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Fraud in science

This is a work in progress.

My First Fraud Kit

Image by Aurich Lawson, ArsTechnia, Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any)

Science is a self-correcting enterprise.

But science is generally about investigating nature – not investigating the human investigators themselves. Scientists don’t assume that everyone else’s research is always correct, but realistically they operate on the presumption that research is earnest and honest.  When a scientist decides to engage in fraud, in some disciplines, their fake results are often harder to detect.


Lysenko, Russia, and genetics-denial

Lysenkoism was named for Russian botanist Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. It occurred in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. Lysenkoism mandated that all biological research conducted in the USSR conform to a modified Lamarckian evolutionary theory. Communists wanted this to be true because it promised a biology based on a moldable view of life consistent with Marxist-Leninist dogma.

Lysenkoists employed a form of political correctness to instill terror in anyone who disagreed with their dogma. People who disagreed with them faced public denunciation, loss of Communist Party membership, loss of employment, and even arrest by the secret police. Between Lysenko’s grip on power and the “disappearances” of numerous of his opponents, it would be years until the Soviet biology program would recover. – adapted from RationalWiki.

“It was an ugly picture of what happens when science is subservient to ideology, arguable the most extreme example in history. As a result of Lysenko’s crank ideas, the famine that was already underway was worsened. Lysenkoism was also exported to other communist countries like China, who also experienced horrible famine. Millions of people starved due to Lysenko’s crank ideas, making him arguably the scientist with the largest body count in human history.” – The Return of Lysenkoism

Supposed link between personality types and cancer

A remarkable series of fraudulent papers which attempted to convince people that lung cancer wasn’t caused by cigarettes. This fake research turns out to have been funded by the cigarette lobby.

“In 1992, Anthony Pelosi voiced concerns in the British Medical Journal about controversial findings from Hans Eysenck – one of the most influential British psychologists of all time – and German researcher Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. Those findings claimed personality played a bigger part in people’s chances of dying from cancer or heart disease than smoking. Almost three decades later, Eysenck’s institution have recommended these studies be retracted from academic journals. Hannah Devlin speaks to Pelosi about the twists and turns in his ultimately successful journey. And to the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley, about how revelations from tobacco industry documents played a crucial role.”

Taking on Eysenck: one man’s mission to challenge a giant of psychology

Fake link between vaccines and autism

Andrew Wakefield, claimed that he had shown a link between vaccines and autism .

“He was found guilty of dishonesty in his research and banned from medicine by the UK General Medical Council following an investigation by Brian Deer of the London Sunday Times.” – Wikipedia

Anesthesiology research fraud

Yoshitaka Fujii (Japan), researcher in anesthesiology, fabricated data in at least 183 scientific papers, setting what is believed to be a record. A committee reviewing 212 papers published by Fujii over a span of 20 years found that 126 were entirely fabricated, with no scientific work done. – Wikipedia


Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science


Retraction Watch: Reports on retractions of scientific papers and on related topics

Yoshihiro Sato: Researcher at the center of an epic fraud remains an enigma to those who exposed him

Yoshitaka Fujii: Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any)

Scientific Misconduct (Wikipedia)



Resource under construction


Pseudoscience is a belief system which tries to gain legitimacy by wearing the trappings of science, but fails to abide by the rigorous methodology and standards of evidence that are the marks of actual science.

Pseudoscientists adopt the vocabulary of science, describing conjectures as hypotheses, theories, or laws, providing “evidence” from observation and “expert” testimonies, or developing what appear to be mathematical models of their ideas. However, in pseudoscience there is no attempt to follow the scientific method, provide falsifiable predictions, or develop double blind experiments.

Intro adapted from RationalWiki

Pseudoscience is characterized by:

contradictory, exaggerated or unfalsifiable claims

reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation

lack of openness to evaluation by other experts

absence of systematic practices when developing hypotheses

continued adherence long after the pseudoscientific hypotheses have been experimentally discredited.

