Oktobernumret av American Institute of Physics' medlemstidskrift Physics Today har en mycket läsvärd artikel skriven av Steven Sherwood. Den beskriver och jämför hur tre nya teorier (den heliocentriska världsbilden, relativitetsteorin samt teorin att mänskliga aktiviteter kan ha en mät- och kännbar effekt på jordens klimat) stött på motstånd, trots att evidensen entydigt talar till deras fördel.
It was easy for those not wishing to accept Copernicus’s insight to devise persuasive counterarguments against it. For example, in 1597 one prominent commentator declared that a moving Earth would “see cities and fortresses, towns and mountains thrown down,” and that “neither an arrow shot straight up, nor a stone dropped . . . would fall perpendicularly."2 Those arguments would not fly today because nearly everyone has experiential knowledge, from riding in cars and airplanes, of what are now called the Galilean principles of invariance. But laypeople in the 17th century did not. To explain those abstractions to them would have been much more difficult than to make the neat, simple, and wrong argument advanced by naysayers. As the 17th century progressed, arguments against heliocentricity tended to veer more toward scriptural rather than scientific ones, but both types persisted.
Greenhouse warming today faces an even greater array of bogus counterarguments based on the uninformed interpretation of data from ice cores, erroneous views about natural carbon sources, alleged but unobserved alternative drivers of climate change, naive expectations of the time scales over which models and observations should match, and various forms of statistical chicanery and logical fallacy. Many of the arguments sound reasonable to an inexpert but intelligent layperson. Critics use the alleged ﬂaws to attempt to discredit the entire field.
The current theory of global climate change is hardly elegant or scientifically revolutionary, and in that respect it seems like no bedfellow to the others. Its prominence comes from its implications for the sustainability of current Western consumption patterns, not from reshaping physics; its many contributors would not claim to be Einsteins. What it shares with the others, however, is its origin in the worked-out consequences of evident physical principles rather than direct observation. That sort of bottom-up deduction is valued by physics perhaps more than by any other science.