Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some mad revel

Usually I’d ignore a treatise such as the following by Eberhard Dennert, but in this case I’ll make an exception. It’s beautifully written and contains some important lessons, which I’ll discuss after the piece. I do urge you read it in its entirety. It’s quite something, particularly the analogy in the second last paragraph.
Today, at the dawn of the new century, nothing is more certain than that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) has lost its prestige among men and women of science. It has seen its day and will soon be reckoned a thing of the past. A few decades hence when people will look back upon the history of the doctrine of AGW, they will confess that the years between 1980 and 2007 were in many respects a time of carnival; and the enthusiasm which at that time took possession of the devotees of climate science will appear to them as the excitement attending some mad revel.

From the account which Bob Carter, Pat Michaels, Richard Lindzen and others give of the present status of AGW we may safely conclude that AGW had entered upon a period of decay; it is in the third stage of a development through which many a scientific doctrine has already passed.

The four stages of this development are the following:

1. The incipient stage: A new doctrine arises, the older representatives of the science oppose it partly because of keener insight and greater experience, partly also from indolence, not wishing to allow themselves to be drawn out of their accustomed equilibrium; among the younger generation there arises a growing sentiment in favor of the new doctrine.

2. The stage of growth: the new doctrine continually gains greater favor among the young generation, finding vent in bursts of enthusiasm; some of the cautious seniors have passed away, others are carried along by the stream of youthful enthusiasm in spite of better knowledge, and the voices of the thoughtful are no longer heard in the general uproar, exultingly proclaiming that to live is bliss.

3. The period of decay: the joyous enthusiasm has vanished; depression succeeds intoxication. Now that the young men have themselves grown older and become more sober, many things appear in a different light. The doubts already expressed by the old and prudent during the stage of growth are now better appreciated and gradually increase in weight. Many become indifferent, the present younger generation becomes perplexed and discards the theory entirely.

4. The final stage: the last adherents of the "new doctrine" are dead or at least old and have ceased to be influential; they sit upon the ruins of a grandeur that even now belongs to the "good old time." The influential and directing spirits have abandoned this doctrine, once so important and seemingly invincible, for the consideration of living issues and the younger generation regards it as an interesting episode in the history of science.

With reference to AGW we are in the third stage which is characterized especially by the indifference of the present middle-aged generation and by growing opposition on the part of the younger coming generation. This very characteristic feature is brought into prominence by the discussion of the contrarians. If all signs, however, are not deceptive, this third stage, that of decay, is drawing to an end; soon we shall enter the final stage and with that the tragic-comedy of AGW will be brought to a close.

I am not by choice a prophet, least of all regarding the weather. But I think it may not be doubted that the fine weather, at least, has passed for AGW. So having carefully scanned the firmament of science for signs of the weather, I shall for once make a forecast for AGW, namely: Increasing cloudiness with heavy precipitations, indications of a violent storm, which threatens to cause the props of the structure to totter, and to sweep it from the scene.

In the place of AGW principles, new ideas are gradually winning general acceptance, which, while they are in harmony with the principles of moder physics, were enunciated before the time of the AGW, nevertheless attribute a far-reaching importance to our own star, the sun. These new conceptions necessarily involve the admission that climate change has not been a purely human-initiated process.
Now, you’ll probably notice something about the style of writing. Not what you’d commonly find today. The reason being is that it was published in 1904, and the topic wasn’t AGW, it was Darwinism (obviously I’ve switched AGW and Darwinism, changed dates, put in some modern contrarians and swapped Lamarckism for solar-induced recent climate change).

What I find fascinating is how little has changed over the past 100 odd years. The same condescending tone is adopted by denialists. The same argument that those convinced by good science are in fact caught up in some kind ‘mad revel’ as Dennert terms it, a mere fad, if you will. The fervent wish that against all evidence the theory is crumbling and that the world will soon return to its senses due to the 'thoughtful', who were never swayed by the siren song of consensus.

I would note, however, that your modern wing-nut doesn’t possess quite the dexterity with the written word as Dennert. But, then again, a fat lot of good it did him.

(H/T PZ Myers, whose post contains the original piece)