(list here adapted from Wikipedia)

If crazy phenomenon worked then companies would use it

Image from xkcd.com/808/



Below are red flags that a supposedly “scientific” claim is in fact pseudoscience.  These essays are from Graham Coghill’s excellent website, ScienceOrNot. We have indicators of good science (Hallmarks of Science) and indicators of bad science (Science Red Flags).  The articles on his website are covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License (unless otherwise stated).

The ‘scientifically proven’ subterfuge. Scammers and deniers use two forms of  this tactic:

  • they claim that their idea/discovery/product is valid because it has been ‘scientifically proven’
  • they refuse to accept someone else’s claim unless it can be ‘scientifically proven’
Persecuted prophets and maligned mavericks: The Galileo Gambit.  Users of this tactic will try to persuade you that they belong to a tradition of maverick scientists who have been responsible for great advances despite being persecuted by mainstream science.
Empty edicts – absence of empirical evidence  This tactic shows up when people make claims in the form of bald statements – “this is the way it is” or “this is true” or “I know/believe this” or “everybody knows this” – without any reference to supporting evidence.
Anecdotes, testimonials and urban legends  Those who use this tactic try to present stories about specific cases or events as supporting evidence. The stories range from personal testimonials, to anecdotes about acquaintances, to tales about unidentifiable subjects.
Charges of conspiracy, collusion and connivance  Conspiracy theorists usually start by targeting weaknesses in an accepted model, then propose a conspiracy that explains why their ‘better’ model has been suppressed. Although there can be overwhelming evidence favouring the accepted model, they claim that this simply means the conspiracy has been successful.
Stressing status and appealing to authority People who use this tactic try to convince you by quoting some ‘authority’ who agrees with their claims and pointing to that person’s status, position or qualifications, instead of producing real-world evidence. The tactic is known as the argument from authority.
Devious deception in displaying data: Cherry picking In cherry-picking, people use legitimate evidence, but not all of the evidence. They select segments of evidence that appear to support their argument and hide or ignore the rest of the evidence which tends to refute it.
Repetition of discredited arguments – parroting PRATT In this tactic, people persist in repeating claims that have been shown over and over to have no foundation. Look for slogans, sweeping statements or claims that look as though they could easily be refuted.
Duplicity and distraction – false dichotomy In this tactic, people assert that there are only two possible (and usually opposite) positions to choose from, when in fact there are more. They try to argue that if one position is shown to be false, then the other must be correct.
Wishful thinking – favouring fantasy over fact We all fall victim to this tactic because we use it on ourselves. We like to believe things that conform with our wishes or desires, even to the extent of ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Appeals to ancient wisdom – trusting traditional trickery People who use this tactic try to persuade you that a certain explanation, treatment or model must be correct because it’s been around for a long time.
Technobabble and tenuous terminology: the use of pseudo scientific language In this tactic, people use invented terms that sound “sciencey” or co-opt real science terms and apply them incorrectly.
Confusing correlation with causation: rooster syndrome This is the natural human tendency to assume that, if two events or phenomena consistently occur at about the same time, then one is the cause of the other. Hence “rooster syndrome”, from the rooster who believed that his crowing caused the sun to rise.
Straw man: crushing concocted canards When this tactic is used, it’s always in response to an argument put up by an opponent. Unable to come up with a reasoned response, the perpetrator constructs a distorted, incorrect version (the “straw man”) of the opponent’s argument, and then proceeds to tear it to shreds.
Indelible initial impressions: the anchoring effect Anchoring is the human tendency to rely almost entirely on one piece of evidence or study, usually one that we encountered early, when making a decision.
Perceiving phoney patterns: apophenia This happens when you convince yourself, or someone tries to convince you, that some data reveal a significant pattern when really the data are random or meaningless.
Esoteric energy and fanciful forces. This tactic is easy to pick because people who use it try to convince you that some kind of elusive energy or power or force is responsible for whatever effect they are promoting.
