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Bad science is a two-way test tube

April 14, 2007|By JAMES WARNER

In last Sunday's Herald-Mail, I saw the article by Robert Gary. He says that we need to protect ourselves from fake or "junk" science. However, there are a few points on which I disagree.

First, Gary says that fake science arises "from two broad categories: 1. Revealed religion and 2. Corporate profit-seeking."

Actually, the biggest source for false ideas in science is science itself. For those who question this, I point to a marvelous book entitled "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn. This book is essential for anyone to understand how scientific knowledge advances. As a scientific revolution occurs, there comes a point where certain scientific beliefs prove to be false.

As for bad science coming from a revealed religion, consider this. During the second century A.D., a rabbi named Nechunya Ben HaKahne, based upon his reading of the revealed Torah, estimated the age of the universe to be 15 billion years.

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The rabbi's estimate remained bad science for nearly 2 millennia until, in 1964, it was discovered that microwave radiation in space confirmed the "Big Bang" theory of the universe. Astronomers now estimate, based on astronomical evidence of the "Big Bang," not the Torah, that the universe is about 15 billion years old.

Second, Gary suggests establishing a federal court to determine if science is good or bad. This is not the first time such a tribunal has been proposed which would be empowered to punish false beliefs.

In 1600 Giordano Bruno was brought before such a tribunal. Convicted of adhering to false beliefs, he was burned at the stake. Thirty-three years later Galileo Galilei was tried, before the Inquisition, for the same offense.

Lest you think that such things are confined to the church, the accepted science of the day disagreed with Jenner on vaccinations, Harvey on the circulation of the blood and Lister on the question of antisepsis.

At the turn of the last century there was a long series of theories as to the structure of the atom. Each theory was consistent with the scientific knowledge of the moment, but each in turn was shown to be false upon further experimentation.

If we set up such a court as Gary suggests, there will be no further innovation in science. This is especially true since he would single out corporations who hold false scientific ideas.

Third, Gary expresses concern that corporations are funding "global warming denial," and that this "could result in the end of the human species." It is not clear how this threat to the human species can arise from questions concerning possible contribution to global warming.

Perhaps he means efforts that many of us undertake to prevent ratification of the Kyoto treaty. Implementation of the Kyoto reforms, according to those who support these reforms, will only prevent an increase in global average temperature of 7 hundredths of 1C by the year 2050. That is .07 degrees. A temperature difference that is too small to be measured does not threaten human existence.

In any case, the temperature of the Earth has always fluctuated. Further, over the past 400,000 years, based upon examination of ice cores in the Antarctic taken by Soviet scientists at the Vostok station, the carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere have consistently risen when world temperatures have risen and dropped when temperatures dropped.

Since almost all of the carbon dioxide on earth is dissolved in water, which makes up 70 percent of the Earth's surface, perhaps the science court would find that differences in heat received from the sun at different times accounts for the differences in carbon dioxide.

You see, gases are more readily dissolved in cold water. When water warms, dissolved carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, since the capacity of the water to hold dissolved carbon dioxide has been diminished.

Finally, Gary proposes that the case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward be explicitly repudiated by the U.S. Congress. Like bad science, bad law can harm people.

While Gary may not agree with the outcome in Dartmouth College, Congress has no power to repudiate it, explicitly or otherwise. That case was decided on the basis of Article I, 10, clause 1, of the United States Constitution.

Dartmouth College can only be repudiated by amending the Constitution. This would be an arduous undertaking to obtain an immeasurable diminution in temperature over the course of the next 40 years. Given the disastrous economic consequences that would follow implementation of the Kyoto reforms, and the further disastrous economic consequences which would come from a repudiation of Dartmouth College, one wonders, who poses the real threat to humanity?

James H. Warner is a retired corporate counsel. He served as a domestic policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1985 until 1989.

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