What Intelligent Design Fails to Understand About Evolution

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One of the threats to modern science is the persistence of faith-based beliefs about the origin of life on Earth, such as the concept of intelligent design which holds that the natural world was created by an intelligent designer – who may or may not be God or another deity. Intelligent design, like other forms of creationism, is incompatible with the theory of evolution formulated by English naturalist Charles Darwin in the 19th century. But, in asserting that complex biological systems defy any scientific explanation, believers in intelligent design fail to understand the basic features of evolution.

The driving force in biological evolution, or descent from a common ancestor through cumulative change over time, is the process of natural selection. The essence of natural selection is that, as in human society, nature produces more offspring than can survive, and that variation in a species means some offspring have a slightly greater chance of survival than the others.  These offspring have a better chance of reproducing and passing the survival trait on to the next generation than those who lack the trait.

A common misconception about natural selection is that it is an entirely random process. But this is not so. Genetic variation within a species, which distinguishes individuals from one another and usually results from mutation, is indeed random. However, the selection aspect isn’t random but rather a snowballing process, in which each evolutionary step that selects the variation best suited to reproduction builds on the previous step.

Intelligent design proponents often argue that the “astonishing complexity” of living cells and biological complexes such as the bacterial flagellum – a whip-like appendage on a bacterial cell that rotates like a propeller – precludes their evolution via the step-by-step mechanism of natural selection. Such complex systems, they insist, can only be created as an integrated whole and must therefore have been designed by an intelligent entity.

There are several sound scientific reasons why this claim is fallacious: for example, natural selection can work on modular units already assembled for another purpose. But the most telling argument is simply that evolution is incremental and can take millions or even hundreds of millions of years – a length of time that is incomprehensible, meaningless to us as himans, to whom even a few thousand years seems an eternity. The laborious, trial-and-error, one-step-at-a-time assembly of complex biological entities may indeed not be possible in a few thousand years, but is easily accomplished in a time span that’s beyond our imagination.     

However, evolution aside, intelligent design can’t lay any claim to being science. Most intelligent design advocates do accept the antiquity of life on earth, unlike adherents to the deceptively misnamed creation science, the topic for next week’s post. But neither intelligent design nor creation science offers any scientific alternative to Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection. And they both distort or ignore the vast body of empirical evidence for evolution, which includes the fossil record and biodiversity as well as a host of modern-day observations from fields such as molecular biology and embryology.

That intelligent design and creation science aren’t science at all is apparent from the almost total lack of peer-reviewed papers published in the scientific literature. Apart from a few articles (such as this one) in educational journals on the different forms of creationism, the only known paper on creationism itself – an article, based on intelligent design, about the epoch known as the Cambrian explosion – was published in an obscure biological journal in 2004. But one month later, the journal’s publishing society reprimanded the editor for not handling peer review properly and repudiated the article. In its formal explanation, the society emphasized that no scientific evidence exists to support intelligent design.

A valid scientific theory must, at least in principle, be capable of being invalidated or disproved by observation or experiment. Along with other brands of creationism, intelligent design is a pseudoscience that can’t be falsified because it depends not on scientific evidence, but on a religious belief based on faith in a supernatural creator. There’s nothing wrong with faith, but it’s the very antithesis of science. Science requires evidence and a skeptical evaluation of claims, while faith demands unquestioning belief, without evidence.

Next week: Why Creation Science Isn’t Science

When No Evidence is Evidence: GMO Food Safety

The twin hallmarks of genuine science are empirical evidence and logic. But in the case of foods containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), it’s the absence of evidence to the contrary that provides the most convincing testament to the safety of GMO foods. Although almost 40% of the public in the U.S. and UK remain skeptical, there simply isn’t any evidence to date that GMOs are deadly or even unhealthy for humans.

Absence of evidence doesn’t prove that GMO foods are safe beyond all possible doubt, of course. Such proof is impossible in practice, as harmful effects from some as-yet unknown GMO plant can’t be categorically ruled out. But a committee of the U.S. NAS (National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) undertook a study in 2016 to examine any negative effects as well as potential benefits of both currently commercialized and future GMO crops.