Banishing boundaries and pushing panaceas – applying models where they don’t belong Those who use this tactic take a model that works under certain conditions and try to apply it more widely to circumstances beyond its scope, where it does not work. Look for jargon, sweeping statements and vague, rambling “explanations” that try to sound scientific.
Averting anxiety with cosmic connectivity: magical thinking Magical thinking is present when anyone argues that everything is connected: thoughts, symbols and rituals can have distant physical and mental effects; inanimate objects can have intentions and mystical influences. Often, the connectivity is supposedly mediated by some mysterious energy, force or vibration and there is much talk of holism, resonance, balance, essences and higher states.
Single study syndrome – clutching at convenient confirmation This tactic shows up when a person who has a vested interest in a particular point of view pounces on some new finding which seems to either support or threaten that point of view. It’s usually used in a context where the weight of evidence is against the perpetrator’s view.
Appeal to nature – the authenticity axiom You are expected to accept without question that anything ‘natural’ is good, and anything ‘artificial’, ‘synthetic’ or ‘man-made’ is bad.
The reversed responsibility response – switching the burden of proof This tactic is usually used by someone who’s made a claim and then been asked for evidence to support it. Their response is to demand that you show that the claim is wrong and if you can’t, to insist that this means their claim is true.
The scary science scenario – science portrayed as evil. The perpetrators try to convince you that scientific knowledge has resulted in overwhelmingly more harm than good. They identify environmental disasters, accidents, human tragedies, hazards, weapons and uncomfortable ideas that have some link to scientific discoveries and claim that science must be blamed for the any damage they cause. They may even go so far as claiming that scientists themselves are generally cold, unfeeling people who enjoy causing harm.
False balance – cultivating counterfeit controversy to create confusion  This tactic is promoted by peddlers of bad science and pseudoscience and is often taken up by journalists and politicians. In discussing an issue, they insist that “both sides” be presented.  Many journalists routinely look for a representative of each “side” to include in their stories, even though it might be inappropriate. Groups or individuals who are pushing nonsense or marginal ideas like to exploit this tendency so that their point of view gains undeserved publicity.
Confirmation bias – ferreting favourable findings while overlooking opposing observations  This is a cognitive bias that we all suffer from. We go out of our way to look for evidence that confirms our ideas and avoid evidence that would contradict them..
Crafty contrarians and wily watchdogs – donning the mantle of shrewdness  This is an attitude adopted by a person – and it’s usually an older male – who has achieved success within his profession. This person feels entitled to make pronouncements about areas in which he has no competence. He believes he has developed a knack for making good judgements based on ‘intuition’ or ‘gut feeling’ and you are expected to respect his opinions because of his reputation for astuteness. His opinions are usually at odds with the accepted science.
The appeal to common sense – garbage in the guise of gumption  The perpetrator tries to persuade you to accept or reject a claim based on what’s supposedly “common sense”. Look out for key words such as “Obviously, …”, “Naturally, …”, “Everyone knows …” or “It goes without saying that …”.
Ostensible oppression of opposing opinions – claims of rights violated. In this tactic, people insist that their right to express their opinion, or their right to free speech, is being denied. This is their reaction to having their opinions dismissed, rejected or ignored by mainstream scientific forums. They refuse to accept that their opinions fail because they do not meet the standards for publication in those forums.
The alarmism accusation – claims of crises created to funnel funding. Those who use this tactic insist that the current scientific consensus on some issue is corrupt. This, they claim, is because a group of scientists has colluded to hype the position which favours its own interests. The purported motive is to attract funding for their research. Look for derisive terms such as “follow the money” or “pal review”.


Converging lines of evidence

Article under development: We may draw highly certain conclusions when we have converging lines of evidence.

Consilience is the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can converge on strong conclusions.

Converging lines of evidence Evolution

Diverging lines of evidence

How children get money from supposedly the tooth fairy.

