In 1917, Albert Einstein plugged what he dubbed the “cosmological constant” into his equations explaining why the universe didn’t collapse under its own gravity. He later abandoned the concept, calling it his “biggest blunder.” Today, three astronomers won the Nobel prize for proving Einstein’s original theory correct.
It’s no surprise that modern scientists are still testing theories developed nearly a century ago. Just last month, The Wall Street Journal featured commentary on Swedish researchers who raised questions about the validity of another one of Einstein’s theories: the theory of relativity. The scientific community doesn’t treat such challenges with distain. In fact, it welcomes it with open arms according to City College theoretical physics professor Michio Kaku:
In the 1930s the Nazi Party criticized Einstein’s theory [of relativity], publishing a book called “100 Authorities Denounce Relativity.” Einstein later quipped that you don’t need 100 famous intellectuals to disprove his theory. All you need is one simple fact …
Reputations may rise and fall. But in the end, this is a victory for science. No theory is carved in stone. Science is merciless when it comes to testing all theories over and over, at any time, in any place. Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.
Evidently, the radical environmental lobby has yet to internalize this message.
Since the concept of global warming burst on the scene as an environmental crisis in the late 1980s, advocates of suppressing fossil energy use to avoid the forecast catastrophe have aggressively defended their views with appeals to science. They have denigrated anyone who has dared challenge their orthodoxy—those who have raised questions about assumptions and models or have noted that too little is known about the complex climate system to assume increases in carbon dioxide emissions directly translate to increasing temperatures.
Through these smear campaigns the climate change lobby has effectively transformed the term “skeptic” from a laudable attribute to a pejorative description.
This behavior is an affront to the scientific spirit. When the aforementioned Swedish scientists used the world’s largest particle accelerators at CERN in Geneva to crack the light barrier, they violated the core of Einstein’s theory of relativity. In stark contrast to those on the climate front, physicists did not attack or denigrate CERN. Though many scientists believe the CERN results will not be validated and that Einstein’s theory will remain standing, they have begun taking steps to replicate the Swedish experiment in order to verifying or falsifying the results. That is how science is intended to work.
Advances in knowledge come from skepticism, not blind acceptance.
Because Guglielmo Marconi was skeptical of the commonly held belief in the early 20th century that electrical signals couldn’t be sent through the air, he proved the feasibility of radio communication.
Because Norman Borlaug was skeptical of wide-spread claims in the 1960s that global starvation was inevitable, he developed the “dwarf” wheat that was responsible for more than doubling global grain yields between 1950 and 1992.
Because America’s pioneering oil and gas sector were skeptical of then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan’s warning in 2003 that “today’s tight natural gas markets have been a long time in coming, and futures prices suggest that we are not apt to return to earlier periods of relative abundance and low prices anytime soon,” we’re now utilizing new technology that has multiplied America’s recoverable natural gas reserves to an estimated 2,300-2,600 trillion cubic feet—enough to fuel our country for a century or more.
Global warming radicals would do well to pay heed to Borlaug, Marconi, and even Einstein himself. We should be wary of confusing political advocacy with dispassionate science. An environment which encourages rather than penalizes challenges to the scientific status quo provides the best hope for our future health, wealth, and happiness.