Monday, December 7, 2009

black swan

Let me just share this with you ...

"Scientists must stop ignoring the black swan in the room"

The ongoing "climategate" email scandal brings to mind an old axiom of science about a lovely hypothesis being slain by an ugly fact. It refers to the principle that a hypothesis cannot be proven correct; it can only be falsified or proven incorrect. This principle is best illustrated by philosopher Karl Popper's white swan thought experiment. It goes like this:

If you see a large group of white swans, you may be tempted to hypothesize that all swans are white. But you cannot prove this hypothesis. No matter how many white swans you count, there always remains the possibility of a black swan lurking out there. And looking for black swans is a fundamental principle of the scientific method.

In the case of climate science, the emails and other documents make it absolutely clear that the cabal headed by Phil Jones and Michael Mann abrogated their responsibility to science by making no effort to disprove their own hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. Indeed, they actively sought to prevent others from examining their raw data out of fear that they would find the black swan. They also took extreme steps to marginalize and silence scientists who disagreed with their work and who had the temerity to say, "But here is a black swan."

It is now clear that Messrs. Jones and Mann and their colleagues pressed on counting white swans all the while stumbling over the black ones. Their actions not only discredit the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, but do incalculable damage to the public perception of science and scientists.

William G. Hopkins, professor emeritus, Biology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.

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