FOLLOWING THE SCIENCE
Two issues in this election deal with science: the pandemic and global warming. The candidates have very divergent views on these chapters of science.
What is science? It is seen as the holy grail of knowledge. You must follow the science. The Scientific Method, peer review, consensus of 99% of the scientists, the science is settled, the proof is incontrovertible; these are the buzz words when one hears non-scientists talking of science. Real scientists are rarely that certain. Science is supposed to be the opposite of guesswork. But that is precisely what science is –guesswork. Someone considered a scientist makes a guess, then makes some observations or an experiment or two, and if those bear out his original guess, he/she publishes it in a “peer-reviewed” journal. Peers are respected people who, if they agree with the scientist, often his buddies, publish his findings. This then joins the body of knowledge that we call “science.” There are, however, flaws in the method. Sometimes peer review is based on insider trading. I’ll help you if you help me. And payoffs and bribery are not unheard of either. It is sometimes based on jealousy that suppresses a new idea that later turns out to be true.
Galileo Galilei was such a scientist. He came upon an older idea of a Polish astronomer, Copernicus, who guessed that our planet revolves around the sun (Heliocentrism). Galileo did some experiments using the telescope that a Dutch lens maker had originally invented and proved that we indeed travel around the sun and not the other way around. He published his findings and presented them to his friend Pope Urban VIII. That was heresy, and Galileo had to stand trial for his life. He had to renounce his discovery and was allowed to live in house arrest for the duration of his life. The truth does get suppressed more than we think, although burning at the stake has become outmoded thankfully.
Many times the scientist gets fooled, or gets lured by flattery, money, or confirmation bias (accepting only results or observation that support your theory and rejecting those that do not) into accepting a false premise that sneaks into the hallowed body of science. Science is still the best we have, but it is not infallible. My point is that nothing is unchallengeable. Nothing is settled. I have been a scientist for most of my life. Almost nothing I learned in school is useful anymore. It is full of outdated, often mistaken ideas that, if applied, would kill people. You have to follow the correct science. If that science is new and in evolution, it is almost never settled by any means. The study of a new virus (the novel Corona virus) is “new science.”
We all harbor bacteria (the microbiome) within us, somewhere between two to six pounds. It makes essential chemicals without which we would die. But there are microorganisms that kill us. Millions of humans have succumbed to them with numerous plagues. The first historically recorded one was the Antonine Plague during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antonius in Rome, and was likely smallpox. It took 60 to 70 million lives, including Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Infection is facilitated by how virulent the organism is, how many organisms are transmitted, the site and method of entry, and host resistance. How many organisms are transmitted is a function of how many are broadcast, how many reach the host, which is related to how long the exposure is. The issue of masks has anecdotal evidence for efficacy, but the gold standard double-blind controlled study that science touts as the only way to be sure has not been done on masks and likely will never get done. The risks of wearing a mask are nil except for the inconvenience. Perhaps we don’t need to be absolutely certain; good enough is good enough if it might help. The social distancing of 6 feet is also an arbitrary number, which likely is not enough. The science is still incomplete. Shutting down is probably the most contentious and also has the least science. The U.S. followed our CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s theory, with its consequence of unemployment numbers approaching the Great Depression and GDP loss of nearly 33%. Sweden did not lockdown but did voluntary mask-wearing and social distancing. Restaurants, beauty salons, fitness centers, etc. stayed open. They had an 8.6% loss of GDP and only minor changes in unemployment. Sweden has 5,933 deaths to date. Their case fatality is 5% compared to ours of 3%. What is missing in our percentage is all the people with strokes and heart attacks that did not go to the hospital because they were afraid, and all the victims of alcohol, domestic abuse, and suicide because of no job and no income. Anthony Fauci and Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s epidemiologist, had the same data and the same science, yet they came out with opposite conclusions. In retrospect, considering everything, the guess of Tegnell won out with practically the same mortality but not tanking the economy. Following science may or may not be the right thing to do depending on which scientist you believe and what your goals are. It points out you should be skeptical about everything.
The second science topic in this election is global warming. Al Gore tells us the science is settled. Scientists that don’t follow those precepts are called “deniers,” just like those that deny the Holocaust. It is meant to ridicule! Climate science is very complex, and the consequences of believing or not believing in what causes climate change are enormous, economically and lifestyle-wise. The earth’s temperature will likely continue to rise, and in 12 years, the devastation will be irreversible, so they say. The global ice caps will melt, and the oceans will rise, flooding the coastal cities and many of the islands around the world. It is all based on the rising levels of CO2, which supposedly is the main cause of global warming.
