How Do You Sleep At Night?

That was what climate sceptics Marc Morano and astronaut Walt Cunningham got asked during the COP19 climate conference in Poland, by a young lady who said that they were ignoring “the science”. She starts up near the beginning of this YouTube video clip:


I guess that for people like her “the science” is always definitive and authoritative and can never be questioned. “Scientists” are people who know.

But I guess the way that I see science is that it’s all about trying to understand what isn’t at present well understood, or even understood at all. Scientists are trying to get to know what they currently don’t know. So the front line of science is the border between what is known and what is unknown.

So I see science as a bit like a campfire burning in the night. In the light of the fire you can see a lot of the things nearest to it. But further out they’re harder to see. And beyond that everything is lost in shadows. What we “know” lies in a little circle around the campfire. And what we don’t know lies outside it, and extends for hundreds of miles in all directions. So what we don’t know is vastly more than what we know.

And so, when I come across some scientist who has won a Nobel Prize for finding out something we didn’t know before, I just see him as someone who made the campfire burn a little bit brighter, so that we got to see a little bit further. But I don’t see such people as “knowing” very much at all. They just know a little bit more than most people.

Really we shouldn’t see scientists as people who know, but as people who don’t know but who are trying to find out. After all, that’s what scientific research is all about: trying to understand things that are not understood right now. If we already knew everything that we needed to know, we wouldn’t need scientists to carry out the research to find out.

So the idea of “the science” that this young lady had – as a body of final, authoritative, definitive knowledge – is wholly mistaken. Science is the process of finding things out. And it’s a process that never ends. We just slowly build a bigger and bigger campfire, and see further and further into the surrounding darkness. We never finally and definitively “know” everything. That’s just our aspiration.

And in the case of climate science, we’ve only been studying it for about 150 years. We only have temperature records that go back that sort of period of time. And it’s only about 70 years since we found out about the jet stream. The Japanese were the first to discover it during WW2, and used it to send balloons carrying bombs to the USA (where they actually killed one person). And it’s only in the last 30 or 40 years that we’ve been able to see the Earth from satellites orbiting the Earth. And it’s only in the last 20 or 30 years that we’ve acquired super-computers that can perform the zillions of calculations that are needed to run global climate simulation models (which don’t seem to work very well). And given all this, it’s nonsense for anyone to ever say that “the science is settled”. Of course it isn’t. Right now is a time of maximum growth and development in climate science. None of it could possibly be described as “settled”.

One of the big problems of our time is that a lot of people – like this young lady – think that scientists know everything, when actually they don’t. And so a lot of people have one helluva surprise waiting in store for them, when most of the scientific predictions come to nothing, and they discover that scientists don’t really know very much more than anybody else does. And I wonder, once she realises how little we really know about anything, how well that young lady will continue to sleep at night.


About Frank Davis

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31 Responses to How Do You Sleep At Night?

  1. beobrigitte says:

    I guess that for people like her “the science” is always definitive and authoritative and can never be questioned. “Scientists” are people who know.

    Did someone tell the young lady that the human brain is not fully develeoped until the age of 21?

    Ask the youngsters HOW the scientists “should know”…..

    • Man With a Polish Wife says:

      Which reminds me of the old adage, “an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less”. Those rate scientists whose sparks of imagination illuminate their fields, are the exceptions that prove the rule.

      And, of course we could say in this context that with regards to climate change scientists that we have “the blind leading the blind” (with apologies).

      • Man With a Polish Wife says:

        rate s/b rare

      • legiron says:

        As an ‘expert’ myself, I can say the old adage is perfectly true.

        After B.Sc., I knew a little bit about all of microbiology and a little bit of most of biochemsitry and chemistry.

        After PhD, I knew a hell of a lot about intestinal microbiology – but the amount I knew about marine, soil or other areas of microbiology had not advanced at all.

        Through the years I have learned more and more about specialised parts of gut microbiology and forgotten more and more of all the rest of it.

        Every scientist gets more and more specialised in their field and as a result, knows less and less of the other parts of their subject area. A fully-fledged expert – in one small area.

        Prince Charles is an expert in… something, I suppose… but it’s not climate science. Yet he is happy to make vile and disgusting use of the Phillipines disaster to push his personal belief that it’s all down to climate change. Even most of the climatologists have not sunk so low.

        I’m not an expert in climate science but one thing all scientists have in common is expertise in the scientific method.

        And that is not the method the climatologists are using. They are using the religious-cult method. It’s not science, it’s religion, and when the drones finally realise that they’re going to lynch any scientist they find.