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The study authors found no substantial evidence that the risk to human health was any different for current GMO crops on the market than for their traditionally crossbred counterparts. Crossbreeding or artificial hybridization refers to the conventional form of plant breeding, first developed in the 18th century and continually refined since then, which revolutionized agriculture before genetic engineering came on the scene in the 1970s. The evidence evaluated in the study included presentations by 80 people with diverse expertise on GMO crops; hundreds of comments and documents from individuals and organizations; and an extensive survey by the committee of published scientific papers.

The committee reexamined the results of several types of testing conducted in the past to evaluate genetically engineered crops and the foods derived from them. Although they found that many animal-feeding studies weren’t optimal, the large number of such experimental studies provided “reasonable evidence” that eating GMO foods didn’t harm animals (typically rodents). This conclusion was reinforced by long-term data on livestock health before and after GMO feed crops were introduced.

Two other informative tests involved analyzing the composition of GMO plants and testing for allergens. The NAS study found that while there were differences in the nutrient and chemical compositions of GMO plants compared to similar non-GMO varieties, the differences fell within the range of natural variation for non-GMO crops. 

In the case of specific health problems such as allergies or cancer possibly caused by eating genetically modified foods, the committee relied on epidemiological studies, since long-term randomized controlled trials have never been carried out. The results showed no difference between studies conducted in the U.S. and Canada, where the population has consumed GMO foods since the late 1990s, and similar studies in the UK and Europe, where very few GMO foods are eaten. The committee acknowledged, however, that biases may exist in the epidemiological data available on certain health problems.

The NAS report also recommended a tiered approach to future safety testing of GMOs. The recommendation was to use newly available DNA analysis technologies to evaluate the risks to human health or to the environment of a plant –  grown by either conventional hybridization or genetic engineering – and then to do safety testing only on those plant varieties that show signs of potential hazards.

While there is documentation that the NAS committee listened to both sides of the GMO debate and made an honest attempt to evaluate the available evidence fairly, this hasn’t always been so in other NAS studies. Just as politics have interfered in the debate over Roundup and cancer, as discussed in last week’s post, the NAS has been accused of substituting politics for science. Further accusations include insufficient attention to conflicts of interest among committee and panel members, and even turning a blind eye to scientific misconduct (including falsification of data). Misconduct is an issue I’ll return to in future posts.

Next week: What Intelligent Design Fails to Understand About Evolution

Politics Clashes with Science over Glyphosate and Cancer

Nothing exemplifies the attack on science more than its subversion to politics. The intrusion of political forces into the scientific sphere has distorted the debates over dietary fat, climate change, GMO crops and other controversial topics. Particularly contentious at present is the charge that the weedkiller glyphosate causes cancer, an allegation that’s behind thousands of U.S. lawsuits filed by cancer victims against glyphosate manufacturer Monsanto. The victims, who suffer from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, claim the cancer was caused by spraying the company’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide.

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Best-seller Roundup has been used since 1974 to kill weeds in more than 100 food crops as well as greenhouses, aquatic areas, and residential parks and gardens. It became an especially profitable product for Monsanto in 1996 after the agricultural behemoth introduced Roundup Ready seeds, which are genetically engineered to make crop plants resistant to the herbicide; the revolutionary advance meant that farmers could now use Roundup to kill weeds while the crop was growing, instead of only before planting.

The carcinogenic potential of glyphosate has been evaluated several times in the U.S. by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and in Europe by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and the ECHA (European Chemicals Agency). While all these evaluations concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) shocked the world in 2015 by classifying glyphosate as a potential carcinogen. It’s the IARC assessment that underpins the multimillion-dollar mass litigation against Monsanto.

So who’s right? The various government agencies in the U.S. and Europe that see no problem in continuing to use Roundup, or the WHO (World Health Organization)’s IARC? Both camps maintain that the scientific evidence is on their side.

