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Climate Science is the New Phrenology

Posted on September 1 2010 1:00 pm
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Phrenology was all the rage in the early 1800s.  It is considered pseudoscience now, but back in the day it was given serious consideration in the scientific community.  The Edinburgh Phrenological Society was established in 1820.  American phrenologists had their own scientific journal, the American Phrenology Journal.   Many important and influential people believed that phrenology was an established science.

Many prominent public figures such as the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (a college classmate and initial partner of Orson Fowler) promoted phrenology actively as a source of psychological insight and self-knowledge. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was known to have a keen interest in the subject, once contriving a meeting with C.P. Snow after noticing that the author had “an interestingly shaped head.”  (Source)

The idea that you can derive the essential nature of a person simply by feeling the bumps on his head is laughable today, but it was serious and weighty stuff back then.  Fast forward 50 years and we will be just as dismissive of contemporary global warming alarmism. 

An Investor’s Business Daily editorial entitled “Cool-Down Phase” reports on the results of a review of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council, an association of the world’s top national science academies.

Its criticism of the IPCC, held up as the divine and inerrant voice on climate change, irrevocably tarnishes the panel’s credibility and weakens the case for man-made global warming. While the Inter-Academy Council did not ‘redo the science,’ as its chairman said, it did scrutinize IPCC practices and methodologies and recommended a ‘fundamental reform’ of its management structure.

Harold T. Shapiro, chairman of the InterAcademy Council committee that wrote the report, identified two kinds of errors in the IPCC’s work:

One is the kind where they place high confidence in something where there is very little evidence.  The other is the kind where you make a statement … with no substantive value.

Hmm.  What do you call it when someone places high confidence in something with no evidence to support it?  Isn’t that called guessing? And what do you call someone who makes a statement with no substantive value?  Isn’t that person considered a liar?

The IBD editorial concludes:

Just as fears over Alar toxicity, destruction of the Amazon rain forest, a new ice age and other apocalyptic warnings lost their relevance, the global warming scare is destined to fade entirely from the public mind.

Though still with us, it’s already cracking under the pressure and won’t be able to withstand deeper inquiry or the evidence that’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.

I’ll bet there are a lot of climate scientists today who can empathize with the phrenologists of  the early 19th century.  It must be a bummer to realize that the sum total of your life’s work is an exercise in how not to study nature, test hypotheses, and interpret results.

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