A recent talk by an invited speaker on campus discussed the idea of anthropomorphic global warming, as covered in the Oct. 14 The Rider News article, “Cullen traces global warming trend to humans.” The concept is that the earth’s climate is warming up to dangerous levels caused by human activity. We, therefore, must spend a lot of money to modify these activities.
When a doctor suggests a procedure that is necessary to save your life but is expensive and traumatic, we must always get a second opinion. It is possible the first doctor is mistaken or motivated by money. The same is true with the expensive idea of preventing the earth’s warming. Other scientists say any warming that may be happening is not caused by human activities, but by cycles of the sun. How are we supposed to decide between these groups of scientists?
Of course, we must not ignore the first doctor. Let us remember that Steve Jobs would be alive today had he not ignored the first doctor who suggested treatment for his cancer.
We must understand that science is not democratic. There are many cases in the history of science where a single scientist or a small group was proved correct while the overwhelming majority was wrong. It is important for students to know about these past cases and not only current science, so that they do not get an incorrect impression of science. The question again is, how are we supposed to decide if we know that we cannot trust the majority? The answer is that we must understand the nature of science.
Scientific explanations consist of two parts. One part is the logical and mathematical explanation, and the other part is the empirical evidence. College students should be able to understand the basic logical ideas of science. This is the challenge professors have, to explain the ideas to students who do not have the background to understand the mathematics behind the theories. I believe a good professor can meet this challenge. Students today can go online to search the Internet, and be guided by the principle that explanations must make sense. Adults must rely on their understanding and common sense, not fully trusting authority. The same principle is for economics and other human activities.
The second part is the empirical verification. If the global warming advocates give evidence for the past few years, while other scientists give proof over the past centuries and millennia, that evidence is suggestive. Of course, we need to seriously consider advice that has a significant impact on our lives.
Students need to learn how to think correctly and independently arrive at sound, meaningful conclusions, without fear of reprisals. This should be one of the goals of a university education.
-Dr. Sanford Aranoff
Adjunct Associate Professor Mathematics and Physics