(Show various hypothesis such as the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, the Lucky Charms Elf, Magic, Etc )

Converging lines of evidence

Show converging lines of evidence that suggests that tooth fairy money really comes from the parents.

Pointed lesson. Even if we do not have absolutely perfect knowledge we often can come to reasonable conclusions in science, when all of the evidence points in the same direction.

Then make similar infographics for how we know that the world is really billions of years old versus being only thousands of years old.

A. Divergent lines of evidence for competing ideas
B. Converging lines of evidence for the scientifically correct idea

Make similar infographics for how we know that life has evolved through evolution by natural selection, as opposed to it not evolving.

A. Divergent lines of evidence for competing ideas
B. Converging lines of evidence for the scientifically correct idea


Established scientific models are supported by multiple independent lines of evidence.

Great paper and images!




Great intro




Great example from Astronomy



Could there be a shadow biosphere?

Could there be a shadow biosphere here on Earth?


I. Life on Earth, but not as we know it?

Excerpted from Life on Earth… but not as we know it, Robin McKie, The Guardian (UK), 4/13/2013

These researchers believe life may exist in more than one form on Earth: standard life – like ours – and “weird life”, as they term the conjectured inhabitants of the shadow biosphere.

All the micro-organisms that we have detected on Earth to date have had a biology like our own: proteins made up of a maximum of 20 amino acids and a DNA genetic code made out of only four chemical bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine,” says Cleland.

“Yet there are up to 100 amino acids in nature and at least a dozen bases. These could easily have combined in the remote past to create lifeforms with a very different biochemistry to our own. More to the point, some may still exist in corners of the planet.”

Science’s failure to date to spot this weird life may seem puzzling. The natural history of our planet has been scrupulously studied and analysed by scientists, so how could a whole new type of life, albeit a microbial one, have been missed?

Cleland has an answer. The methods we use to detect micro-organisms today are based entirely on our own biochemistry and are therefore incapable of spotting shadow microbes, she argues. A sample of weird microbial life would simply not trigger responses to biochemists’ probes and would end up being thrown out with the rubbish.

That is why unexplained phenomena like desert varnish are important, she says, because they might provide us with clues about the shadow biosphere. We may have failed to detect the source of desert varnish for the simple reason that it is the handiwork of weird microbes which generate energy by oxidising minerals, leaving deposits behind them.

The idea of the shadow biosphere is also controversial and is challenged by several other scientists.

II. Dark matter in biology

This section and image from ‘Dark Matter’ in Biology, Ian Dunn, Biopolyverse, 3/21/2011

… All current examples of ‘biological dark matter’ cited in the literature are, in essence, uncharacterized manifestations of known types of entities. Consider the issue of ‘dark’ products of complex genomes, in the form of numerous transcribed RNAs with unknown functions. However exotic the biological roles of certain non-coding RNAs, the general chemical nature of any RNA molecule is very familiar

A strict analogical extension of cosmic to biological dark matter would then be the discovery of a biological effect that cannot be accounted for by ‘ordinary’ biological mediators or processes. And just as dark matter in the universe is a recent finding, such a hypothetical biological effect might itself be long unrecognized, rendering the agency involved truly obscured.

… there are levels and levels of ‘darkness’ in any area of investigation, not least of which is biology. In other words, a hierarchy of novelty / unfamiliarity / strangeness can be readily constructed when we consider new biological discoveries, and speculate upon their ‘outer limits’...

Some discoveries may provide interesting precedents for processes or structures hitherto unreported, but without causing too many eyebrows to be raised.

