We redefined marriage, gender, and lunch. Then we repealed evolution by making it illegal for a species to go extinct. The same people who deride fundamentalist extremists as being anti-science when they deny the validity of the theory of evolution equally deny it when they assume they are bigger than nature. Now we are well about to repeal the rest of science.

Consider the fate of Alfred Wegener (1880-1930). Wegener’s doctorate was in astronomy. He was also interested in meteorology and climatology. He participated in four expeditions to Greenland dying during the last of these. But he is remembered for his advocacy of the theory of continental drift. Though he was far from the first to realize that continents moved, he published The Origin of Continents and Oceans in 1915. In it he argued that the continents had once been a single land mass and that they had then drifted apart. He had a lot of evidence to support this theory, but he lacked a mechanism that would cause the movement of continents. He also failed to make the obvious conclusion that if continents were always adrift that they would eventually come back together again only to once again separate. Thus this process had been going on for a long time if Wegener’s hypothesis was correct. And the earth was likely a lot older than anyone had suspected.

The reaction to his theory  was largely negative. Some of it was based on scientific arguments that actually weren’t very good, but at least they were scientific arguments. But much of the opposition was ad hominem invective. Wegener wasn’t a card carrying geologist and thus wasn’t an expert, and therefore didn’t know what he was talking about. Besides, he was questioning ‘settled’ science. The biggest problem with Wegener’s argument was that he didn’t have a mechanism to explain how continents could drift.

A far more implausible theory was offered by orthodox geology to explain the similarity of flora, fauna, and geography across continents and why continents seemed like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Land bridges between continents across which  species could migrate was posited. The jigsaw continents were just coincidence. In 1953 SW Carey introduced the theory of plate tectonics. In 1968 geophysicist Jack Oliver provided seismologic evidence for plate tectonics. This term replaced continental drift and became the new scientific orthodoxy. Wegener had been right. Just because you don’t have a mechanism to support a theory doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that compelling evidence may subsequently turn up. Science is an ongoing project. Think a bit more and ask the ensuing question. Where did the continents come from in the first place? There are a lot of theories, but no definitive answer.

No one seems to hate science more than scientists. Observe any scientific dispute and you will note the low level that characterizes much of the discussion. In this regard, scientists are like capitalists who typically hate capitalism. They are always trying to get a non-competitive edge on their competitors, often by rent-seeking which defrauds both the government and the public. Adam Smith’s famous remark still applies: “People of the same trade seldom meet, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” (Wealth of Nations, 1776) The misbehavior of scientists is usually limited to speech. Debates in print are usually more sober and reasoned.

So when you consider the evidence concerning climate change your BS detector should go off scale whenever you hear settled science or climate deniers. Science progress by the questioning of orthodox views and by continued examination of data to which is added new observations and then new theories.

Consider the polar bear, a supposed victim of arctic warming. They are in danger of extinction or have found new food sources on land or are an adaptive species that will adjust to changing circumstances as they always have.

When the entire body of science is viewed it is obvious that what we know compared to what we would like to know is so small as to be what a fermion is to the universe.  So keep an open mind. Tomorrow’s scientific orthodoxy will certainly be very different from today’s. Scientific progress always adds more questions than answers.