The dispute is an all-too-common example of how politics is invading science. As reported by Reuters last year, the IARC made significant changes between the original draft of its 2015 monograph on glyphosate and the published version. Although it’s not unusual for a final agency report to differ from the draft, what stands out in this case is that the principal changes were the deletion of all statements and findings – and there were many – contrary to the IARC’s ultimate conclusion that glyphosate probably causes cancer.

The agency refuses to say who made the changes or why. If such secrecy alone were not enough to arouse suspicion, Reuters found 10 significant alterations to the draft chapter on animal studies – the very chapter that in the final report provided “sufficient evidence" that glyphosate causes cancer in animals. The draft chapter had reported the conclusions of multiple studies finding no link at all between glyphosate and cancer in laboratory animals. But the final report concluded exactly the opposite.

That the changes to the IARC report were politically rather than scientifically motivated is reinforced by the EPA’s finding that glyphosate poses no carcinogenic risk to humans. This conclusion was also reached by the EFSA, the ECHA and the UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) – despite the EFSA and ECHA, like other European agencies, being more conservative and pro-environment than their U.S. counterparts. Not surprisingly, the environmentally activist organization Greenpeace has called the EFSA report faulting the IARC declaration “a whitewash.”

By far the greatest amount of scientific data on the possible human carcinogenicity of glyphosate comes from a 2005 study of 85,279 American farmers and their spouses. The so-called AHS (Agricultural Health Study) included epidemiological, animal carcinogenicity, and genotoxicity investigations to elucidate the carcinogenic potential of Roundup products.

Both the EPA and the IARC utilized the AHS data in their recent, conflicting evaluations of glyphosate. However, the IARC monograph also included a number of “low-quality” studies that the EPA elected to omit. Although this may seem arbitrary on the EPA’s part, the studies omitted by the EPA lacked, for example, information on glyphosate exposure of individual subjects. Such shortcomings are important in light of the current reproducibility crisis in the biomedical sciences: up to 90% of published findings in some areas of biomedicine can’t be replicated. The inclusion of scientifically inferior data by the IARC strongly suggests political interference in the scientific process.

Of six specific studies that investigated the association between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – the possible linkage at issue in the mass lawsuits – the EPA stated that “a conclusion … cannot be determined based on the available data.” Nevertheless, for cancer overall, the EPA report found the strongest support for an assessment of glyphosate exposure as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” which is the weakest of five EPA risk classifications on cancer.

Meanwhile, the jury in the first trial of the Roundup litigation ruled on August 10 that Monsanto’s weedkiller was a substantial contributing factor in causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages, a figure since reduced to $78 million on appeal. With further trials scheduled in 2019, only time will tell who is right about the science.

Next week: When No Evidence is Evidence: GMO Food Safety

No Evidence That Aluminum in Vaccines is Harmful

Part of the anti-vaccinationist stance against immunization is the belief that vaccines contain harmful chemicals such as aluminum, formaldehyde and thimerosal. Although mercury-based thimerosal is no longer used in any U.S. vaccines except certain flu shots, and the amount of formaldehyde is a tiny fraction of that found in many foods – including those fed to babies such as pureed bananas or pears – aluminum remains a villain among the anti-vax crowd. But, as with the discredited link between the measles vaccine and autism discussed in a previous post, no medical evidence exists to support the aluminum hypothesis.

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Aluminum salts are employed as powerful adjuvants to enhance the immune system response to a vaccine, thus reducing the number of repeat injections needed. What anti-vaccinationists fail to understand, however, is that less than 1% of aluminum in vaccines is actually absorbed by the body. The same is true of the aluminum found in our food supply, in drinking water and even in the air we breathe, as well as the breast milk or infant formula ingested by babies. For vaccination, the daily quantity of aluminum absorbed by a vaccinated newborn infant is 10 times smaller than the FDA’s threshold for neurotoxicity.

Because it has been suggested that aluminum could be linked to certain neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, anti-vaccinationists maintain that injected aluminum rapidly enters the bloodstream and thereby accumulates in the brain, causing neurological damage – reminiscent of Wakefield’s fraudulent claim about autism. There are several scientific fallacies underlying this assertion, however.