MS spectra Mass Spectrometry Dark Matter ID

This image from Illuminating the dark matter in metabolomics, Ricardo da Silva, PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/41/12549

Still other findings may indeed cause considerable supra-ocular hair elevation, yet fall short of seriously challenging key biological principles. With these considerations in mind, it is not difficult to categorize the experimental input of new biological information as a spectrum of sorts

III. Hypothetical Dark life from Dark matter

This section from Could Dark Matter Spawn ‘Shadow Life’? Ian O’Neill, 2/7/2018, HowStuffWorks

The vast majority of mass in our universe is invisible, and for a while, physicists have been trying really hard to understand what this elusive “stuff” is. Assumed to be some kind of particle, there are hopes that the Large Hadron Collider might produce a dark matter particle or that a space telescope might detect the obvious gamma-ray telltale signature of dark matter particles colliding. But so far, hints have been few and far between; a problem that’s forcing theoretical physicists to think up new ideas.

In a mind-bending 2017 op-ed for Nautilus, famed theoretical physicist Lisa Randall delved into one of the more extreme possibilities for dark matter. Rather than thinking of dark matter as one type of particle, might dark matter be composed of an entire family of particles that create dark stars, dark galaxies, dark planets and, perhaps, dark life? This dark universe’s chemistry might be as rich and varied as our “ordinary chemistry.”

…Astrophysicists have hypothesized in the past that “dark stars” — stars made of dark matter — may have existed in our primordial universe and may persist to this day. If this is the case, Randall argues, perhaps “dark planets” may have formed, too. She then takes this idea a step further: If there’s a family of dark matter particles, governed by forces only accessible in the dark sector, might this realm also have complex chemistry? If so, might there be life? If there is “shadow life” living out its days parallel to our universe, you can forget any hopes of detecting it, however.

IV. Does Dark Matter Harbor Life?

Excerpted from Does Dark Matter Harbor Life? An invisible civilization could be living right under your nose. By Lisa Randall

… The Standard Model contains six types of quarks, three types of charged leptons (including the electron), three species of neutrinos, all the particles responsible for forces, as well as the newly discovered Higgs boson. What if the world of dark matter—if not equally rich—is reasonably wealthy too?…

If we were creatures made of dark matter, we would be very wrong to assume that the particles in our ordinary matter sector were all of the same type. Perhaps we ordinary matter people are making a similar mistake. Given the complexity of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the most basic components of matter we know of, it seems very odd to assume that all of dark matter is composed of only one type of particle. Why not suppose instead that some fraction of the dark matter experiences its own forces?

In that case, just as ordinary matter consists of different types of particles and these fundamental building blocks interact through different combinations of charges, dark matter would also have different building blocks—and at least one of those distinct new particle types would experience nongravitational interactions….

Ordinary matter’s many components have different interactions and contribute to the world in different ways. So too might dark matter have different particles with different behaviors that might influence the universe’s structure in a measurable fashion.

When first studying partially interacting dark matter, I was astonished to find that practically no one had considered the potential fallacy—and hubris—of assuming that only ordinary matter exhibits a diversity of particle types and interactions….

… Perhaps nuclear-type forces act on dark particles in addition to the electromagnetic-type one. In this even richer scenario, dark stars could form that undergo nuclear burning to create structures that behave even more similarly to ordinary matter than the dark matter I have so far described. In that case, the dark disk could be populated by dark stars surrounded by dark planets made up of dark atoms. Double-disk dark matter might then have all of the same complexity of ordinary matter.

  • Lisa Randall is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University, where she studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology. @lirarandall


#shadowbiosphere #shadowlife #darklife #exobiology

Further reading

Hypothetical types of biochemistry, Wikipedia

Purple Earth Hypothesis, Wikipedia

‘Dark Matter’ in Biology

Paradigms and Biological ‘Dark Matter’

‘Dark Matter’ in Biology: Great Expectations and Biological Limits

A Dark Shadow Biosphere with Unorthodox Orthogonality?

A Dark Shadow Biosphere with Unorthodox Orthogonality?
Does ‘Dark’ Biology Have Its CHARMs?

