|As a social scientist and historian whose original work was in math and physics, I’m concerned about movement away from scientific methods among physical scientists. My study of human behavior provides the knowledge necessary to recognize what characteristics are necessary to separate “science” from other forms of generating, presenting or evaluating information. Physical scientists cannot hope to find ways to improve the quality of human life, if they don’t understand how science must function to achieve this goal.
Some of today’s scientists want to use science as a substitute for religion. Others are allowing their opinions to be influenced by the ignorance of political correctness or a desire for profit.
Those who seek funding from politically correct sources may begin with views similar to the politically correct. Others who choose to obtain funds from those opposed to the politically correct may begin with views that conflict with those of the politically correct. Members of both groups can then find themselves pushed into the rigid views of their funding sources instead of attempting to establish a scientific dialogue with those holding different views.
Human psychology takes over in such situations and scientists become interested in winning the argument instead of learning the truth. This psychological process affects discussions of “religious” significance as well as political correctness.
The principle characteristic that differentiates science from other intellectual activities, is the use of repeated experimentation and observation to verify and refine concepts called “theories”. These theories are approximations of how physical processes function. Even Einstein’s Theory of Relativity does not completely explain physical reality.
(Incidentally, mathematicians develop procedures or tools for organizing and evaluating information. The popular view of mathematicians is that they deal with numbers and to a lesser extent with shapes, but the information mathematicians deal with doesn’t have to involve only numbers or shapes.)
Scientists ask questions. They even ask questions about established theories including aspects of the Theory of Relativity and try to find ways these theories might be wrong. Stephan Hawking demonstrated what a real scientist does when he suggested he had been wrong when he suggested that information cannot escape from a black hole. Physicists have a model of the atom they are satisfied with, but that hasn’t stopped them from checking to see if they might have missed something. They are currently colliding heavy nuclei to test the model.
In contrast, concepts in religion are “truths” which are to be accepted without question or alteration. Religious leaders answer questions and often discourage people from asking questions.
Some scientists want science to become a substitute for religion. They believe that science can provide an explanation for events in the distant past that is so accurate it cannot be questioned. Such a claim is illogical because insufficient information is available.
Science can only deal with the present. It cannot observe or manipulate the distant past to verify theories. The subject of the origin of the universe and life on earth is interesting and scientific studies of the present might provide useful information, but science cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of how the universe or biological life came to exist. Science can only say what might have happened.
The two popular explanations for the origin of life have logical flaws. Creationists claim that God created all species full sized. Why would God, or some other intelligence, create life forms that could begin as a single cell before developing into complex animals and then make animals fully developed? Wouldn’t God simply create the appropriate environment for individual cells to develop into complex animals?
Strict Darwinists claim that biological life developed through gradual genetic changes from a single life form. Humans use the procedure of gradual change to develop everything from technology to literary works. God or some other intelligence could have begun with a single cell and used gradual changes to produce divergent species.
However, a natural process capable of producing life without the intervention of some intelligence would likely have produced a wide variety of different cells. Developing viable life forms with random genetic changes has a probability of zero because of the nano tolerances of the proteins produced by genes. Some proteins must have an exact shape to function properly by fitting other proteins. A change in a single base pair could prevent construction of a protein with the proper shape. Changes in multiple genes at the same time might be necessary to keep multiple proteins compatible.
A natural process could have produced viable life forms by allowing random accumulations of DNA in a nucleus within a appropriate chemical environment allowing widespread development of life forms. The probability of biological life developing would be very low if the appropriate chemicals had to all be in a very small area at the same time. Cells accumulating a functional set of genes would eventually have begun developing as multicellular organisms.
The idea that the universe originated with the explosion of an “invisible” object “with a fiery light inside”(i.e., a black hole) dates from a work attributed to the biblical patriarch Enoch. The accepted version of this event is that an unknown force caused a perfect linear explosion(or “expansion”) with all matter moving away from a central point at the same extremely high speed. Then some time latter these particles which had all been moving apart somehow stopped moving apart and got back together to form stars and planets.
A chaotic universe is more likely to have been produced by a spinning black hole ejecting jets of material at uneven concentrations. Material within the black hole might have become unevenly distributed or perhaps the rate of spin was sufficient to throw material away from the black hole. Such explanation could rely on known forces and processes rather than having to invent special forces to blow up the black hole and cause material to get back together after moving away at a very high velocity. However, scientists don’t know enough about the universe or black holes to make a definitive statement.
In science when the data don’t support the theory, the theory and the data need to be reevaluated. The theory might be faulty. The data might not be appropriate or errors might have been made in collecting or manipulating the data.
Some cosmologists are convinced they have a valid theory about the origin and possible eventual demise of the universe. They believe a certain mass is required for the theory and that they can determine how much mass the universe has from earth. They have been unable to detect the necessary mass. However, instead of changing the theory they have invented something called “dark matter” that would magically make the theory work.
Cosmologists underestimate the difficulty of determining what is happening in the universe and how much mass it contains by relying on what can be seen from earth’s location in the boondocks of the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers are still finding bodies that orbit the sun and have recently discovered another black hole near the center of the galaxy. They are unlikely to come close to being able to see all the stars in distant galaxies.
Political correctness threatens science. Physical scientists tend to be highly specialized with little knowledge outside their specialities. Many make the mistake of assuming that presentations of science issues in the media are accurate. The fact is that the media tends to look for simple explanations that can be hyped. The media look for miracle cures and impending disasters which can produce flashy headlines and sound bites..
The media have been claiming that “embryonic cells provide the most promising source of cures” for all kinds of dread disorders without providing any evidence that embryonic cells can be used to treat any human disorders. The claim itself should raise a red flag. It’s the same approach once used by patent medicine sellers who promised their products would cure everything from snakebite to lumbago.
