FIRST, WHY SHOULD WE EVEN BELIEVE SCIENCE?
Before we examine what science currently tells us about climate change, let’s talk about the scientific process. At the most basic level, science distinguishes its claims-making authority by requiring evidence. Scientists’ claims are rooted in data, not their individual opinions. You don’t have to believe in gravity, but if you drop a rock, it will still fall to the ground. That rock falling to the ground is evidence of the gravitational pull of the Earth. “Making science” is a community-based project among a field of scientists. Scientists generate hypotheses based on the existing research of other scientists in their field — collectively, this represents the current understanding of phenomena. In other words, scientists look at the evidence that other scientists present and generate new hypotheses that test the validity of such claims. Scientists’ job is to be skeptical and change their minds as new evidence emerges. Maybe there is a question that still has yet to be answered. Maybe there is a debate about what causes some phenomenon. Scientists’ job is to gather evidence that answers questions that currently lack evidence and/or to test existing theories to see if they are accurate. Scientists make hypotheses (predictions based on our current understanding), test those hypotheses, and draw conclusion based on the data the emerges from well-designed research.
Of course, someone could just falsify or manipulate data and publish the results. Someone could improperly design a study (intentionally or not). Someone could also misinterpret the data or overstate the results. Additionally, scientists occasionally make typographic or other errors. To prevent (and occasionally correct) this, academic journals and books, undergo double-blind peer–review and hypotheses get replicated or tested again by other scientists. Double-blind peer review means that “Scientist A” submits their work into an academic journal, the editor of the journal removes Scientist A’s name(s) and sends the research to two to four experts in the particular field. They each independently analyze the research — its design, data, analysis, and conclusions — and then send their comments back to the editor. The editor removes the reviewers’ names and sends the comments back to the author.
This is the “double-blind” aspect. In order to avoid biases, the reviewers don’t know whose paper they are reviewing and the author doesn’t know who reviewed their paper. The expert reviewers can recommend that the research is rejected, revised, or published as is. In this way, the validity of science is a community effort. Anyone can write anything and post it on the web. The double-blind peer-review process of academic journals makes science more valid than just one person’s opinion, an organization’s political agenda, or even journalism (which also generally relies on evidence but at a lower standard than science). So, should you think critically about everything you read? Yes. Should you be very skeptical of claims made solely by a single individual or even an organization that hasn’t had their claims go under review by other experts? ABSOLUTELY! The TED talk video below by Dr. Naomi Oreskes examines why we should trust the scientific process.
This entire site is rooted in our understanding based on the scientific process and peer-reviewed research. The rest of this section will delve into the natural science explanations of global warming and climate change. The other sections examine the social science perspective, primarily sociology, of climate change.