        That’s one reason I’m a janitor now ;) There are many others.

        • Marie says:

          Thank you for that. It was exactly, what I thought, and I am not a scientist. Using common sense can be very helpful.

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    And its the same with tobacco studies even after 60-70-100 years of claims nothing is proven!

  3. Ivan D says:

    I suspect that the young lady in question has no science qualifications and no idea what she is talking about. Those who abuse science to back their quasi-religious agendas never do.

    I have no firm views on climate change but her unpleasant ignorant aggression disturbs me. She was part of some UK based organisation so I wonder if she was there on a travel grant paid for by UK tax payers.

  4. waltc says:

    Sorry I missed class yesterday (note from mom attached) but to add a PS from NYC…I do believe that fewer people in Manhattan smoke now than ever, though it’s not the same in the boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx etc) where there are also, I hear, more bars where people smoke openly (and not just after midnight amid hookup din) and where outdoor bans are regularly ignored by both smokers and cops. I think it’s because Manhattanites in general are more likely to be part of an aspiring middle class (whether upper or lower middle), much like the Babbits of the 1920s or the gray-flannel’d conformists of the 1950’s. Outer-directed; PC, swayed by any fad, eager to be thought “nice.” Like SF’s “greening,” it’s also a part of our “gentification.”

    Still, I think the stats showing sharp declines are, like the death of smoking itself, “greatly exaggerated.” I’ve noted the asterisks and small print footnotes on most of the surveys that provide the stats, almost all of which are gathered thru phone surveys. The asterisks note the small number of actual respondents wi the pool of those called and show the number of people of who refused to answer questions vastly exceeds the number who do. Smokers would be the most likely to non-respond or to respond with FU before hanging up. Or, of course, to lie.

    Finally I’ve thought seriously in the past of moving to Northern Virginia, near DC, where much of my family is, but guessed correctly that the bans would get there either before or shortly after I did–and they did. At this point, I doubt any place in America is safe from the juggernaut. I can also confirm what Joe Jackson said about smokers and bars. I know one really good sexy bar in midtown where smoking is legal but when I’ve told other smokers about it, most of them seem indifferent.

  5. Junican says:

    I do not see much changing until people realise that ‘longevity’ is a false god. The Zealots have raised ‘longevity’ to ‘eternal’. Such an idea is blasphemous, since it requires that humans become as powerful as God.
    I say the above only in the sense of philosophical ideology (in the reasonable sense); in that sense, “God” may mean “The absolutes dictated by the Universe”.That is, you do not have to believe in “God” as a person of some sort. “The absolutes dictated by the universe” will do in place of a “personal God”. Thus, ‘blasphemy’, in this sense, refers to the ‘sins’ of Tobacco Control in declaring that ‘eternal life’ is possible to attain simply by not enjoying tobacco.

  6. margo says:

    Absolutely right, Frank: science, by definition, can never be ‘settled’. All real scientists would agree with that. The best they can ever say is, ‘At the moment I think …. and here’s why …’.

  7. harleyrider1978 says:

    It doesn’t get more pathetic than this

    Derry mom sparks smoking debate after park encounter

    Bump said she took her two children to Hood Park over the past weekend. At the swings, she said she encountered a woman who was pushing her children on the swings while smoking a cigarette. Bump said she had to tell her children they couldn’t use the swings because of her fear they would be exposed to the second-hand smoke.

    “Try telling that to a 2–year old who wants to use the swings,” Bump said.

    My wife has never had a cigarette, and still I hear her hacking because of my smoking,” Dimmock said. “So remember when you light up a cigarette, it’s not you who you are affecting, it’s the people around you.”

    • beobrigitte says:

      Not to miss the usual antismoker drivvel:

      Meghan Tewksbury said:

      These negative comments are outrageous. I sincerely have to wonder if the majority of you have ever had your children around people smoking. I have been to parks before where people are smoking (in Merrimack, where there are clear park rules posted stating- no smoking within the park) in the same situation- at the swing set, near the slide etc. It is appalling and disgusting. You all talk about the smoker’s rights and how dare Nicole challenge that right to smoke anywhere. A park is the towns property, they have the ability to take away that right and they SHOULD. To say that smoking outside causes no harm to a child is ridiculous. yes it is LESS harmful than if they were indoors, but that does not mean it is not harmful. Where is the common sense?!

      It took me a while to recover from ‘rolling-on-the-floo-laughing’!!!!!

      I sincerely have to wonder if the majority of you have ever had your children around people smoking.

      Yep. My generation grew up around people holding cigarettes. And my offspring did, too.

