October 8, 2011
If there’s one thing I hate as much as I hate sloppy or lazy writing, it’s the inability of some people to grasp BASIC science. Things like the definition of “theory” or the scientific method, for example, are not so difficult that you need a doctorate to understand. We teach them to kids, so they’re obviously simple enough, right?
Enter Robert Bryce, a man who can’t seem to tell the difference between experiments and the gum he stepped on.
He wrote an article for the New York Times where he attacked green initiatives, clean energy, and environmentalism. He went so far as to say that, even if we knew carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases were harmful (they are), what can we do? We’re making more and more useful energy-draining devices. Emissions are down. What else are we supposed to do?
Past all the willing blindness to reality, however, is this little gem of a sentence. See if you can spot where Bryce shows us he’s replaced his brain with assorted change and dull spoon.
The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.
What exactly are neutrinos, anyway? They’re an elementary subatomic particle like neutrons and electrons. However, neutrinos have no electrical charge and are only affected by the weak sub-atomic force. They’re also TINY. If an electron is the mass of a battleship, a neutrino is the size of an apple. This means neutrinos can pass through ordinary matter and we would never know unless we’d developed EXTREMELY sensitive equipment to verify theoretical models. In fact, that’s why, as you read this, you’re getting hit with something around one quadrillion neutrinos emanating from the sun. And no, that’s not a typo. That’s a 1 with 15 zeroes after it.
As for traveling faster than light, that’s a bold claim. Nothing can accelerate past the light barrier, but some scientists think matter might exist on the other side. These little darlings are called tachyons and do not violate Einstein’s theory because they did not ACCELERATE past light. They already started on the other side. It gets into really funky science after that, but the point is that the numbers on paper say tachyons MIGHT exist.
Did CERN find neutrinos traveling faster than light? Well, it’s doubtful.
But let’s go back to Bryce for a moment. He says that scientists reported on an anomaly that may show regular matter traveling faster than light. This, he says, means we should question climate science as well, right? If we can question Einstein of all people, we can question Al Gore and his silly little movie, right?
Well, yeah, he’s right. Except he forgot the second and third parts of his logical argument.
We can question Einstein and we can question climate science. Questioning something, however, does not equate into proof that runs counter to what the established theories state. In other words, if I went out and I said I ran an experiment in my own home to see if carbon dioxide causes warming and it showed the gas did nothing, that would not b e evidence climate change is not real. That experiment would be dissected by the scientific community and I would have to show how my new data explains the currently observed behavior or greenhouse gases.
And here’s the kicker. Just because we have a debate, it does not mean there is a legitimate second point of view. When creationists try to claim that their point of view is legitimate because not everyone believes in evolution and people question Darwin, it does not mean the creationists are right. You have to show verifiable data. And do you know what happens to all that “data” creationists put in to defend their views?
It gets put through the scientific peer review process and is usually found to be lacking, a fluke, or fabricated.
Likewise, the claim that neutrinos traveled faster than light is being looked at by other scientists. It may turn out to be that equipment was faulty or someone forgot to carry the one. If it can be repeated, then we have to look at the underlying theory.
You can question climate science, Bryce, but that doesn’t mean you have a point. It just means you flunked middle-school science. Oh, and fifty points to anyone who tells me the joke in the title.
And now, here’s a short documentary of the Aperture. They build the future so we don’t have to.