Robert Bryce Makes Mockery of Science, Is Mocked in Return. Join the Fun via #WSJscience

Please post below your tweets of the form “ If serious scientists can question Einstein’s relativity, there must be room for debate about [whether the Earth goes around the sun]. #WSJscience” I’ll tweet out the best. Click on cartoon to enlarge.

Writing in Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, Koch-fueled disinformer Robert Bryce has published two of the most laughable arguments against climate science ever seen in “Five Truths About Climate Change.” One of them has quickly become the focus of online laughs and a tweet-fest with the hashtag #WSJscience:

The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might — repeat, might — travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Yes, a report on one as-yet unreproduced finding in a completely different area of science that might — repeat, might — mean one well-known theory needs modification means we should call into question everything we know about everything. Stop taking all your medicine now, just to be safe!


Apparently Bryce hasn’t been reading his Conservapedia or he’d know that the theory of relativity is actually a discredited liberal plot:

The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. See, e.g., historian Paul Johnson’s book about the 20th century, and the article written by liberal law professor Laurence Tribe as allegedly assisted by Barack Obama. Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold. Here is a list of 37 counterexamples: any one of them shows that the theory is incorrect.

Back to reality. As I’ve said many times, the science of climate impacts isn’t “settled” — it’s unsettling. It just gets more and more dire with each passing year for two reasons. First, we keep tracking near the worst-case emissions scenarios with no prospect of significant change for the foreseeable future (thank you deniers and your political flunkies). Second, as reported at the 2010 AAAS meeting, new scientific findings since the 2007 IPCC report are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected.”

Bryce easily wins the award for most unintentionally humorous anti-scientific statement since, well, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2008: “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.”

Amazingly, even though they were supposedly “overthrown” — in part by Einstein’s theory of relativity — 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. Heck, even NASA still uses them! And if Einstein’s theory of relativity is questioned, modified or even superseded, it will also almost certainly be taught and used for centuries.


Before I discuss how that can be — and debunk once again the uber-debunked Robert Bryce — let’s look at some of the funniest tweets:

@mmoyr: Scientists question hypersonic flow dynamics, so there’s no way I’m getting into the flying sky monster you call an “airplane” #WSJscience@jashapiro: #WSJscience If serious scientists can question relativity, there must be room to debate [whether we are living in the Matrix].

@BadAstronomer If serious scientists can question relativity, then a fatally flawed WSJ OpEd implies the written word doesn’t exist. #WSJscience

And I would add

If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about [vaccinating my daughter for childhood diseases].

Certainly, my daughter is constantly debating with me her need to get shots. But hey, she’s 4 1/2, so her view is equally legitimate. Debate the Controversy!

If scientists can question Einstein, there must be room for debate about [whether Bryce is a cyborg from the future sent back to destroy human civilization]

Of course, Bryce probably hasn’t been sent from the future to destroy human civilization. He does work for the Manhattan Institute, which “has received millions of dollars from donors tied to the fossil fuel industry” and the Kochs to spread pro-fossil-fuel messages. Same difference, I know. Media Matters has a post, “Who Is Robert Bryce?” that has yet more detail. Climate Progress has repeatedly debunked his disingenuous disinformation:

It’s worth pointing out another equally inane, if little-noticed, line in the WSJ piece:

Regardless of whether it’s getting hotter or colder — or both — we are going to need to…..

Huh? Apparently Bryce has discovered a whole new physics where it can get both hotter and colder. We can be happy that Bryce didn’t go into medicine: “You are either overweight or underweight — or both. Keep doing what you’re doing. Next patient.”


For the record, the 2007 Fourth IPCC Assessment concluded its review of the scientific literature and relevant observations:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

The key word is “unequivocal,” which is to say, “leaving no doubt.” Remember, every word in this sentence was signed off on by every single member government, including the Bush Administration and Saudi Arabia.

The scientific evidence has become even stronger in recent years — see, for instance, Met Office finds “evidence for man-made warming has grown even stronger in the last year.” And so the traditionally conservative and staid U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the equivalent of our scientific Supreme Court, concluded its recent review of climate science:

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems”.

Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Again, that doesn’t mean that every facet of the climate issue is set in stone — sadly, the projections of future impacts just get more are more dire each year, as noted (see my recent Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts).