      You all talk about the smoker’s rights and how dare Nicole challenge that right to smoke anywhere.

      The typical antismokers’ whine; SMOKING ANYWHERE. They still use this in Germany; ‘you smokers just want to smoke anywhere’ (*whiny, quivering voice*). And this Meghan hypothesises further that passive smoke is just LESS harmful outdoors…..

      The best one:
      Where is the common sense?!
      That is a question I would like to ask…….

    • beobrigitte says:

      Frank, my reply disappeared in the black hole again…

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Corporate watchdog concerned over direction of Trans-Pacific Partnership
    ‎Thursday, ‎November ‎14, ‎2013, ‏‎5:19:49 AM | editorGo to full article
    U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who is leading closed-door negotiations concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is pushing a proposal that would grant tobacco manufacturers the right to sue governments for passing laws aimed at protecting the public from tobacco, according to a Corporate Accountability International (CAI) report.

    “Disturbingly—but not surprisingly—the U.S. trade representative has caved to Philip Morris International’s lobbying, promoting the tobacco industry’s interests over the public interest,” said CAI. “In particular, he is advancing a proposal that could enable Big Tobacco to sue countries implementing strong tobacco control measures, by claiming trade violations. If passed, the TPP will threaten governments’ sovereign rights to protect people from the tobacco industry’s deadly reach. It has the potential to turn back the clock on decades of hard-won progress secured through the global tobacco treaty [the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control].”

    CAI is concerned not only with the influence exerted by tobacco interests. “The TPP is being driven by more than 600 lobbyists representing the interests of Big Business, including lobbyists for global tobacco associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as for global corporations such as Monsanto [and] Wal-Mart,” it said. “As a result, the trade agreement will have devastating consequences for people around the Pacific Rim. For example, as it now stands, the TPP threatens to decrease people’s access to medicine, water down food-safety laws and undermine public health advances.”

    The report is at
    Go to commentsComments (0)

  9. Radical Rodent says:

    As said by Robert Way on Skeptical [sic] Science (by way of Steve McIntyre and Bishop Hill): “…the gap between scientists and skeptics…

    Please tell me if I am wrong, but I read this as tacit admission that to be sceptical is no longer to be scientific.

    One thing that the climate change nonsense has done for me is to introduce me to the mind of Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in ignorance of experts.”

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Look to the Political Agenda and you will find the need for Science. For the last 60 years or more its now apparent government creates its own science to back up its own laws!

  11. harleyrider1978 says:

    US and UK struck secret deal to allow NSA to ‘unmask’ Britons’ personal data

    • 2007 deal allows NSA to store previously restricted material
    • UK citizens not suspected of wrongdoing caught up in dragnet
    • Separate draft memo proposes US spying on ‘Five-Eyes’ allies

  12. Rose says:

    From Simon Clark at Taking Liberties

    “I need a collective noun for people who smoke, vape and use other nicotine products.”

    “Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae), predominantly in tobacco, and in lower quantities in tomato, potato, eggplant (aubergine), and green pepper.”

    I was going to suggest – People – but it would be a waste of time as my comments generally don’t get posted.

  13. garyk30 says:

    My grandfather used to say:
    “it’s not what you don’t know that get’s you into trouble, it’s what you do know that isn’t so.”

    Seems to me that real science is about trying to prove yourself wrong.
    If you can’t do so, you just may,possibily, be right.
    Only zealots never question their findings.

    Those that labor to expand what is already known are engineers, not true scientists.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think of engineers as simply using what is already known – e.g. electrical engineers who use well-established science of electricity, like Ohm’s law. I’d hate to think, when I bought an electric toaster, that it was an experimental one which might or might not work.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Frank Ive yet to ever see a design without a weak link in it somewhere………….

      • garyk30 says:

        That toaster might just be a refinement that is newer; but, not really better.

        Many scientists ‘refine’ our understanding of stuff; but, they do not actually advance the science.

  14. Tony says:

    Another one for your graveyard Frank?
    “A murder suspect found dead in prison tried to harm himself just days before because he was suffering from a withdrawal of tobacco, a court heard. “
    OK so he was awaiting trial for murder but in any case he was ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Did he murder someone for their smokes this could be a double header!

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Its even better the man was basically a psychiatric patient and was suffering deep withdrawels from no tobacco. This is where the self medicating effect comes in with smoking and its a great example to use against the mental health smoking bans!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Thanks. I’ve added him to the graveyard. A bit marginal, since he was accused of murder. But he seems also to have been a vulnerable sort of person who really needed tobacco.

  15. Pingback: Campfires in the night of ignorance | The Last Furlong

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