The popular press and the commercial media are very different to the prestigious scientific press; they are much less concerned with fact than with controversy. The latter is much more likely to sell newspapers than the former; some apparent expert who is willing to take up a view contrary to that accepted by the relevant scientific community makes good press.

I have recently been shocked at the depth of the ignorance about climate change science in the parliamentary Liberal Party of Australia; it is an indictment on Australia and the Australian voters (who voted these ignoramuses into Parliament). It was the revelation of this ignorance on the ABC Four Corners program of November 9th 2009 that provoked me to write this page.

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Ignorance versus science

 
sign
Sign outside shop in Denmark, Western Australia
"The essence of science is skepticism. The essence of religion is faith."

My page on threats to our global civilisation lists many things about our present society that are unsustainable. Science has discovered these threats; science has, or can, show us how we can eliminate, or at least minimise, these threats. However, instead of recognising the threats and tackling them head-on, probably the great majority of people are either ignorant of the threats or are so hung-up on their irrational belief systems that they don't see the dire need for action.

To judge by the books that are on sale in shops, the advertising in the popular media, and the articles published in the popular media, there are far more people who base their beliefs on something other than evidence than those who look at the Earth rationally. The rise of 'new age' beliefs (things like the magical properties of crystals and pyramids; non-evidence-based therapies such as homoeopathy, reflexology, magnetic therapy and even 'cranio-sacral balancing' and 'sacred geometry grid healing'; and then the old chestnut of astrology) in comparison to science in a time when it is essential that we look rationally for cures for the World's ills, is hugely concerning.

Science has shown us what the stars are made of and how the Universe works, but people seem to prefer to believe in things lacking in rational backing, religion and creation 'science' come to mind.

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Ignorance in the Australian Parliament

Climate change denial

 

Climate change denial on other pages

I have also discussed climate change denial on greenhouse from an Australian perspective and Climate change. In Climate change skeptics or climate change ignoramuses I attempt to inform voters of the climate change stance of their Members of Parliament.

Ignorance in the Liberal Party continues

About 12th August 2011 the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party passed a motion, by a large majority, calling for a royal commission into the science of climate change. The science is settled, has been settled for years. Is it any wonder that Australia's transition to renewable energy is slow with ignorance like this in one of the major political parties? Should the WA Government be stupid enough to take this up one would have to wonder where they would find a judge sufficiently dim to want to run such a royal commission.
In November 2009 it became public that many members of the Australian Parliamentary Liberal Party believed (or claimed to believe) that humanity had nothing to do with climate change. The National Party Senators had previously made it known that they were climate change deniers. See FailAust. (The Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Opposition in 2010, Tony Abbott, has said that "Climate Change is crap").

That many (although a minority, I believe) of the Australian people are ignorant of the facts of climate change is more understandable, they do not have ready access to well-informed advice and they are receiving mixed messages from the commercial media, but for federal parliamentarians in a Western Democracy, with easy access to advice from experts in the climate science field, to be so abysmally ignorant is inexcusable.

Or could it be that these parliamentarians only claim to be climate change skeptics so that they can justify their continued support of the fossil fuel industries? Is it believable that they could be so corrupt? Is it any more believable that they could be so ignorant?

The ignorance is not confined to Liberal and National parties

Steve Fielding of the Family First Party has also 'come out' as a Climate Change Skeptic. He has called for a Royal Commission into Climate Change; why doesn't he simply seek the advice of climate change scientists rather than listening to geologists who have strong links to the mining industry?

It seems that Steve Fielding has been listening to Ian Plimer, Professor of Mining Geology, University of Adelaide. (Plimer's arguments have been dealt with in Plimer versus Monbiot; where George Monbiot points out some of the many faults in Ian Plimer's book, 'Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science'.)

In Fielding's favour(?), his ignorance is real, not perhaps pretended as in the case of the Liberal and National Party climate change skeptics.

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On this page...
Climate change denial
Ignorance in Australian Parliament
Ignorance versus science
Introduction
Science and climate change
Science in practice
Scientific method
Too small to make a difference
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