Lemmings Galore

Guest post by Dr. Klaus L. E. Kaiser

You’ll probably have come across the term “like lemmings” before. Lemmings are small hamster-like rodents found across the Arctic land area and the term refers to their change in abundance and behavior when their number reaches a critical point. At such a point lemmings are said to follow one another to die by drowning in the sea, although there are some open questions about the veracity of such claims [1].

Background

Lemmings are hand-sized rodents, similar to the hamsters your son or daughter (age-dependent) may find cute and would like you to raise as their pet in your place (at least until your offspring loses interest).

Anyway, lemmings and hamsters come and go. Given the right circumstances, every so often they multiply enormously. However, nature has its own way of cutting them down to size again; usually by starvation. In times with plenty of food, any species will procreate as much as possible; lemmings are no different. When the inevitable poor harvest occurs, their fortunes change dramatically. This is known from many cyclic species with cyclic population exuberance and crashes. When a crash occurs, it can reduce the previous abundance by many orders of magnitude.

Lemmingnistics”

OK, that’s a new word. What I mean by it is the pretense of knowing all, still doing the same thing, and expecting a different result than before. Albert Einstein is said to have defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over again, expecting a different result.” Of course, Einstein had his own problems. Someone with the first name Adolf did not particularly like his theories. Adolf managed to enlist a good number of learned people who all concurred that Einstein was wrong. It helped to shape the opinions in the media and the populace. There remained just one little problem: scientific proof was not available at that time, neither for nor against Einstein’s science. As it turned out later, Einstein was right. In response to the hundred-plus scientists who had claimed that he had been wrong, Einstein simply said “one [scientist] would have been enough – if I had been wrong.”

To me that is an important lesson in science. Science does not work by consensus, rather by fact. Any theory, as outlandish as it may sound to another scientist or a layman alike, will eventually be proven to be false or true. But that proof does not depend on how many people believe that the theory is correct or false, at any time. There is no substitute for scientific proof – certainly not of the kind much of the media like to hype. To give you a modern example, let’s look at the Mann Affair.

The Mann Affair

To refresh your memory, Dr. Michael Mann was a major factor, i.e. contributor and lead author to several reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). His work on tree (growth) rings helped to propel his “hockey stick” graph to worldwide attention. That graph supposedly showed a causative link between carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air and the climate on earth. That graph was used by Al Gore and others to “sell” the ideas of “global warming”, the “Kyoto Protocol” and other international agreements such as the UN’s Agenda 21 with its prescriptions for all kinds of government control of your life.

Dr. Mann and some of his associates were so convinced of his work that his employer, the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) had no qualms about publishing his biography with its claim that “He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with other IPCC authors in 2007.” In fact, Mann was so enthused about his scientific prowess that he started court proceedings against others who questioned his claims and wanted to see the raw data behind them [2].

Fast forward to November 2012: The court case brought by Dr. Mann against his most outspoken critic, Dr. Timothy Ball, appears to have collapsed. Mann simply failed to provide the data on which his whole hockey stick graph is supposed to rest. As a result, Mann, and potentially others like him, may be facing counter-suits and potentially substantial damage awards, possibly even punitive actions as well. PSU may not be pleased. They could be on the hook for millions. Stay tuned.

Take-Home Message

The take-home message here is simple. Don’t fall for media hype, awards, or scientific concepts or models with claims like “the majority of scientists believe” as their justification. “Consensus” does not exist in science – but facts do. Computer models can provide great inside knowledge – or can be utterly wrong, the latter for sure if the data behind it are “cooked.”

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[1] Wikipedia entry ‘Lemmings’  wikipedia.org (accessed online: November 28, 2012)

[2] L. Bell, ‘ ClimateGate Star Michael Mann Courts Legal Disaster,’  www.forbes.com (accessed online: November 28, 2012)

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Lemmings Galore

  1. Pingback: Lemmings Galore « Skeptics Chillin'

  2. Ahhh…the wonderful “the majority of scientists believe” mantra offered as proof of catastrophic man caused global warming by the self pontificated cadre of “climate scientists”. Isn’t that rather like an angry teenager saying “but all the other kids are doing it!” excuse for being allowed to do something stupid, immoral, or illegal? Soon followed by a dejected: “Gee Ma, you won’t let me have any fun”?

    The Ball vs. Mann case just might be the first installment of some long needed Tough Love therapy. All I can say, it is about time. The so called climate scientists are going to have to be required to join the real world of adults and work to make an honest living rather than trying to scam the public by let’s pretend science.

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