Debating The Debate

July 15th, 2008

I was quite disappointed to open my recent BAM and find the comment, "the debate is over" as an introduction to a global warming feature ("Here & Now," May/June). It is disturbing to see political talking points in a university publication. The New York Times already does that job very well. One wonders what compels people to keep using "the debate is over." Who gets to decide when the debate is over? Politicians? Activists? Universities?

I am particularly offended by "the debate is over" being applied to a scientific problem like global warming. When I studied chemistry at Brown (yes, it was a very long time ago), the scientific method involved posting hypotheses and testing their validity against observations (experiments). When did it get changed to "we can't discuss any facts that disagree with our conclusion?" The certitude reflected in "the debate is over" might be appropriate for religion, but when did absolutism become a core value in academia?

The problems with the hypothesis that man-made carbon dioxide caused global warming are readily apparent to anyone who wants to look. It is not that the debate was ended prematurely; it is that debate is not a substitute for testing the hypothesis. Our universities seem to be producing an ample number of debaters, but where are the hypothesis testers coming from?

Ed Richman '63
Blue Bell, Pa.


Editor Norman Boucher replies:

The complete sentence to which ed Richman refers is: "The debate over whether or not global warming exists isn't really much of a debate anymore." The data are clear: the average measured air temperature above the surface of the Earth rose about 1.3 degrees Farenheit from 1905 to 2005. Whether or not the Earth's air has been warming is not a hypothesis but a measurable fact; what is open to debate is what this means, exactly, and to what extent humans are responsible for this rise in average temperature.

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July/August 2008