Learning Standards

Next Generation Science Standards: Science & Engineering Practices
● Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.
● Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.
● Ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables.
● Ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.
● Evaluate a question to determine if it is testable and relevant.
● Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the school laboratory, research facilities, or field (e.g., outdoor environment) with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on a model or theory.
● Ask and/or evaluate questions that challenge the premise(s) of an argument, the interpretation of a data set, or the suitability of the design

MA 2016 Science and technology

Appendix I Science and Engineering Practices Progression Matrix

Science and engineering practices include the skills necessary to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. It is necessary to teach these so students develop an understanding and facility with the practices in appropriate contexts. The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) identifies eight essential science and engineering practices:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).
2. Developing and using models.
3. Planning and carrying out investigations.
4. Analyzing and interpreting data.
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking.
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering).
7. Engaging in argument from evidence.
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

Scientific inquiry and engineering design are dynamic and complex processes. Each requires engaging in a range of science and engineering practices to analyze and understand the natural and designed world. They are not defined by a linear, step-by-step approach. While students may learn and engage in distinct practices through their education, they should have periodic opportunities at each grade level to experience the holistic and dynamic processes represented below and described in the subsequent two pages… http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/scitech/2016-04.pdf



Science and Discovery channels no longer teaching science

At one time, the development of the Science Channel, the Discovery channel, and Animal Planet,  was a major force for good in public education.

However, in the last decade the people running these networks have made very clear that they do not value education or scientific responsibility whatsoever. Both of these networks are now focused solely on making money, often by deliberately programming pseudoscience, crank theories, and even outright hoaxes, such as

“Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” hoax

“Mermaids: The Body Found” hoax

(This is a placeholder for a future article.)

Doctor Evil dimisses History Channel Discovery MTV and FOX - Copy

A painfully funny analysis of the situation from the popular webcomic, SMBC:

SMBC Science Channel pseudoscience

By Zach Weinersmith, from SMBC, Aug 16, 2014


Learning Objectives

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012)
Implementation: Curriculum, Instruction, Teacher Development, and Assessment
“Through discussion and reflection, students can come to realize that scientific inquiry embodies a set of values. These values include respect for the importance of logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, and a requirement for transparent research procedures and honest reporting of findings.”


Global warming isn’t natural, and here’s how we know

This is a copy of an article for our students from thelogicofscience.com

The cornerstone argument of climate change deniers is that our current warming is just a natural cycle, and this claim is usually accompanied by the statement, “the planet has warmed naturally before.” This line of reasoning is, however, seriously flawed both logically and factually. Therefore, I want to examine both the logic and the evidence to explain why this argument is faulty and why we are actually quite certain that we are the cause of our planet’s current warming.

The fact that natural climate change occurred in the past does not mean that the current warming is natural.

I cannot overstate the importance of this point. Many people say, “but the planet has warmed naturally before” as if that automatically means that our current warming is natural, but nothing could be further from the truth. In technical terms, this argument commits a logical fallacy known as non sequitur (this is the fallacy that occurs whenever the conclusion of a deductive argument does not follow necessarily from the premises). The fact that natural warming has occurred before only tells us that it is possible for natural warming to occur. It does not indicate that the current warming is natural, especially given the evidence that it is anthropogenic (man-made).

To put this another way, when you claim that virtually all of the world’s climatologists are wrong and the earth is actually warming naturally, you have just placed the burden of proof on you to provide evidence for that claim. In other words, simply citing previous warming events does not prove that the current warming is natural. You have to actually provide evidence for a natural cause of the current warming, but (as I’ll explain shortly) no such mechanism exists.

Natural causes of climate change

Now, let’s actually take a look at the natural causes of climate change to see if any of them can account for our current warming trend (spoiler alert, they can’t).


The sun is an obvious suspect for the cause of climate change. The sun is clearly an important player in our planet’s climate, and it has been responsible for some warming episodes in the past. So if, for some reason, it was burning hotter now than in the past, that would certainly cause our climate to warm. There is, however, one big problem: it’s not substantially hotter now than it was in the recent past. Multiple studies have looked at whether or not the output from the sun has increased and whether or not the sun is responsible for our current warming, and the answer is a resounding “no” (Meehl, et al. 2004Wild et al. 2007Lockwood and Frohlich 20072008Lean and Rind 2008Imbers et al. 2014).

