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Humility in the Face of Progress
More "Settled Science" Down the Drain

Let them eat hamburgers! A new study is upending what has become conventional wisdom to nutritionists: that saturated fat can lead to heart disease. The New York Times reports:

For decades, health officials have urged the public to avoid saturated fat as much as possible, saying it should be replaced with the unsaturated fats in foods like nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils.

But…new research, published on Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. Nor did it find less disease in those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including monounsaturated fat like olive oil or polyunsaturated fat like corn oil.

The earth’s climate, we note, is as complex in its own way as the human body, and we have been studying it much less intensively for a much shorter time. Dogmatism is the enemy of science and the reality is almost always more complicated than the current consensus, especially as it is transmitted to us through the media. Insisting that the young and still evolving study of climate change is “settled science” and that heretics must be punished are not the way to win public debates.

Climate scientists could learn a great deal from Stanford Professor Andrei Linde, who, upon being told this week that his theory of cosmic inflation was supported by empirical data (itself an enormous scientific breakthrough), maintained the kind of skepticism inherent to good science, hoping he wasn’t “believing…this just because it is beautiful.”

Our position—that the preponderance of evidence points firmly to the conclusion that the climate is changing and that human activity plays a significant role—remains unchanged. But so is our position that climate activists add more heat than light when they hype the science and use alarmist projections to generate support for flawed policy ideas.

Our position on bacon cheeseburgers, however, is up for review.

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  • qet

    Wow! Via Meadia almost stood for something! Tell us–by what evidentiary standard ought we to judge of climate change and cholesterol: by a preponderance of the evidence? By clear and convincing evidence? Beyond reasonable doubt? Via Meadia’s suggested standard is the weakest, easiest one, and is subject to the logical problem of the heap (which I am certain I don’t need to elaborate to Via Meadia). Also, Via Meadia seems to be playing both sides of the aisle here. On the one hand it urges continued suspension of belief; on the other it must, to be consistent with its adopted evidentiary standard, support all McKibben & Co. policies until such time, if ever, as a marginal bit of evidence shifts the preponderance to the other side.

  • Atanu Maulik

    I always take the conclusions of non-mathematical sciences with a pinch…no… large chunk of salt. By the way, why are you so sure that they have got it right this time ?

    • Dan

      did Bloomberg give you a permission slip for that salt?

  • stanbrown

    My position is that we should, at the very minimum, expect that science be competent and demonstrate minimal levels of integrity. First, scientists shown to be liars and frauds should not continue to have influence. Climate science flunks that test. Second is the requirement of basic competence. That is, the statistics and software used should not be badly flawed, that logic should be employed when making conclusions, and that all the work should be made available so that it can be replicated by others. Climate science today fails all 3 of these minimum requirements. Anyone who accepts this kind of shoddy work is no more discerning than Turkey Lurkey accepting Chicken Little’s warning that the sky is falling.

    I don’t know what impact humans have had on the climate. But I do know ridiculous incompetence and ethical misconduct when I see it repeatedly.

  • Arkeygeezer

    “Our position—that the preponderance of evidence points firmly to the conclusion that the climate is changing and that human activity plays a significant role—remains unchanged.”

    Don’t get too dogmatic about that. The climate has been changing since the earth began. What empirical evidence do you have that human activity plays a significant role?

    Its not “greenhouse gasses” which compose less than 1/2 of 1% of the atmosphere and most of which are naturally produced. Human activity may cause local climate change as in Beijing and Delhi, but not the whole planet. Too say a that a component of the atmosphere amounting to a minuscule 0,04% can change the whole planet is absurd.

    • Jim__L

      Small changes in a chaotic system like our climate can have significant effects.

      The problem is, in a chaotic system like our climate, we have no idea what those effects will be.

  • phineasfahrquar

    “Our position—that the preponderance of evidence points firmly to the conclusion that the climate is changing and that human activity plays a significant role—remains unchanged.”

    I suggest you have a look at recent books by two Earth scientists, “Heaven and Earth” by Ian Plimer and “Climate: the Counter Consensus” by Robert Carter. You might find the preponderance leans heavily the other way.

  • Andrew Allison

    Your position that that human activity plays a significant role in climate change is completely unsupported by the facts! TAI’s denial that, based on the facts, the AGW hypothesis lies in tatters is, to say the least, distressing.

    • Corlyss

      I too am mystified at WRM’s obduracy on the matter. I guess he won’t be invited to trendy parties if he’s ever caught breaking faith in print with the Most Cherished Articles of Faith of people who throw trendy parties. Time and again he invokes the permanent open-endedness of science, only to slam it shut when it comes to AGW. I have been the first to agree that human activity can have a local or even regional* impact, but NEVER, NEVER, NEVER a global impact. Crikey! 70% of the earth’s surface is water, and there just ain’t much we humans can do or ever have done to affect so much absolute territory.

      *I’m thinking of defoliating goats in the Mediterranean region, so perhaps that technically isn’t human agency.

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