The first fallacy is that injected aluminum finds its way into the body more rapidly than ingested aluminum. In fact, most of the aluminum adjuvant in a vaccine remains near the injection site for a long period and is only absorbed slowly into the bloodstream, at approximately the same daily rate as ingested aluminum. Even though the amount of ingested aluminum is much larger, most of that is absorbed in the intestines and only released slowly into the blood.

Another fallacy involves the neurotoxicity of aluminum in the brain. Although aluminum and other chemicals can enter the brain from the bloodstream, they first have to penetrate a protective semipermeable membrane that separates flowing blood from brain tissue, known as the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier normally keeps circulating pathogens and toxins from getting into the brain, while allowing the passage of water, nutrients and hormones.

The flawed claim is that injected aluminum sneaks its way into the brain by hiding in macrophages – a type of first-responder white blood cell that devours germs, cellular debris and foreign particles, and plays an important role in the body’s immune system. Unable to digest metals, say anti-vaccinationists, the aluminum-loaded macrophages travel to the brain via the blood or lymphatic system. If the brain is already inflamed, the macrophages can cross the blood brain barrier and unload aluminum inside the brain. The aluminum supposedly causes further inflammation, leading to autism and other neurological disorders.

But none of this makes sense to many doctors and scientists who work in immunology or neuroscience. A neurovascular biologist who’s an expert on the blood brain barrier faults the science in several of the papers behind the Trojan-horse macrophage hypothesis. And he calls out the claim in one paper that macrophages digest injected aluminum as “not only exaggerated … but also provocative and fraudulent,” though this criticism was later accepted as justified on a major anti-vaccinationist website.

The website, whose authors prefer to remain anonymous, claims to be science-based and guided only by scientific evidence – the same as the emphasis of the present blog. The site also attempts to defend itself against charges of cherry picking research papers supporting its position that aluminum adjuvants cause autism. But it merely lists just the abstracts of a handful of the many papers backing the emerging consensus that autism is caused by maternal exposure to infections or toxins during pregnancy.   

In any case, even if the aluminum hypothesis were correct, the fact that the amount of aluminum absorbed from vaccines is comparable to the amount absorbed from aluminum ingested by the body means that macrophages could sweep up swallowed aluminum just as easily as injected aluminum. There’s no good evidence that either occurs, although the mechanisms by which adjuvants act are still not fully understood. 

Hat tip: Mike @realiwasframed

Next week: Politics Clashes with Science over Glyphosate and Cancer

Belief in Catastrophic Climate Change as Misguided as Eugenics was 100 Years Ago

Last week’s landmark report by the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which claims that global temperatures will reach catastrophic levels unless we take drastic measures to curtail climate change by 2030, is as misguided as eugenics was 100 years ago. Eugenics was the shameful but little-known episode in the early 20th century characterized by the sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people considered genetically inferior, especially the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, minorities and the poor.

Although ill-conceived and even falsified as a scientific theory in 1917, eugenics became a mainstream belief with an enormous worldwide following that included not only scientists and academics, but also politicians of all parties, clergymen and luminaries such as U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt and famed playwright George Bernard Shaw. In the U.S., where the eugenics movement was generously funded by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, a total of 27 states had passed compulsory sterilization laws by 1935 – as had many European countries.

Eugenics only fell into disrepute with the discovery after World War II of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime in Germany, including the holocaust as well as more than 400,000 people sterilized against their will. The subsequent global recognition of human rights declared eugenics to be a crime against humanity.

The so-called science of catastrophic climate change is equally misguided. Whereas modern eugenics stemmed from misinterpretation of Mendel’s genetics and Darwin’s theory of evolution, the notion of impending climate disaster results from misrepresentation of the actual empirical evidence for a substantial human contribution to global warming, which is shaky at best.

Instead of the horrors of eugenics, the narrative of catastrophic anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming conjures up the imaginary horrors of a world too hot to live in. The new IPCC report paints a grim picture of searing yearly heatwaves, food shortages and coastal flooding that will displace 50 million people, unless draconian action is initiated soon to curb emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Above all, insists the IPCC, an unprecedented transformation of the world’s economy is urgently needed to avoid the most serious damage from climate change. 

