[asa] Level of certainty in science

From: James Mahaffy <Mahaffy@dordt.edu>
Date: Mon Feb 05 2007 - 17:49:54 EST



I have not been following the details of the global warming posts on
ASA in detail. I have also not responded on specifics and would not
unless I had at least read some of the good secondary literature on the

However, there does seem in all of these exchanges a lack of
appreciation of the fact that we can know something better than others.
It is my understanding that the chemical reaction involving Ozone and
Freon in the upper atmosphere are straightforward chemistry and there
was little doubt of what the effect of CFC's like Freon on the ozone
layer. While our best climate models about global warming are
frightening and seem to point the finger at (among other things
indicating that carbon dioxide emissions are increasing and are to a
large degree caused by human activity) science based on climatic models
(which are the best thing we have) or softer than knowing the chemical
reactions of CFC's. And it makes little difference that it is
published in peer reviewed journals (that does not strengthen the

And it is also true that in the past environmentalist have sometimes
shot themselves before the general public and there is some reason for
the public to worry that they are crying wolf (although I think this
time the public is seeing that it is real). Unfortunately sometimes
the only tool the environmentalists can use is the endangered species
act. The environmentalists (I consider myself one) did not really care
for the spotted owl, but that was the only legal way to protect the old
growth forests that were being cut in the NW. There is also a problem
that state and federal officials have to do things by the book, but
sometimes that is stupid. I remember talking to a strip miner in
northern Missouri who wished he could restore the land he was stripping
for coal to flat land better suited to agriculture, but no he had to
restore it to its original contours. I guess I am saying is that often
the governmental rules were made for good reasons, but the public has to
live with the way they are enforced, which is NOT always the best way.

And George, even though I am an academic, I am still conservative and
orthodox in my theology and NOT liberal in my politics (although deeply
concerned about stewardship of the environment).

James Mahaffy (mahaffy@dordt.edu)          Phone: 712 722-6279
498 4th Ave NE
Biology Department                                     FAX :  712
Dordt College, Sioux Center IA 51250-1697
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Received on Mon Feb 5 17:50:51 2007

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