It likely caused some warming in the first half the 20th century, but since then, the output from the sun does not match the rise in temperatures (in fact it has decreased slightly; Lockwood and Frohlich 20072008). Indeed, Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) found that after correcting for solar output, volcanoes, and El Niños, the warming trend was even more clear, which is the exact opposite of what we would expect if the sun was driving climate change (i.e., if the sun was the cause, then removing the effect of the sun should have produced a flat line, not a strong increase).

Finally, the most compelling evidence against the sun hypothesis and for anthropogenic warming is (in my opinion) the satellite data. Since the 70s, we have been using satellites to measure the energy leaving the earth (specifically, the wavelengths of energy that are trapped by CO2).

Thus, if global warming is actually caused by greenhouse gasses trapping additional heat, we should see a fairly constant amount of energy entering the earth, but less energy leaving it. In contrast, if the sun is driving climate change, we should see that both the energy entering and leaving the earth have increased.

Do you want to guess which prediction came true? That’s right, there has been very little change in the energy from the sun, but there has been a significant decrease in the amount of energy leaving the earth (Harries et al. 2001Griggs and Harries. 2007). That is about as close to “proof” as you can get in science, and if you are going to continue to insist that climate change is natural, then I have one simple question for you: where is the energy going? We know that the earth is trapping more heat now than it did in the past. So if it isn’t greenhouse gasses that are trapping the heat, then what is it?

Milankovitch cycles

Other important drivers of the earth’s climate are long-term cycles called Milankovitch cycles, which involve shifts in the earth’s orbit, tilt, and axis (or eccentricity, precession, and obliquity, if you prefer). In fact, these appear to be one of the biggest initial causes of prominent natural climate changes (like the ice ages). So it is understandable that people would suspect that they are driving the current climate change, but there are several reasons why we know that isn’t the case.

First, Milankovitch cycles are very slow, long-term cycles. Depending which of the three cycles we are talking about, they take tens of thousands of years or even 100 thousand years to complete. So changes from them occur very slowly. In contrast, our current change is very rapid (happening over a few decades as opposed to a few millennia). So the rate of our current change is a clear indication that it is not being caused by Milankovitch cycles.

Second, you need to understand how Milankovitch cycles affect the temperature. The eccentricity cycle could, in concept, directly cause global warming by changing the earth’s position relative to the sun; however, that would cause the climate to warm or cool by affecting how much energy from the sun hits the earth. In other words, we are back to the argument that climate change is caused by increased energy from the sun, which we know isn’t happening (see the section above).

The other cycles (precession and obliquity), affect the part of the earth that is warmed and the season during which the warming takes place, rather than affecting the total amount of energy entering the earth. Thus, they initially just cause regional warming. However, that regional warming leads to global warming by altering the oceans’ currents and warming the oceans, which results in the oceans releasing stored CO2 (Martin et al. 2005Toggweiler et al. 2006Schmittner and Galbraith 2008Skinner et al. 2010).

That CO2 is actually the major driver of past climate changes (Shakun et al. 2012). In other words, when we study past climate changes, what we find is that CO2 levels are a critically important factor, and, as I’ll explain later, we know that the current increase in CO2 is from us. Thus, when you understand the natural cycles, they actually support anthropogenic global warming rather than refuting it.


At this point, people generally resort to claiming that volcanoes are actually the thing that is emitting the greenhouse gasses. That argument sounds appealing, but in reality, volcanoes usually emit less than 1% of the CO2 that we emit each year (Gerlach 2011). Also, several studies have directly examined volcanic emissions to see if they can explain our current warming, and they can’t (Meehl, et al. 2004Imbers et al. 2014).