But such talk is utter nonsense. First, the belief that we know enough about climate to control the earth’s thermostat is preposterously unscientific. Climate science is still in its infancy and, despite all our spectacular advances in science and technology, we still have only a rudimentary scientific understanding of climate. The very idea that we can regulate the global temperature to within 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) through our own actions is absurd.

Second, the whole political narrative about greenhouse gases and dangerous anthropogenic warming depends on faulty computer climate models that were unable to predict the recent slowdown in global warming, among other failings. The models are based on theoretical assumptions; science, however, takes its cue from observational evidence. To pretend that current computer models represent the real world is sheer arrogance on our part.

And third, the empirical climate data that is available has been exaggerated and manipulated by activist climate scientists. The land warming rates from 1975 to 2015 calculated by  NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are distinctly higher than those calculated by the other two principal guardians of the world’s temperature data. Critics have accused the agency of exaggerating global warming by excessively cooling the past and warming the present, suggesting politically motivated efforts to generate data in support of catastrophic human-caused warming.  

Exaggeration also shows up in the setting of new records for the “hottest year ever” –declarations deliberately designed to raise alarm. But when the global temperature is currently creeping upwards at the rate of only a few hundredths of a degree every 10 years, the establishment of new records is unsurprising. If the previous record has been set in the last 10 or 20 years, a high temperature that is only several hundredths of a degree above the old record will set a new one.

Eugenics too was rooted in unjustified human hubris, false science, and exaggeration in its methodology. Just like eugenics, belief in apocalyptic climate change and in the dire prognostications of the IPCC will one day be abandoned also.

Next week: No Evidence That Aluminum in Vaccines is Harmful

Measles or Autism? False Choice, Says Science

Perhaps nowhere is the attack on science more visible than in the opposition to vaccination against infectious diseases such as hepatitis, polio and measles. To anti-vaxxers, immunizing a child with the measles vaccine is a choice between sentencing him or her to the lifelong misery of autism, or exposing the child to possible aftereffects of a disease that the youngster may never contract. This view, passionately held by a substantial minority of the population, is completely at odds with the logic and evidence of science.

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Despite the insistence of anti-vaccinationists to the contrary, there’s absolutely no scientific evidence of any linkage between vaccines and autism. The myth connecting them was first suggested by U.S. activist Barbara Loe Fisher in the 1980s. It gained steam when British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield claimed in a 1998 study that 8 out of 12 children in the study had developed autism symptoms following injection of the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

But Wakefield’s paper in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet was slowly discredited until, in 2011, the journal’s editors took the unprecedented step of declaring the paper fraudulent, saying that Wakefield had falsified his data. Die-hard anti-vaccinationists refused to accept this conclusion, despite Wakefield’s medical license being subsequently revoked by the UK General Medical Council, who found that his fraud was compounded by ethical lapses and medical misconduct in the same study.

The autism episode generated worldwide publicity and led to thousands of court cases in a special U.S. Vaccine Court set up as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. To cope with the enormous caseload, the court assigned three special masters to hear just three test cases on each of two theories: that autism was caused by the MMR vaccine together with a mercury-based preservative known as thimerosal, or that it was caused by thimerosal-containing vaccines alone.

In 2009 and 2010, the special masters unanimously rejected both contentions. But they emphasized that their decisions had been guided only by scientific evidence, not by the poignant stories of autistic children. One of the masters declared in her analysis:

“Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science, conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding of autism spectrum disorder. The evidence in support of petitioners’ causal theory is weak, contradictory, and unpersuasive.”

Yet, despite the Vaccine Court’s findings in the U.S. and The Lancet’s accusation of fraud against Wakefield in the UK, anti-vaccinationists continue to connect the MMR vaccine to autism.  In 2016, Wakefield directed a documentary, “Vaxxed,” alleging that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) covered up contrary data in a 2004 study that drew the same conclusions as the Vaccine Court and numerous epidemiological studies.  His allegations were baseless, however, as the 2014 research paper behind his outrageous claim was subsequently retracted.

