Just watched Horizon on BBC (Science under Attack), which was presented by Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse, who obviously must have done some remarkable work, otherwise he would probably not have received the Nobel Prize.
His argument for the whole thing is that Science is under attack, and that something must be changed so that the public (that is everyone who is not a Scientist) will gain trust in what the Scientists are telling them.
Through the whole thing, he is trying to point out that science is not an exact science, that is for example with the argument that we can never really be sure, but if the same thing happens again, and again then there is a probability that there might is a pattern, and that can be use to prove something.
So if it rain every year on May 2nd, except for every 7th year, then science should be able to conclude that there is a probability that it will rain on May 2nd. That is how they can conclude that May 2nd is a wet day.
Now this is the simple approach, there is more behind these things, there are some really scary conclusions based on probability, Global Warming is one of them (I am not a sceptic, no do I agree on all conclusions as there is simply too much data and still not enough to make an assumption which can hold water).
As for Global Warming, there are the Scientists which say it will get worse, and there are the ones who say that it will not – that is kind of black and white, and we as the public are being asked to make a decision on whom we believe, or actually it is even worse, whom we trust in presenting the truth.
We really do not know, first Science is based on trails, test, and repetition, unfortunately we are only able to see what is happening with earth (we can build another one for test purposes), which means that Sir Paul Nurse cannot use the argument that Science is based on trails, test, and repetition, but in this specific case on assumptions that something will happen. Now some of the information which is used in the arguments for Global Warming is coming from the study of tree rings, but something is wrong with that as the tree start misbehaving sometime around the 1950′s – 1960′s (acid rain could be something to look into) which means that they need to use measurements from mechanical devices, like thermometers, and other things like that. Unfortunately the number does not align, well these things happen, and can probably be explained – I hope. But no such explanation was given.
This is just one example of where Science, one thing which does make sense is that the public is divided in most things, come politics, or something as difficult to understand as Science.
He also touched the subject of GMO’s (Genetic Modified Organism’s), which is especially used for modifying crop, like potatoes, soaybeans, or corn. And the issue was put as people are either against it (shown as being everyone, except for the few farmers and Scientists who work with the subject). Well it’s not as clear cut, the problem with GMO’s (except for soyabean’s which is just plain horrible. Now with potatoes, there is a very good reason for looking at GMO modified potatoes, as potato blight can cause really unpleasant things to happen (The Irish Potato Famine is one), and it can if left untreated kill off all potatoes in a region with in weeks, also GMO modified crop can limit the amount of pesticides which are needed. But some of the American companies which are producing GMO modified seed will sell to farmers (farmers who are starting with GMO’s) for less that cost price and then after a year or maybe longer rise the price so that the farmers cannot pay it, they then end up in a situation where they are not able to earn enough to sustain a living and end up having to sell their farms, in some cases to the company which is producing the seed. This has nothing to do with Science, this is crooked business practice, but we tend to combine the two.
Science is to study the unknown to gain understanding, and draw conclusions, in todays world where everyone (well in the western world) have access to the internet we can look things up and try to understand, it is not always easy, and we normally take the easy way out, unfortunately the easy way is not always the right way. If Scientists tell us that the oceans will rice 90 cm with in the next 50 – 75 years if we do not stop using fossil fuel tomorrow, then it’s a hugh decision we have to make, if we are at the same time being told that if we just keep the amount of usage to what we are using today then it’s a bit easier to grasp, and if then we also are told that if we continue to consume even more nothing will happen. Then we really do not know who is right and who is wrong, as non of the Scientists really do know, they assume that something will happen, probably the summer ice will disappear, and The Netherlands will be covered by water. Not saying that they are not wrong, but it’s not an absolute, it is something they predict, and it will probably happen.
On the other side the Oil Companies, and the Saudis (incl. the previous administration in the US) tell us that there is no reason for alarm; the sceptic will probably follow that reasoning, and the public will be drawn between the “right” thinkers, and the “wrong” thinkers.
The best way for Scientists to get the public to understand why there isn’t any exact thing in existence is to explain that there is simply too much data to make anything more than assumptions, and at the same time there is simply not enough data to be sure that the assumptions are correct.
I myself think that something have to be done, but I do not think that it will get as bad as we’re told, as we will run out of oil way before (ref: Paul Roberts – The End of Oil: The Decline of the Petroleum Economy and the Rise of a New Energy Order) .