Bill Nye and Scientism

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 03: Bill Nye attends the Nick Graham presentation during New York Fashion Week Men's Fall/Winter 2016 at Skylight at Clarkson Sq on February 3, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Nick Graham)
D Dipasupil/Getty

There is a saying in the world of science that if scientific facts do not support your arguments then stop shouting. It is thus a waste of time to appeal to “scientism” or to rely on popular spokespersons like Al Gore or Bill Nye to make it look otherwise.

It will do more harm to your own self-esteem than the pretension of winning an argument by appealing to authority or popularity. Increasingly, we are seeing more and more outrageous and aggressive anti-scientific claims that anyone who is not willing to embrace the dangerous global warming bandwagon and to condemn its culprit, CO2, is actually the equivalent of a Holocaust Denier.

This sort of name-calling, loud self-promotion and fact twisting actions, closer to political rodeo than to healthy scientific debates, are simply telling us that our opponents have already lost their fallacious arguments and are getting short on any real scientific facts.

Professor Albert Einstein had it perfectly right. When he was told about the publication of the pamphlet “100 authors against Einstein” in 1931, he replied: “Why 100? If I were wrong, one would be enough.”

It is fitting to hear the comment of Professor Hubert Goenner about the three main editors/contributors of “100 authors against Einstein”:

Obviously, these three men were united not only by their common interest in philosophy and opposition to relativity theory but also by their incompetence in the fields of mathematics and physics.

In his recent article “Why I Choose to Challenge Climate Change Deniers,” Mr. Bill Nye is found to issue a firm challenge to all those who do not accept his CO2-based religion by claiming that “The science of global warming is long settled, and one may wonder why the United States, nominally the most technologically advanced country in the world, is not the world leader in addressing the threats.”

This is so true that when the Australian government recently decided to shift their funding from studying climate change to preparing to address the threats assumed to originate from it, the very scientists who claimed that the science of global warming is settled started howling that this was not so and that their words have been misunderstood. They argued that climate is a very complex phenomenon (true) and that much work is needed to understand it in order to be able to provide any future global temperature evolution scenarios. This incidence can best be remembered as the return of the boomerang.

Maybe Mr. Nye should discuss things with these Australian scientists. He may have yet other revelations: That climate science is young and everything except settled, that we understand little of it, and that the predictions made by the climate models are akin to computer-assisted divinations. Call them, Mr. Nye! You’ll be amazed!

As for the claim: “Carbon dioxide has an enormous effect on planetary temperatures. Climate change was discovered in recent times by comparing the Earth to the planet Venus,” this is a truly strange, rather incorrect, and scientifically empty claim.

First of all, we know that the relatively rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last thirty years has not produced any large and significant global warming, just a meager ~0.2°C. This compares favorably with the ~1°C increase in the temperature anomaly registered since the past 150 years, indicating an absence of acceleration in temperature rise. In fact, in nearly 19 years, a plateau has been observed, which has been acknowledged even by the IPCC (the so-called hiatus). Therefore, one is left to wonder what the words “enormous effect” mean in this particular case.

By now, the proper scientific conclusion regarding the greenhouse effect role of the rising atmospheric CO2 is clear: It plays a very minor role on the measurable “planetary” temperature, if any. For readers — and Mr. Nye — who may not be familiar with this latest experimental result, we suggest reading a recent article, “What we know about CO2 and global atmospheric temperatures?” on Breitbart News.

For all objective readers, and even Mr. Nye himself, we wish to remind everyone of the independent investigation led by Mr. Anthony Watts and many serious scientists who reached the conclusion that the greenhouse effect produced by CO2 molecules is, of course, real but that the “science-is-easy” type of experiment produced by Mr. Nye in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project has been found to be a product of “video fakery.” That experiment “could never work” as advertised.

So much for Bill, the science guy, who simply confuses “scientism” — i.e. a belief — with experimental sciences. The only question left for everyone is when will Bill Nye or Al Gore stop pedaling their brand of Hollywood special effects?

Let us now have a look at the inter-planetary science argument put forth by Mr. Nye. Haven’t we been told repeatedly by the popular media, and in this case again by Mr. Nye himself, that if we do not stop releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, planet Earth may soon be doomed and became another Venus, an over-heated, barren, rocky, lifeless planet?

To get a clear understanding that the last point is utter nonsense, we only need to read the recent exchange between Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study and his colleague Professor Will Happer:

Thank you [Will] for this very clear account of the reason why Earth and Venus are different. This is something that every school-child should learn.

