Double Ignorance

Gosh, will write something more science-y soon, but the political stuff just keeps coming. Eyebrows rose last week as a member of Trump’s transition team, Anthony Scaramucci, said in contending that scientific consensus about climate change doesn’t mean that it is the correct conclusion: “There was an overwhelming science that the Earth was flat, and there was an overwhelming science that we were the center of the world. We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community.” We, kimo sabe?

Could the Trump camp please find somebody literate enough with science that the denials of climate change could be accompanied by slightly more relevant comparisons? Maybe you could make the case with continental drift vs. geosynclinal theory a century ago, though even that didn’t get such a strong consensus. But no, comparing climate science to a flat earth is what we get.

Why doubly ignorant? The first is the contention there was “overwhelming science” for a flat Earth or geocentrism. This would imply that somebody sat down and hypothesized that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe and then set about collecting evidence–and that that evidence was overwhelming. Er, no. Certainly not the case for a flat Earth and not a very accurate description of geocentrism (which required multiple modifications to survive later observations). The problem with geocentrism really had to do with the unquestioned basic assumption–nobody was considering the hypothesis that the earth was not at the center of the universe; this is not an issue with climate change, where the null hypotheses (climate isn’t changing, human carbon emissions have no effect on climate) have been debated and tested and found to violate observation.

The second is perhaps unfair, but by bringing in the flat Earth, Scaramucci implies that people thought the Earth was flat for a long time, which is a fun story for making Columbus a visionary, but is utterly without factual basis [in fact, Columbus differed from others in his estimate of the size of the Earth, and he was wrong but lucky in that there was another continent in the way]. Simple observations like seeing ships’ masts over the horizon before the ship became visible or the shape of the Earth’s shadow on the Moon in a lunar eclipse showed people long, long ago that the earth wasn’t flat. A flat Earth was never supported by science of any sort; it was a simplification people used.  In fact, the Greeks knew the Earth was spherical and even measured its size pretty accurately.

The beauty of science is its reliance on observation to correct itself.  Would only that politics worked the same way…



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