Aug 26, 2009

Did IQs Drop Sharply?

There's a scene in Aliens, James Cameron's masterpiece, in which the protagonist loses her temper and asks a roomful of people: "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

There are days when I feel similarly exasperated. It's as though a broad swath of otherwise sensible people have taken leave of their senses. According to this week's New Yorker: "humanity is in the process of bringing about an ecological catastrophe of unparalleled scope and significance." Meanwhile, Time magazine declares that: "the science is clear...we're boiling the planet."

Pardon me? When leading publications in countries blessed with free speech can't be counted on to approach important issues with reasonable doubt, they risk losing the trust of their readers.

We're talking here about that highly unreliable pastime known as "predicting the future." The gypsy with her beads and crooked fingers can't foresee the future - and neither can a roomful of computer-assisted climate scientists. Rather than living the obscure life associated with most research, these guys have convinced themselves they're superheroes saving the planet. Evidently they've gone a long way to convincing the rest of us of that, too.

But we all know there aren't any crystal balls. It doesn't matter how impressive their computer is - no one can predict the future. Science can't reliably tell us what the weather will be like next week. Yet these guys claim to know, within a few degrees, how hot it's going to be 100 years from now?

A lot of things can happen between now and then. Fifteen years ago Google didn't exist. Ten years ago no one had ever heard of an iPod. Lots of unexpected things occur in our fast-paced universe. And human ingenuity has always been about pulling rabbits out of hats.

In the early 1970s, temperatures were cooler than normal and scientists warned of an impending ice age. The minor warming trend that followed during the 80s and 90s appears to have halted several years ago. For anyone - never mind Nobel-prize-winning US Energy Secretary Steven Chu - to have anything to do with a magazine article that claims we're currently boiling the planet is a disgrace.

As a counterpoint to Chu, let me introduce you to Burt Rutan. This gentleman's place in the history books is secure. He's been inducted into six Halls of Fame, set world records, and been honored at home and abroad. He's an aerospace engineer who has accomplished things no one else on Earth has [more here]. In his world, he has to be very certain of his data - because when his math is wrong, things explode and people die.

Rutan knows how to analyze data. He's spent decades honing his skills, learning all the ways to differentiate reliable numbers from dodgy ones. Now he's turned his attention to the theory of global warming. He's looked at the graphs and charts, he's assessed the claims of the small army of scientists whose jobs and reputations have become entwined with ringing the alarm bell about global warming.

And he has rejected their analysis. He thinks their data is cow dung and alleges deception, presentation fraud, and manipulation of the numbers. He's invited NASA's activist scientist, James Hansen, to sue him so that the truth of these matters might be explored in a court of law - a context in which concepts like a fair trial and equal time still have meaning.

Rutan has delivered 40-minutes worth of this sort of commentary twice, publicly, in front of audiences at the end of July. And here it is, the end of August, yet publications like Time magazine and the New Yorker seem to think it isn't worth mentioning.

There aren't any guarantees that Rutan is right. Since no one is infallible, it's possible he's wrong. But since he's one of our brightest lights, shouldn't we at least listen to what he has to say? If he's telling us that global warming is a bunch of hooey and that our only real extinction threat involves asteroids shouldn't we consider this possibility?

Since the mainstream media have decided, en masse, that his views aren't newsorthy, here's a link to his 33-slide PowerPoint presentation. It's also available as a PDF, with each slide followed by a page of speaking notes. (For a quick hit, see my earlier blog post here.)

A video was reportedly made of his talk. As soon as it becomes available, I'll post it here.