Another interesting fact is that if we put a sunshade shielding Venus from sunlight, it would only take 500 years for the surface of Venus to be cool and the atmosphere to condense into a carbon dioxide ocean. It is the lack of water rather than the high temperature that makes Venus permanently unfriendly to life.

We can also add that the popular and erroneous over-use of Venus as a doomed Earth is highlighted by the fact that, like Venus, the atmosphere of Mars is also significantly enriched in CO2 (about 95 percent by volume). However, because of its relatively farther orbital position from the Sun, the average temperature of Mars is only about minus 60 degrees Celsius (or minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit). For comparison, the atmosphere of Venus contains about 97 percent CO2 by volume while the Earth’s atmosphere comprises a mere 0.04 percent.

So what did Professor Will Happer say about the effects of CO2 on planet Earth and Venus? Again, we will quote him in full in order for any interested readers to follow the precise scientific arguments and reasoning on why equating Earth to Venus is such a wrong analogy:

For most of the past 550 million years of the Phanerozoic, when multicellular life left a good fossil record, the earth’s CO2 levels were much higher than now, four times, even ten times. Yet life flourished on land and in the oceans.

During the Phanerozoic, the Earth never came close to the conditions of Venus. I would hope that [any scientist] realizes the radius of Venus’s orbit is only 72% of the radius of Earth’s orbit. Since the solar flux scales inversely as the square of the radius, Venus receives about twice as much solar flux, 2637 W/m2 than the Earth’s 1367  W/m2. According to the IPCC, doubling CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, would be the equivalent of about 15 W/m2 additional solar flux, nearly 100 times less than the addition Venus gets from being closer to the Sun.

In addition, the surface pressure on Venus is about 90 times that of the Earth, and there is plenty of convection so there is intense compressional heating of the surface air, not unlike the heating during the compression stroke of a Diesel engine. It is the much larger solar flux, convection and high surface pressure that make the surface of Venus so hot.

Little solar flux reaches the surface of Venus and most solar heating occurs above 50 km, in the sulfuric-acid clouds, and above, where the pressures and temperatures are about the same as those above the Earth’s surface. Venus actually absorbs a smaller fraction of sunlight than Earth, and scatters more from its clouds. That is one of the reasons that Venus is such a lovely morning or evening “star.”

But none of these nerdy details about Earth/Venus differences matter since the Earth has already experimented with much more CO2 than now, and the biosphere loved it. Burning all the economically available fossil fuel is unlikely to increase the current atmospheric CO2 levels by even a factor of 2. This is much less than the levels that the Earth has already tested. And a doubled level of CO2 would get us away from the near-famine levels for plants that have prevailed for the past tens of millions of years.

We can only agree with Professors Dyson and Happer upon our own independent research by reporting that our garden plants tell us every morning that they want more CO2, not less. All the other C3 and C4 types of plants in the world are saying the same thing: “We want more, We want more, We want more CO2!” The increased greening of the Earth during the past 30 years is a testimony to the desperate need of plants for their very basic foodstuff.

CO2 is vital for plants survival as well as for humans and animals. We should never forget that more than 70 percent of the oxygen present in the atmosphere — and without which we could never live — originates from phytoplanktons “eating” CO2 and releasing oxygen. This biological truism rings particularly relevant when considering the climatological fact that the role of atmospheric CO2 in all matters related to the weather and climate on our planetary home is minimal at best.

The software engineer, William A. Wilson, recently noted that:

If science was unprepared for the influx of careerists, it was even less prepared for the blossoming of the Cult of Science. The Cult is related to the phenomenon described as “scientism”…

Some of the Cult’s leaders like to play dress-up as scientists — Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are two particularly prominent examples — but hardly any of them have contributed any research results of note. Rather, Cult leadership trends heavily in the direction of educators, popularizers, and journalists.

Indeed, for far too long now, Science has been driven by popular scientism and official science — these are not Science. Popular personalities like Mr. Bill Nye have had all the attention of the microphones, loudspeakers, and print media, and he has dangerously misled the whole generation of unsuspected readers and younger minds. As scientists, it is our duty to denounce such an attitude, to stop scientism and to warn everyone that personalities like Mr. Nye are plainly anti-science and, therefore, will harm us all.

Willie Soon is an independent scientist who has been studying the Sun and Earth climate for the past 26 years. István Markó is a professor of chemistry at the Université catholique de Louvain and director of the Organic and Medicinal Chemistry Laboratory.


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