Another argument that we see repeated among global-warming deniers is the argument that scientists 40 years ago were warning about the coming ice age. Now they warn us about global warming. Just as they were wrong about the ice age, it is safe to assume that they are wrong about global warming.
Dennis Miller brought out a copy of a Newsweek cover story on the David Letterman show a while back warning about the coming ice age, and from that cover he concluded - and invited his audience to conclude - that global warming was a hoax. He invited them to do nothing about a potential threat to whole cities and the suffering of whole people on the basis of an argument that only a person who is callously indifferent to those costs could have used.
He made a choice to go on a highly rated national television show to make this argument. If a person makes that type of choice, he takes on the moral responsibility to make sure that what he is saying makes sense. It is one thing for me to get a piece of data wrong in the comment section of a blog. It would have been something quite different for me to have gotten that data wrong if I had been in front of a multi-million person audience.
I am going to get to the facts behind that cover story in a moment. For now, I am going to assume that the story had merit, and that scientists really were concerned with a new ice age 40 years ago.
There is nothing in science that says that scientists are prohibited from changing their minds in the face of additional data.
If you want a discipline where people refuse to change their mind regardless of new evidence, go to church. It is the very nature of science that any theory can be overthrown at any minute as soon as new and better data comes along.
Miller's argument has the same absurdity as claiming, "Look, scientists once thought that malaria was caused by bad air. Look, it's in the name - mal-aria (bad air). Now they tell us it is caused by bacteria that you get from mosquito bites and that we should control the mosquito population. Obviously, we don't need to do anything about the mosquitoes because these scientists do not know what they are talking about."
So, even if we assume that scientists seriously thought we needed to fear an ice age 40 years ago, it is foolish to imply that, with additional evidence, they do not have a better understanding of what we need to fear today. When Dennis Miller decided to go on national television and present his argument, he at least had an obligation to take a look at the reasonableness of his claims.
I consider this to be one of the most contemptible arguments used against scientific findings among those who wish to bury its conclusions. It is the very nature of science that new data will lead scientists to change their mind. Scientists do not have a book of dogma that must at all times be taken as literally true and which no amount of evidence will call into question. If that were the case, then we would still today be stuck with the 'science' of Hippocrates and Ptolemy. Science gives up old ideas for new ideas when better evidence provides it.
Yet, the perpetuators of dogma like to use the argument that since scientists change their mind in light of new evidence, we are not permitted to trust anything that scientists tell us. The only people who we are supposed to trust are those who insist on holding to their opinion - their dogma - regardless of what evidence might be brought against it.
This is entirely backwards.
A responsible person properly worried about the potential destruction of whole cities if he were wrong would have asked the question, "Is there any reason to believe I am wrong?" He would have done his research, and it would not have taken him long to find his answer.
The very fact that Dennis Miller was not motivated to do his homework tells us that he really did not care about the potential costs of being wrong. It says that he, unlike the morally responsible person described above, must have been substantially indifferent to the potential destruction and suffering that he could contribute to by misleading people in this way.
Once again, I remind you that he made the deliberate and intentional decision to use his time before millions of people to present this bogus argument.
But the situation is far worse.
Consider the fact that the source that Dennis Miller used in arguing that scientists 40 years ago were worried about a new ice age (and, thus, we have no reason to be concerned about global warming today) was a Newsweek cover story. If one wanted to show that scientists 40 years ago were certain about a coming ice age, one should be able to come armed with a long list of articles in peer-reviewed scientific literature comparable to what we see today with respect to global warming.
The story, The Cooling World does not cite any peer-reviewed literature. It quotes scientists who are concerned about the implications of climate change. However, those quotes are neutral as to whether the people making them were concerned about warming or cooling. It does not give any evidence that scientists were united in predicting any type of cooling - and the peer reviewed literature tells us that there was no evidence to give.
However, there is no such list. The Time Magazine cover story is being used as a prop in an act of deception. I cannot say whether this is an act of deliberate deception or gross negligence. However, I can say that those who perpetuated this fiction could have easily checked the facts before presenting their argument. Their failure to do so suggests a gross lack of concern for the potential destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations that they could otherwise be contributing to.
There was, in fact, ONE paper in the peer-reviewed literature in 1976 that argued that "increases in carbon dioxide should be associated with a decrease in global temperatures". The authors in this case argued that CO2 production was associated with the production of atmospheric aerosols. While CO2 contributes to warming, the aerosols contribute to cooling. As the temperature record for the previous three decades had shown, the effect of the aerosols exceeded that of CO2.
(Bryson, R.A. and G.J. Dittberner, 1976: "A non-equilibrium model of hemispheric mean surface temperature. Journal of Atmospheric Science, 33, 2094-2106.)
Other scientists quickly responded that CO2 remains in the air a lot longer than aerosols (that are washed out of the atmosphere in the rain). Therefore, the aerosol effect was only a short-term effect. The short-term effect of aerosols, combined with pollution laws that severely cut back on the amount of aerosols being released into the atmosphere, quickly eliminated the aerosol effect. What we have seen since then is the long-range effect of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.
ONE peer-reviewed paper quickly refuted, producing some front-page headlines (because these types of stories help to sell newspapers and news magazines) becomes the basis for rejecting all of the global science research that has been done.
On an issue relevant to the potential destruction of whole cities and the suffering of whole populations, this is not an innocent mistake. This amounts to gross negligence. Clearly, whatever aversion the author of such a statement has to these huge costs, it was not enough to motivate that agent to do a little bit of fact-checking to discover the true story behind the ice-age fears of the 1970s.
Like the drunk driver who is willing to risk killing people so that he can get home, the global-warming denier who uses the 1970s ice-age fears as a reason to reject global warming science is a creature worthy of our contempt. He is not willing to do even a little bit of investigation or even to ask some simple questions relevant to the logic of these types of claims.