Sunlight-stealing aliens invade the Solar System!

Apparently my point in this post was misapprehended. Although I wrote this: "My comments here are from the perspective of the philosophy and history of science, two subjects which I have studied a fair bit. I have absolutely nothing to say about global warming models or these predictions of a new little ice age...," commenters immediately began talking about "forcing factors" in climate models and so forth. Maybe the AGW advocates have underplayed the significance of the sun in their models: I don't know. But if they have, that still would not mean that they were wrong that humans have been creating warming, just that they were wrong about its significance compared to solar activity.

I was making a broader point about testing scientific theories: simply because the predictions of a theory do not pan out does not mean the theory is wrong! Let me create a fantasy scenario to illustrate what I was trying to get across:

Let us imagine that by some miracle mainstream climate scientists have their models exactly right. Every bad consequence of burning fossil fuels that they worry about is coming to pass. And then...

Tomorrow, a very advanced (but energy starved) race of aliens arrives inside Earth's orbit. They set up enormous solar panels in space to generate the energy their civilization needs, panels so enormous that they deprive the earth of 25% of its solar energy. A new ice age commences.

I bet at that point someone would come on Fox News and claim, "See! Those scare-mongers involved in the 'global warming' hoax were completely wrong!"

That person would be talking nonsense. And that was my only point in the earlier post.


  1. The degree of wrongness of the the climate scientists would depend upon the strength of the claims they had made, wouldn't it ?

    No matter how good their model were, If they had said "We predict with 100% certainty that there will no ice age in the foreseeable future" they would have been plain wrong wouldn't they ?

    1. That is absolutely correct, rob. And I think the AGW camp probably has over-stated the certainty of their claims!

  2. Suppose you are about to drink from a glass and I say "Gene, that's full of poison, it will kill you if you drink it!" You ignore me and drink from the glass. Seconds later, Bob shows up angry about your argument over sunk cost, and shoot you dead.

    In that situation the fact that the drink didn't kill you doesn't mean I was wrong.

    However, if the reason you don't die is that the drink was just fruit juice, then that would mean I was wrong.

    What Bob and I are saying is that the Ice Age theories are more like the second case. The people promoting the theories don't think that human activity has an appreciable warming effect on the planet. It's all just the sun.

    1. And what *I* am saying is: I am not interested in what these people think: I am just trying to illustrate a broader philosophical point about testing theories.

  3. Gene, I totally get what you're saying, and yes, depending on the status of the global warming debate as of 2013, it is theoretically possible that this new stuff about solar activity could be like your alien example.

    However, the *actual* status of the debate circa 2013 does not allow that possibility. The people building the computer climate models took into account solar activity and said it's not a big deal. They knew (I am pretty sure) all of the facts about the sun that the article you linked to is discussing, and nonetheless said the Earth is going to continue to warm through the 21st century.

    Let me put it this way: Surely Gene you agree from the perspective of the philosophy of science that in *some* cases it makes sense to say, "The evidence showed that this particular model was very inaccurate."

  4. Ah, I think I have it, Gene; this might help. *Nobody* except maybe random commenters on blog posts denies the simple chemistry/physics behind the claim that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that other things equal, more CO2 in the atmosphere is a forcing factor. But the "consensus" computer models all have *positive feedback effects* which amplify the direct warming coming from increasing CO2 concentrations.

    That's what the debate is about. It's not that Richard Lindzen, say, denies that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Rather, the scientists in this debate are arguing over the interaction of a bunch of different factors.

    So it really wouldn't do for one group to say, "Well, our only point here was that CO2 made the Earth warmer than it otherwise would have been." Nobody denies that. What they are arguing about is the absolute level of temperatures to be expected, because that drives the relevant policy recommendations.

    1. I am confused: no matter how many times I note that I am not really interested in the details of this debate itself, but just in illustrating a larger philosophical point, people keep filling me in on the details of this debate!


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