As a physicist, my favorite denier talking point is the implication that “scientists are flip floppers, constantly changing their theories.” That was what Bryce was suggesting by “If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity.” It’s what Krauthammer meant by “If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown.” We scientists just can’t make up our minds, and thus we can’t be trust. That’s why they keep pushing the myth that all the climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling.

Back to Newton’s supposedly overthrown laws. As NASA writes: “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 200 years of experiments and observations were “overthrown.” 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 Einstein’s general theory of relativity) or at 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 below).


If Einstein’s special theory of relativity did not revert to Newton’s laws for everyday situations, and thus validate 200 years of observations and experiments, nobody would have paid even one minute of attention to it.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion is the “Rate of change of momentum is proportional to the resultant force producing it and takes place in the direction of that force.” Momentum is mass (m) times velocity (v). The rate of change in momentum in Newton’s classical mechanics is mass times the change in velocity per unit time (dv/dt), which is also known as acceleration (a). It is written in a vector notation, since the net Force (F) is applied in a certain direction, and velocity is in a certain direction. And so the well-known equation — F=ma — is written as a vector differential equation (see discussion here):

What Newton of course didn’t know was that an object’s mass also changes with speed, at least at very, very, very high speeds. So in Einstein’s special theory of relativity, this formula becomes

where the speed of light c0 is a mere 186,000 miles per second, and yes, it is, famously, squared. So let’s say Charles Krauthammer is in a car traveling 60 miles per hour (88 feet per second). The correction to Newton’s equation is of the order of the velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared or one part in 100 trillion.

But let’s say Charles Krauthammer is moving really, really fast — fast enough to achieve escape velocity and be launched into space [a guy can dream, can’t he?] or about 7 miles a second. The correction to Newton’s equation is of the order of a little more than one part in a billion. And that is about the same fraction of knowledge of climate science that Krauthammer seems to possess.

Now special relativity is also a theory well verified by experiment. This new experimental result might — if it is upheld, which many doubt — some day require an umbrella theory for which special relativity works in all of these situations under which it is been tested. But we are a long way from that.

You’ll be shocked to learn Krauthammer actually wrote an uninformed piece on the research, “Gone in 60 nanoseconds,” which asserts, “this pesky Swiss-Italian neutrino”

… means that Einstein’s relativity — a theory of uncommon beauty upon which all of physics has been built for 100 years — is wrong. Not just inaccurate. Not just flawed. But deeply, fundamentally, indescribably wrong….

But there must be some error. Because otherwise everything changes. We shall need a new physics. A new cosmology. New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect. Then shortly and surely, new theologies.

Or not. Thankfully, he didn’t make the inane connection to climate science as Bryce did.

Live Science has some good quotes from real scientists on Bryce:

“His point is irrelevant,” CERN physicist Jonas Strandberg said of Bryce’s argument. “The ‘correctness’ of the laws of relativity is completely independent from the correctness of the climate research, and there is no correlation between the two.”


“This is a very scary statement, for it reveals both an ignorance of how science works, and an antipathy toward the scientific endeavor,” said climate researcher Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “Citing one experiment about a weakly interacting sub-atomic particle in an effort to discredit all of climate science is tantamount to citing the apparent discovery of an unexpected new animal species as reason to reject the theory of gravity. It is a desperate effort by those who find the implications of human-caused climate change inconvenient, to distract the public from the overwhelming evidence that it is both real, and a threat.”

“Most experts believe that the finding won’t hold up (there is some evidence it was probably an artifact of clock synchronization errors), and the smart money is definitely with Einstein on this one,” Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience. “But even if it *was* correct, special relativity wouldn’t be ‘overthrown,’ just as classical Newtonian physics wasn’t overthrown by the 20th-century innovations of quantum mechanics and relativity. Newtonian physics was still valid within the range of assumptions over which it had been tested (speeds small compared to that of light, and spatial scales large compared to atoms). As for any implications for climate change, there are none that I can see at all.”


Finally, 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. Indeed, as presidential science advisor John Holdren often says, anyone seeking to replace climate science will not only have to explain what mysterious force is causing the warming we’ve seen — and all the fingerprints that indicate human emissions are the cause — they actually have to identify another as-yet-unknown force that would have to be negating the well-understood warming from greenhouse gas emissions.

But that’s not going to happen because the disinformers aren’t interested in the scientific method, they are only interested in the anti-scientific method, making stuff up and publishing it in Murdoch news outlets.