According to CDC statistics, autism spectrum disorder afflicted 1 in 59 U.S. children in 2014. Diagnosis of the condition can be devastating and highly stressful for the desperate parents of an autistic child, who naturally tend to grasp for explanations and are often quite willing to believe the hype about vaccination.  Currently, the causes of autism remain unknown, although several risk factors have been identified: certain genetic conditions have been implicated, and it’s thought that exposure during pregnancy to toxic chemicals such as pesticides, or to bacterial or viral infections, plays a role.

While there’s no medical evidence tying autism to vaccines, it’s also true that serious adverse reactions to a vaccine shot do occur occasionally – typically about once in every one million vaccinations. Negative and occasionally fatal reactions to various vaccines have been documented in approximately 400 research papers. But these 400 cases need to be weighed against the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered every year in the U.S. without any reported side effects, cases that aren’t even worth studying.

And the odds of suffering an adverse reaction have to be compared with the risk of contracting the disease itself. One of 1,000 children who get the measles, for instance, will end up with encephalitis, which can have devastating aftereffects such as seizures and mental retardation; some children still die from measles, often after getting pneumonia. It’s a lot less dangerous to subject a child to an MMR shot than risk exposing the child to a disease as contagious and potentially deadly as measles.

Solar Science Shortchanged in Climate Models

The sun gets short shrift in the computer climate models used to buttress the mainstream view of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. That’s because the climate change narrative, which links warming almost entirely to our emissions of greenhouse gases, trivializes the contributions to global warming from all other sources. According to its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC attributes no more than a few percent of total global warming to the sun’s influence.

That may be the narrative but it’s not one universally endorsed by solar scientists. Although some, such as solar physicist Mike Lockwood, adhere to the conventional wisdom on CO2, others, such as mathematical physicist Nicola Scafetta, think instead that the sun has an appreciable impact on the earth’s climate. In disputing the conventional wisdom, Scafetta points to our poor understanding of indirect solar effects as opposed to the direct effect of the sun’s radiation, and to analytical models of the sun that oversimplify its behavior. Furthermore, a lack of detailed historical data prior to the recent observational satellite era casts doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the IPCC estimates.

I’ve long felt sorry for solar scientists, whose once highly respectable field of research before climate became an issue has been marginalized by the majority of climate scientists. And solar scientists who are climate change skeptics have had to endure not only loss of prestige, but also difficulty in obtaining research funding because their work doesn’t support the consensus on global warming. But it appears that the tide may be turning at last.

Judging from recent scientific publications, the number of papers affirming a strong sun-climate link is on the rise. From 93 papers in 2014 examining such a link, almost as many were published in the first half of 2017 alone. The 2017 number represents about 7% of all research papers in solar science over the same period (Figure 1 here) and about 16% of all papers on computer climate models during that time (Figure 4 here).

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This rising tide of papers linking the sun to climate change may be why UK climate scientists in 2015 attempted to silence the researcher who led a team predicting a slowdown in solar activity after 2020. Northumbria University’s Valentina Zharkova had dared to propose that the average monthly number of sunspots will soon drop to nearly zero, based on a model in which a drastic falloff is expected in the sun’s magnetic field. Other solar researchers have made the same prediction using different approaches.

Sunspots are small dark blotches on the sun caused by intense magnetic turbulence on the sun’s surface. Together with the sun’s heat and light, the number of sunspots goes up and down during the approximately 11-year solar cycle. But the maximum number of sunspots seen in a cycle has recently been declining. The last time they disappeared altogether was during the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year cool period in the 17th and 18th centuries forming part of the Little Ice Age.

While Zharkova’s research paper actually said nothing about climate, climate scientists quickly latched onto the implication that a period of global cooling might be ahead and demanded that the Royal Astronomical Society – at whose meeting she had originally presented her findings – withdraw her press release. Fortunately, the Society refused to accede to this attack on science at the time, although the press release has since been removed from the Web. Just last month, Zharkova’s group refuted criticisms of its methodology by another prominent solar scientist.

Apart from such direct effects, indirect solar effects due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation or cosmic rays from deep space could also contribute to global warming. In both cases, some sort of feedback mechanism would be needed to amplify what would otherwise be tiny perturbations to global temperatures. However, what’s not generally well known is that the warming predicted by computer climate models comes from assumed water vapor amplification of the modest temperature increase caused by CO2 acting alone. Speculative candidates for amplification of solar warming involve changes in cloud cover as well as the earth’s ozone layer.

Next week: Measles or Autism? False Choice, Says Science

Evidence Lacking for Major Human Role in Climate Change

Conventional scientific wisdom holds that global warming and consequent changes in the climate are primarily our own doing. But what few people realize is that the actual scientific evidence for a substantial human contribution to climate change is flimsy. It requires highly questionable computer climate models to make the connection between global warming and human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The multiple lines of evidence which do exist are simply evidence that the world is warming, not proof that the warming comes predominantly from human activity. The supposed proof relies entirely on computer models that attempt to simulate the earth’s highly complex climate and include greenhouse gases as well as aerosols from both volcanic and man-made sources – but almost totally ignore natural variability.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the models have a dismal track record in predicting the future. Most spectacularly, the models failed to predict the recent pause or hiatus in global warming from the late 1990s to about 2014. During this period, the warming rate dropped to only a third to a half of the rate measured from the early 1970s to 1998, while at the same time CO2 kept spewing into the atmosphere. Out of 32 climate models, only a lone Russian model came anywhere close to the actual observations.

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Not only did the models overestimate the warming rate by two or three times, they wrongly predict a hot spot in the upper atmosphere that isn’t there, and are unable to accurately reproduce sea level rise.

Yet it’s these same failed models that underpin the whole case for catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change, a case embodied in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – which 195 nations, together with many of the world’s scientific societies and national academies, have signed on to – is based not on empirical evidence, but on artificial computer models. Only the models link climate change to human activity. The empirical evidence does not.

Proponents of human-caused global warming, including a majority of climate scientists, insist that the boost to global temperatures of about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since 1850 comes almost exclusively from the steady increase in the atmospheric CO2 level. They argue that elevated CO2 must be the cause of nearly all the warming because the sole major change in climate “forcing” over this period has been from CO2 produced by human activities – mainly the burning of fossil fuels as well as deforestation.

But correlation is not causation, as is well known from statistics or the public health field of epidemiology. So believers in the narrative of catastrophic anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change fall back on computer models to shore up their argument. With the climate change narrative trumpeted by political entities such as the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and amplified by compliant media worldwide, predictions of computer climate models have acquired the status of quasi-religious edicts.

Indeed, anyone disputing the conventional wisdom is labeled a “denier” by advocates of climate change orthodoxy, who claim that global warming skeptics are just as anti-science as those who believe vaccines cause autism. The much ballyhooed war on science typically lumps climate change skeptics together with creationists, anti-vaccinationists and anti-GMO activists. But the climate warmists are the ones on the wrong side of science.

Like their counterparts in the debate over the safety of GMOs, warmists employ fear, hyperbole and heavy-handed political tactics in an attempt to shut down debate. Yet skepticism about the human influence on global warming persists, and may even be growing among the general public. In 2018, a Gallup poll in the U.S. found that 36% of Americans don’t believe that global warming is caused by human activity, while a UK survey showed that a staggering 64% of the British public feel the same way. And the percentage of climate scientists who endorse the mainstream view of a strong human influence is nowhere near the widely believed 97%, although it’s probably above 50%.

Most scientists who are skeptics like me accept that global warming is real, but not that it’s entirely man-made or that it’s dangerous. The observations alone aren’t evidence for a major human role. Such lack of regard for the importance of empirical evidence, and misguided faith in the power of deficient computer climate models, are abuses of science.

(Another 189 comments on this post can be found at the What's Up With That blog and the NoTricksZone blog, which have kindly reproduced the whole post.)