RE: Environment

Russ Maatman (
Tue, 25 Jun 1996 14:44:24 -0500 (CDT)

Dennis wrote

> Russ's comments illustrate the differences between making science and making
> policy. Ideally, science operates by patiently theorizing, experimenting,
> and debating, untill one reachs a conclusion with a high level of certainty.
> In experimental situations, one typically looks for effects that are
> statistically significant at p=0.05 [or even better, p=0.01] (i.e., there is
> a less than 5% [or 1%] chance of the observed effects being due to random
> noise), and which can be replicated across multiple experiments. The
> results are then used to modify, destroy, verify, or build a theory of how
> that corner of the universe works.
> >>>Seitz's problem is that it is the summary of the report which will affect
> opinion, and not the report itself. For the summary contradicts the report.
> .... The following quotations are provided by Seitz; they are from the
> report, and contradict the summary:
> >>>"None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can
> attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases
> in greenhouse gases."
> Clear evidence, no. Evidence, yes? Does Seitz agree that there is murky
> evidence?
> >>>"No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate
> change observed to date] to anthropogenic [manmade] causes."
> In my dictionary, "Positively" means "admitting of no doubt. Irrefutable".
> >>>>"Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are
> likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural
> variability of the climate system are reduced."
> Again, "positive detection". Also, "likely to remain controversial". Even
> if there was a positive detection & proof of human induced change, any
> policy that requires changes in behavior will be controversial.
> The large variability in weather-related data precludes reaching high levels
> of precision as to the degree of climate change, the cause of climate
> change, or even whether climate change can be distinguished from natural
> effects. In short, we will never get to 99% (and probably not 95%)
> certainty in this area.

(From Russ, earlier)
> >>>>Christians should be horrified at the violation of the Ninth Commandment
> in reporting matters concerning the effect of man's activities on global
> climate.


> When you drive down a dark highway and you think that you're heading toward
> a bridge abuttment, do you wait to change course until you are 95% sure that
> it is indeed a bridge abuttment, rather than a parked truck? Is your spouse
> violating the Ninth commandment when she tells you that you're heading
> toward a pillar when she/he is only 60% certain? You, the policy maker,
> will recognize that it is better to correct course now, when uncertain, than
> later, when certain, because acting later will involve a much more drastic
> swerve (which might not succeed).

(Russ, now)

My problem with the summary is that it evidently was not a summary
of the report it was supposed to summarize. A true summary should have
reflected that such-and-such had not been proved. A summary that reflects
"what everbody knows" and not the report is just as bad as advocacy
journalism. Seitz (certainly an eminent scientist) resented the fact
that his name as well as others was used to give credence to the summary--a
summary he had no part of.

But the problem here is part of the greater problem, which, I fear,
has been evident in the responses on this list and also private response
I have received: respected scientists are simply not allowed to disagree
with the popular consensus. In several ways, the answer to these scientists
has been, "It's a crisis and we don't have time to do what scientists
usually do. Trust me; negative evidence is wrong."

Perhaps I have left an incorrect impression as to what my position
is. I am not way out on one end of the spectrum. I do think that some
of the warnings given have considerable credibility. In fact, I gave
a speech at two colleges listing five warnings that have been given.
My advice to students was that they had to be careful and not accept
all the warnings at face value; I pointed out that I personally accepted
three of them but doubted the other two. I purposely did not tell them
which was which: the whole idea was that they had to dig a little and
not go along with the crowd.

Frankly, I think that the best suggestion made in this discussion in
recent days is the one made by Loren Haarsma. If I read him correctly,
he's saying that let's be scientists and not put a spin on everything
we hear.

And: let's learn from the predictions that have *not* been fulfilled.
For that, I refer again to the article in Christianity Today I listed
earlier ("Are People the Problem?" CT, October 3, 1994; pp. 45-60).
Of course, that article discusses much more than environmental predictions.
But I feel it's all good stuff.

In the Lord,


e-mail: Home address:
Russell Maatman 401 Fifth Ave. SE
Dordt College Sioux Center, Iowa 51250
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250 Home phone: (712) 722-0421