Some skeptics will say: “The scientific consensus was wrong about flat earth and sun revolving around the planet, so how can we trust them now?” The problem with this argument is that the modern scientific method began with the methods put forth by Karl Popper in the 1930’s. Before that period of time, peer review and empirical falsifiability simply weren’t widespread. There was no standardized way to separate the tabloids from the real science. To give you an idea how new peer review is, even Albert Einstein’s revolutionary “Annus Mirabilis” papers in the 1905 issue of Annalen der Physik were not peer-reviewed. To quote an article from Nature: “in journals in those days, the burden of proof was generally on the opponents rather than the proponents of new ideas.”Simply switching who the burden of proof is on has a tremendous impact as to what is considered legitimate science or not. Just as important is empirical falsifiability because it is a primary tool used to separate science from non-science. There simply wasn’t an effective way to separate the science from the nonscience back then. Because of this, you simply can’t discredit the modern scientific consensus in general with events that happened before the modern scientific method was even invented. As for the ancient and outdated scientific method, you have to go back to René Descartes’ guiding principles in his book, Discourse on Method. Even this book was published in 1637 which was more than a 1,000 years after the Catholic Archbishop Isidore of Sevill (560 – 636) taught in his widely read encyclopedia, the Etymologies, that the Earth was round. So you can’t even use the flat earth theory to discredit the ancient scientific consensus. Interestingly enough some skeptics or deniers with Ph.D’s will use the flat earth argument to debunk the consensus.
The scientific method is generally taught in the first grade and Karl Popper is discussed in many highschool textbooks. Almost every Ph.D. program requires that the Ph.D. candidate publish several papers before graduating. Therefore they are very familiar with the intense scrutiny papers undergo before being published. It is up to you to decide whether or not someone with a Ph.D. is either being dishonest or simply making a massive oversight when comparing the current state of science to the way things were done over 1,500 years ago.
On a related note many people use the global cooling myth to debunk the scientific consensus. The problem with this tactic is that global cooling was never predicted in peer review journals. If you want to know what the leading scientists were thinking at the time you should read the National Academy of Science’s reports. The 1975 edition states:
Unfortunately, we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines it’s course. Without this fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate-neither in short-term variations nor in any in its larger long-term changes.
NAS: “Understanding Climatic Change, A Program for action” ISBN# 0-309-02323-8
Despite this, Newsweek ran a global cooling story that inaccurately portrayed what scientists were thinking. On Sunday, April 2, 2006, George Will writes in the Washington Post that ‘Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.”’ and ‘”a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” (Science, March 1, 1975)’. The second quote from his article isn’t from Science, but from Science News. What George Will doesn’t understand is that while their names may be very similar neither of these sources is the prestigious peer review journal Science. Despite numerous attempts to debunk this myth by both realclimate.org and analysis of peer review journals that denies these predictions were ever made, these myths still perpetuate via online discussions, major American newspapers, and even the BBC. The situation is so bad that when the Senate Environmental Committee (VIDEO) meets with “key” witnesses on climate change such as fiction writer Michael Crichton these myths about the scientific consensus and even grossly out of context quotes from scientific papers are used to debunk the credibility of the scientific community. The point is global cooling predictions simply didn’t occur in peer review journals or in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sometimes what people claim is the scientific consensus isn’t a consensus at all.
Another important statistic to keep in mind is the number of peer review journals that are published. Between 1993 and 2003 there were at least 928 peer-review papers on climate change. That much study makes it possible to have a solid consensus. If there are only 5 peer-review papers on a complex subject that very rarely equals a consensus. Normally that just means more study needs to be done.
Isn’t there scientific disagreement over climate change?
To answer this question I’m going to cut and paste text from a Yale professors website:
The legitimate disagreements are over details.
All reputable scientists, even outspoken “skeptics” acknowledge that we have caused greenhouse warming and it will continue. Uncertainty or dispute are limited to the severity of future changes, and the extent to which certain recent trends (like the loss of the snows of Kilimanjaro) are attributable to greenhouse gases. These are obviously important matters, but not the same as disagreeing about the fundamental nature of the problem. There are occasionally scientists who venture outside their area of expertise, and a few quacks who will dispute even the basic points, in public or before Congress, but usually not among scientists because of the ridicule that would follow. Unfortunately some groups invested in the status quo are running disinformation campaigns to confuse the public. Disagreements are highlighted by the media, while consensus is too dull to report.
A few of my colleagues claim that model predictions of future warming are excessive. They have no calculations to back this up, and in my view their claims have no valid scientific foundation—though they can’t be proven wrong per se.
Past contrarians whose ideas were initially rejected but turned out to be right, like Alfred Wegener (the discoverer of plate tectonics), typically had a new theory that explained data better than the prevailing wisdom. They were often outsiders. Their new theories made the reigning scientific “chiefs” look bad and challenged deeply ingrained notions, so only when the chiefs died off did the new theory enter the mainstream. That description does not fit today’s climate “contrarians”: they have no new theory, but only criticize well-tested existing theory (and win lots of attention). Support for their views has steadily eroded (in the 1960’s most scientists were skeptical about global warming) and is essentially nonexistent among the youngest generation of scientists.
source Yale: Prof Sherwood’s FAQ
Inkstain: Consensus Science
Coby Beck: Not Galileo
Yale: Prof Sherwood’s FAQ
Much more on the modern scientific method and the importance of peer review can be found here:
Example of empirical falsifiability: The proposition ‘all swans are white’ would be falsified by observing a black swan