Biological materials cannot make promises. Only humans make promises.
Most biologists are convinced that their approach to whatever disorder they are dealing with will be the one to succeed. They quite often are wrong. Biologists are much better at making promises then they are at keeping them. Although biologists know more than they did 20 years ago, there is still much left to learn.
The claim that embryonic research is necessary for treatment of disorders like Parkinson’s and spinal cord injuries is questionable because doctors are already treating these disorders with a patient’s own adult stem cells. A revolution is going on in the field of adult stem cells. Based on scientific evidence, adult stem cells are clearly more deserving of the accolade of being “most promising” than are embryonic cells.
Adherence to political correctness is hampering efforts to understand the complex interactions that affect climate. Political correctness says that atmospheric temperature is primarily controlled by the amount of carbon dioxide(CO2) in it. Climatologists feel a need to give lip service to this belief even when presenting evidence that other factors like urban heat islands are important.
The “greenhouse gas” hypothesis makes climate appear simple, linear and easy to understand. Scientific evidence suggests that climate is very complex and chaotic. Any human impact operates within cycles that include variations in solar energy output, changes in the shape of earth’s orbit of the sun and possibly the earth’s orbit of the galaxy.
The idea that the atmosphere was heated by absorption of specific wavelengths of light (specifically infrared radiation(IR) or “dark heat”) by atmospheric gases was commonly accepted by scientists in the 19th Century who also believed that atoms were the smallest particles of matter and couldn’t be further subdivided. Svante Arrhenius expanded on the idea of greenhouse gases in 1896 and suggested that changing levels of carbon dioxide(CO2) would affect atmospheric temperature.
A year later J.J. Thomson reported his discovery that atoms were actually composed of smaller charged particles. In 1913, Niels Bohr reported that the absorption of specific wavelengths of light affected the internal energy state of an atom/molecule rather than causing it to become hotter.
Unfortunately modern climatologists don’t understand that the theoretical basis for “greenhouse gases” no longer exists.
The whole idea of CO2 heating the atmosphere by absorbing a narrow band of IR and transferring the heat to the rest of the atmosphere sounds impossible. CO2 only comprises about 0.035% of the atmosphere and has the same specific heat as the rest of the atmosphere(except for water). Each gram of CO2 would need to absorb enough heat to heat approximately 2,860 grams of air. Even if CO2 could gain heat through the process of absorbing and emitting IR it couldn’t significantly raise atmospheric temperature.
The only atmospheric gas capable of transferring sufficient heat to heat 2,860 grams per gram is water vapor, but the process doesn’t involve IR. Water at its boiling point absorbs 540 calories/gram when it becomes a gas, with slightly higher heat absorption at surface water temperature. When water condenses to a liquid state it releases this heat. Another 80 calories/gram is released when water freezes. Water also has a much higher specific heat than dry air. The surface air temperature typically will not drop below the temperature at which air is fully saturated with water vapor, the dew point.
Most IR radiated from the solid and liquid surface of the earth passes through the atmosphere where it’s detected by NASA satellite. Water is a very poor radiator. Most of the light radiated from the solid surface, including visible light, comes from human activities.
The solid surface of the earth heats the air primarily through conduction. As the ground warms it conducts heat to cooler air in thermal contact with the ground. The warmed air rises drawing in cooler air which is also warmed.
Surface water transfers some heat to the atmosphere through conduction. Water also transfers heat to the atmosphere through evaporation, although this process doesn’t necessarily increase atmospheric temperature. I’m not sure if climatologists understand that the amount of heat energy present in a substance varies with differences in specific heat as well as variations in temperature. Increases in atmospheric water vapor increases the amount of heat energy in the atmosphere even if the temperature remains constant.
The water vapor may then carry its heat energy several miles up into the atmosphere. Soil, plants and animals release some excess heat through evaporation of water. Combustion of hydrogen containing fuels adds water vapor and its heat energy to the atmosphere.
The politically correct believe that all that is needed to eliminate human impact on climate is to reduce CO2 emissions. This procedure will fail if the human impact on climate comes from the terra calories of heat generated by human activities or human alteration of the thermal characteristics of the land. For example, plants convert solar energy into chemical bonds of organic molecules. Asphalt pavement converts solar energy into heat which is then conducted to the air.
Heat generated by human activity along with alteration of the thermal characteristics of the landscape could be particularly important in areas with long winters. Prior to significant human settlement vast areas could be covered by snow and ice. This ground cover would reflect sunlight back into space rather than becoming warmer.
Human generated heat can melt snow. Human structures convert sunlight into heat that raises air temperature. Asphalt pavement may plan a major role. Cleared asphalt converts sunlight into heat that can be transferred laterally into areas along the pavement causing melting there also. The reduced snow cover can reduce the length of cold weather periods and thus allow warmer temperatures.
Hydrogen containing fuels could also play a role in melting. The increase in atmospheric water content from combustion of hydrogen could reduce the number of days in which the low temperature is below freezing.
The attention paid to embryonic research and “greenhouse gases” can have more than academic consequences. Money spent on embryonic research is money that isn’t available for other research. If embryonic researchers are wrong, millions will continue to suffer who might have been helped. If humans are impacting climate in a way that could produce adverse conditions, spending time dealing with the wrong factors would prevent necessary corrections.
Great scientific discoveries have often been made by those like Galileo and Einstein who were willing to think outside the box. Scientists who believe they must reside in a box defined by religious beliefs or political correctness are unlikely to make major discoveries. Dr. Joseph Vacanti discovered adult stem cells because he persisted in thinking outside the box instead of listening to those who claimed no such cells existed.