Krauthammer has written a classic anti-science screed, “Carbon Chastity: The First Commandment of the Church of the Environment,” that recasts many favorite anti-scientific denier memes in odd terms. You still hear and see all of these today, so let me touch on a few of them. And as I discuss in Part 2, the article is most useful because it is a very clear statement of the real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science– they hate the solution.
As a physicist, my favorite denier talking point is his strange version of the old claim that “scientists are flip floppers, constantly changing their theories.” He writes:
If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown, it requires religious fervor to believe that global warming — infinitely more untested, complex and speculative — is a closed issue.
Now that is a strange claim. Newton’s Laws of Motion are still taught in every high school, in every introductory physics class in college, and even in graduate physics classes. Indeed, they are widely used everywhere to explain and estimate wide varieties of motion. Heck, even NASA still uses them: “The motion of an aircraft through the air can be explained and described by physical principals discovered over 300 years ago by Sir Isaac Newton.”
But Professor Krauthammer says they were overthrown and that 200 years of experiments and observations were wrong. What gives? Why aren’t all our planes falling out of the sky?
Newton’s laws are “excellent approximations at the scales and speeds of everyday life” that, along with his law of gravitation and calculus techniques, “provided for the first time a unified quantitative explanation for a wide range of physical phenomena.”
They fail in very special cases — speeds close to the speed of light (where you need Einstein’s special theory of relativity), near large gravitational fields (where you need to Einstein’s general theory of relativity) or at a very, very small scales (where you need quantum mechanics). Interestingly, many of the laws of those three theories are written in the same form as Newton’s and they revert to Newton’s equations for everyday life (see an example at the end of this post).
So Krauthammer’s statement is absurdly misleading, since he is implying that “200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation” were “overthrown” — when they weren’t. So his implication that all the unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation of climate science will be overthrown is equally absurd. Indeed, anybody seeking to replace climate science will have to come up with a more comprehensive theory that still explains everything we know from existing climate science and observations.
This may seem like a small point, but in fact it is a large point, one that former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, John Holdren, has repeatedly made. Let me discuss this in the context of another anti-scientific talking point of Krauthammer’s: