Climate derangement has claimed another celebrity astrophysicist.
Last month, Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, declared that Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement meant that earth could become like Venus, where it rains sulphuric acid and temperatures reach 250 C.
Now Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “science communicator” and host of the 2014 TV series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, has claimed that climate science is as certain and predictable as next week’s solar eclipse. DeGrasse Tyson tweeted: “Odd. No one is in denial of America’s Aug 21 total solar eclipse. Like Climate Change, methods & tools of science predict it.”
With regards to Hawking’s claim, Roy Spencer, a climate specialist at the University of Alabama, pointed out that Venus had 93 times as much atmosphere and 22,000 times as much carbon dioxide as earth, so we shouldn’t be too worried about it raining acid any time soon. Whatever Donald Trump’s flaws, he’s not threatening to repeal the laws of physics and chemistry.
Scientists adopt and commit to theoretical paradigms, which then become fundamentally unquestionable
DeGrasse Tyson’s tweet was immediately leaped upon by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan, a classic work on probability, uncertainty and randomness. Taleb tweeted back “Thus (sic) guy is an intellectual fraud. Nonlinear domains like climate & markets!= mechanics like solar eclipses. If it were true he wd be rich.” But we’re talking something more serious here than calling the market.
I asked Christopher Essex, professor of applied mathematics at the University of Western Ontario, and an expert on climate chaos, to comment. He said that circumstances for climate prediction are even worse than suggested by Taleb’s legitimate concern over nonlinearity. “Tyson writes about using science to ‘predict it.’ But what is ‘it?’ ‘It’ remains physically not so well-defined. An essential prerequisite for prediction is to know precisely what you are trying to predict. Eclipses satisfy this prerequisite, while climate does not.”
Climate is complex and chaotic, quite unlike the Newtonian predictability of planetary motion, but DeGrasse Tyson doesn’t seem to be very clear about that either.
Climate is complex and chaotic, quite unlike the Newtonian predictability of planetary motion
His 13-part Cosmos series, first aired in 2014, was conceived as a successor to popular scientist Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. With the aid of computer graphics, DeGrasse Tyson travels through space and time to present the very latest in science. However, the opening episode contains a major error, embodied in a graphic of how people understood the cosmos before Copernicus and Galileo.
The ancients believed that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that everything moved around it, but Cosmos has the sun, moon and planets all revolving in a circle about the earth. This is not what pre-Copernicans believed, because it’s not what they saw. The sun and moon appear to circle the earth regularly, but the planets don’t, precisely because they circle the sun rather than the earth. Viewed from earth they appear to wander back and forth in “epicycles.” That was why they were called planets, from the Greek for “wanderers,” and why navigational charts based on the Ptolemaic system were so complicated (although the planetary dance was indeed recorded and calculated with great precision, until a better theory came along).