Henry Ford revolutionized the world with the Model T. The first one rolled off the production line on October 1, 1908. With that, CO2 started to rise. It had been 280 ppm but rose to 300 ppm by 1950 and was up to 415 ppm in September 2020. CO2 is a so-called greenhouse gas that prevents the loss of heat from the earth and is said to cause the average global temperature to rise. The average temperature has gone up at a rate of 0.18˚C a decade. At this point, it is 1˚C higher than its average. 1.5˚C rise is said to be the point of no return. This is all blamed on CO2 levels. Yet CO2 has been below 200 ppm in the past, and the polar ice caps were non-existent, with polar bears running through the lush green forest above the Arctic Circle, and CO2 has also been 4000 ppm, ten times higher than now, with the earth frozen from pole to pole like a snowball. I do question that CO2 is the only important factor controlling global warming. There are so many other factors that could contribute. Would it not be an irony if we all traded our SUVs for Nissan electric cars, and the temperature kept on rising? Climate has always changed, and that is the only thing that is certain is it will continue to change! Just because a rise in CO2 is seen related to a rise in global temperature is no assurance that lowering CO2 will lower temperature. Just because B follows A does not mean that B was caused by A, and if A decreases, it will reciprocally lower B. Something Aristotle call the Post Hoc Fallacy, a classic error in logic. No one has done the experiment of lowering CO2 and seeing a corresponding drop in global temperature.
If anything, good indirect science questions the CO2 greenhouse theory. (see the graph left of global temperature plotted against CO2 and sunspot cycle length. Sunspot cycle length matches global temperature much better than CO2 levels). An interesting aside is that in the year 1812, there were no sunspots. It was one of the colder years of the century. It was the year Napoleon invaded Russia. The majority of his army froze to death, and Tchaikovsky had the opportunity to write his 1812 Overture to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. There are now many scientists that believe we have a lot more time to worry about it. And we need a lot more basic research before we commit to the Green New Deal, a drastic change that will affect our daily lives.
I am not opposed to decreasing our use of fossil fuels regardless of what it does to global temperature. Without oil and coal burning, the air would be cleaner, and both these fossil products could be used in a much wiser manner than just burning them. It is, after all, a non-renewable commodity. But to do this all within 14-30 years will be devastating to our economy, especially the developing countries. Taking away oil will be harmful to our economy, but it will be lethal to the developing countries. The more “progressive” of our politicians are hell-bent on making us fossil fuel-free by 2035, but they have nothing to replace it with except renewable energy, like solar and wind. These sources provide us with less than 10% of our energy needs. As I have emphasized in several of my other writings on this topic, Germany has tried to convert to renewable for 12 years now at tremendous expense ( 1.2 trillion € for conversion and 32 billion € a year maintenance) and have only been able to reach 54% of their energy requirements with renewables). This leaves Germany with electric costs to their population three times greater than ours.
Nuclear sources work very well in France. They provide 75% of its energy. They have had 12 minor accidents in that industry with no deaths and no long term shutdowns over the 58 years they have been in business. Worldwide, there have been the well-known accidents of Chernobyl and Fukushima, with only 29 deaths the entire time peaceful nuclear has been used. The cancer threat has been manageable around Chernobyl, 0.7% mostly in the cleanup crew who had the highest exposure, and surprisingly primarily thyroid cancer, which has very low mortality. The most damaging blow to the use of nuclear energy was the 1979 movie, The China Syndrome, with Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Jack Lemmon. A fictional scenario where a nuclear plant accident melts through the earth all the way to China. Twelve days after it premiered, as if planned as a movie promotion, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania had a meltdown. There were no deaths from the Three Mile Island incidence, and the nuclear plant only got 15 millimeters closer to China. The movie, however, grossed $52 million and created more panic about nuclear energy than ever. Compare that to the death toll from coal and oil at 300,000 a year! But the radical environmentalists refuse to consider nuclear and have convinced the population to reject it also. Political corruption had and continues to influence the closure of nuclear powerplants. Powerful politicians that held public office mandated the scrapping of nuclear powerplants and pushed renewables while having major ownership of fossil fuels. Why would they do that? They knew renewable could not make up the difference, and they just happened to have lots of oil for sale.
Following the wrong science through thoughtless application, inadequate investigation, corruption, and scientific errors has caused some spectacular disasters. The release of methyl isocyanate into the atmosphere in Bhopal, India, killed 8000 people. Inadequately tested Thalidamide caused 10,000 births of deformed children. A tuberculosis vaccine that mistakenly had live tubercle bacillus gave active TB to hundreds of people. I live in Santa Paula, California. On March 13, 1928, one of the biggest structural disasters in history happened here because a geologist mistakenly built a dam in a cañon with unsuitable geology to support it, and it collapsed, a scientific geological mistake. Six hundred people were swept out to sea. Still, now an occasional body is found. One thousand two hundred houses disappeared, untold animals drowned, 24,000 acres of farmland were destroyed, not a sterling moment for the science of geology!
Perhaps progressives are too far ahead of themselves. Following the science is a good thing if it is the right science. Following the wrong science is devastating! Shutting down the country again would be the wrong choice. Eliminating fossil fuel without an equivalent replacement would be wrong as well. We need to resist voting in the people who are willing to accept untested science, and science still in evolution, to make life-altering decisions for us. When you endorse people that have a marginal grasp of the science, what can we say about your intellect? It is better not to be so open-minded that your brain falls out! It is always a good policy not to be the first or last to adopt new ideas.