Science 101: Null Test All Claims

Francis Menton provides some essential advice for non-scientists in his recent essay at Manhattan Contrarian You Don’t Need To Be A Scientist To Know That The Global Warming Alarm “Science” Is Fake. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

When confronted with a claim that a scientific proposition has been definitively proven, ask the question: What was the null hypothesis, and on what basis has it been rejected?

As Menton explains, you don’t need the skills to perform yourself the null test, just the boldness to check how they dismissed the null hypothesis.

Consider first a simple example, the question of whether aspirin cures headaches. Make that our scientific proposition: aspirin cures headaches. How would this proposition be established? You yourself have taken aspirin many times, and your headache always went away. Doesn’t that prove that the aspirin worked? Absolutely not. The fact that you took aspirin 100 times and the headache went away 100 times proves nothing. Why? Because there is a null hypothesis that must first be rejected. Here the null hypothesis is that headaches will go away just as quickly on their own. How do you reject that? The standard method is to take some substantial number of people with headaches, say 2000, and give half of them the aspirin and the other half a placebo. Two hours later, of the 1000 who took the aspirin, 950 feel better and only 50 still have the headache; and of the 1000 who took the placebo, 500 still have the headache. Now you have very, very good proof that aspirin cured the headaches.

The point to focus on is that the most important evidence — the only evidence that really proves causation — is the evidence that requires rejection of the null hypothesis.

Over to climate science. Here you are subject to a constant barrage of information designed to convince you of the definitive relationship between human carbon emissions and global warming. The world temperature graph is shooting up in hockey stick formation! Arctic sea ice is disappearing! The rate of sea level rise is accelerating! Hurricanes are intensifying! June was the warmest month EVER! And on and on and on. All of this is alleged to be “consistent” with the hypothesis of human-caused global warming.

But, what is the null hypothesis, and on what basis has it been rejected? Here the null hypothesis is that some other factor, or combination of factors, rather than human carbon emissions, was the dominant cause of the observed warming.

Once you pose the null hypothesis, you immediately realize that all of the scary climate information with which you are constantly barraged does not even meaningfully address the relevant question. All of that information is just the analog of your 100 headaches that went away after you took aspirin. How do you know that those headaches wouldn’t have gone away without the aspirin? You don’t know unless someone presents data that are sufficient to reject the null hypothesis. Proof of causation can only come from disproof of the null hypothesis or hypotheses, that is, disproof of other proposed alternative causes. This precept is fundamental to the scientific method, and therefore fully applies to “climate science” to the extent that that field wishes to be real science versus fake science.

Now, start applying this simple check to every piece you read about climate science. Start looking for the null hypothesis and how it was supposedly rejected. In mainstream climate literature — and I’m including here both the highbrow media like the New York Times and also the so-called “peer reviewed” scientific journals like Nature and Scienceyou won’t find that. It seems that people calling themselves “climate scientists” today have convinced themselves that their field is such “settled science” that they no longer need to bother with tacky questions like worrying about the null hypothesis.

When climate scientists start addressing the alternative hypotheses seriously, then it will be real science. In the meantime, it’s fake science.

Summary

The null test can be applied to any scientific claim.  If there is no null hypothesis considered, then you can add the report  to the file “Unproven Claims,” or “Unfounded Suppositions.”  Some researchers call them SWAGs: Scientific Wild Ass Guesses.  These are not useless, since any discovery starts with a SWAG.  But you should avoid believing that they describe the way the world works until alternative explanations have been tested and dismissed.

See Also: No “Gold Standard” Climate Science

No GHG Warming Fingerprints in the Sky

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7 comments

  1. Mark Krebs · July 16

    Article stated:
    But, what is the null hypothesis, and on what basis has it been rejected? Here the null hypothesis is that some other factor, or combination of factors, rather than human carbon emissions, was the dominant cause of the observed warming.

    Please name a few. I know sun spots is one.

    Like

    • Ron Clutz · July 16

      Oceanic cycles on scales from decades to centuries. Global dimming and brightening due to clouds and aerosols. Volcanic activity, both land and seafloor quakes and eruptions. Land use changes. Ozone variability in troposphere and stratosphere. Patterns of ice and snow cover. Polar vortex fluctuations. Slowing or speeding of hydrology cycle. Solar system orbital mechanics.

      Liked by 1 person

    • rw · July 21

      What you described isn’t a null hypothesis; it’s an alternative hypothesis. The null hypothesis only applies to statistical tests, generally (always?) being a hypothesis of no difference between samples with respect to a statistic like the mean.

      Like

      • Ron Clutz · July 21

        Not so fast, rw. You are talking about inferential statistics. I am using the term in the broader context of scientific understanding. In that context, the null hypothesis, H0 is the commonly accepted fact; it is the opposite of the alternate hypothesis. Researchers work to reject, nullify or disprove the null hypothesis. Researchers come up with an alternate hypothesis, one that they think explains a phenomenon, and then work to reject the null hypothesis.

        Why is it Called the “Null”?
        The word “null” in this context means that it’s a commonly accepted fact that researchers work to nullify. It doesn’t mean that the statement is null itself! (Perhaps the term should be called the “nullifiable hypothesis” as that might cause less confusion).
        Example:
        Null hypothesis, H0: The world is flat.
        Alternate hypothesis: The world is round.

        Granted, climate science turns this upside down. Surprise, surprise. Because CO2 obsessives have used social media to change the commonly accepted fact that nature does weather and humans can only adapt.

        Like

  2. uwe.roland.gross · July 16

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

    Like

  3. Michael Lewis · July 16

    Excellent explanation of a poorly understood yet critical aspect of the scientific process. Thanks, Ron!

    Like

    • Ron Clutz · July 16

      Thanks for that Michael, though Menton wrote most of it. Unfortunately, most folks fail to realize that science is a methodical process of elimination. Each alternative explanation is tested until there is only one left standing. Think of Edison putting all kinds of materials through his lab experiments until tungsten proved itself as a light bulb filament. Instead uninformed people think a scientific finding is a kind of revealed truth, a leap of intuition, skipping all of that perspiration and persistence.

      Like

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