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

A final major driver of climate change is, in fact, CO2. Let’s get a couple of things straight right at the start. First, we know that CO2 traps heat and we know that increasing the amount of CO2 in an environment will result in the temperature increasing (you can find a nice list of papers on the heat trapping abilities of CO2 here).

Additionally, everyone (even climate “skeptics”) agree that CO2 plays a vital role in maintaining the earth’s temperature. From those facts, it is intuitively obvious that increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere will result in the temperature increasing. Further, CO2 appears to be responsible a very large portion of the warming during past climate changes (Lorius et al. 1990Shakun et al. 2012)Note: For past climate changes, the CO2 does lag behind the temperature initially, but as I explained above, the initial warming triggers an increase in CO2, and the CO2drives the majority of the climate change

At this point, you may be thinking, “fine, it’s CO2, but the CO2 isn’t from us, nature produces way more than we do.” It is true that nature emits more CO2 than us, but prior to the industrial revolution, nature was in balance, with the same amount of CO2 being removed as was emitted. Thus, there was no net gain. We altered that equation by emitting additional CO2.

Further, the increase that we have caused is no little thing. We have nearly doubled the CO2 compared to pre-industrial levels, and the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than it has been at any point in the past 800,000 years. So, yes, we only emit a small fraction of the total CO2 each year, but we are emitting more CO2 than nature can remove, and a little bit each year adds up to a lot over several decades.

Additionally, we know that the current massive increase in CO2 is from us because of the C13 levels. Carbon has two stable isotopes (C12 and C13), but C13 is heavier than C12. Thus, when plants take carbon from the air and use it to make carbohydrates, they take a disproportionate amount of C12. As a result, the C13/C12 ratios in plants, animals (which get carbon from eating plants), and fossil fuels (which are formed form plants and animals) have more C12 than the C13/C12 ratios in that atmosphere.

Ratio C13 to C12 in coral

Therefore, if burning fossil fuels is responsible for the current increase in CO2, we should see that ratio of C13/C12 in the atmosphere shift to be closer to that of fossil fuels (i.e., contain more C12), and, guess what, that is exactly what we see (Bohm et al. 2002Ghosh and Brand 2003;Wei et al. 2009). This is unequivocal evidence that we are the cause of the current increase in CO2.

Finally, we can construct all of this information into a deductive logical argument (as illustrated on the left). If COtraps heat, and we have increased the CO2 in the atmosphere, then more heat will be trapped. To illustrate how truly inescapable that conclusion is, here is an analogous argument:

1). Insulation traps heat
2). You doubled the insulation of your house
3). Therefore, your house will trap more heat

You cannot accept one of those arguments and reject the other (doing so is logically inconsistent).

Note: Yes, I know that the situation is much more complex than simply CO2 trapping heat, and there are various feedback mechanisms at play, but that does not negate the core argument.

Putting the pieces together

So far, I have been talking about all of the drivers of climate change independently, which is clearly an oversimplification, because, in all likelihood, several mechanisms are all acting together. Therefore, the best way to test whether or not the current warming is natural is actually to construct statistical models that include both natural and man-made factors. We can then use those models to see which factors are causing climate change.

hansen-et-al-2005 Global Climate Forcings (warming)

Hansen et al. 2005. Earth’s energy imbalance: confirmation and implications. Science, 308:1431–1435.

We have constructed multiple of these models, and they consistently show that natural factors alone cannot explain the current warming (Stott et al. 2001Meehl et al. 2004Allen et al. 2006Lean and Rind 2008Imbers et al. 2014).

In other words, including human greenhouse gas emissions in the models is the only way to get the models to match the observed warming. This is extremely clear evidence that the current warming is not entirely natural. To be clear, natural factors do play a role and are contributing, but human factors are extremely important, and most of the models show that they account for the majority of the warming.

Correlation vs. causation

It is usually about now that opponents of climate change start to argue that scientists are actually committing a correlation fallacy, and simply showing a correlation between temperature and the CO2 that we produce does not mean that the CO2 is causing the temperature increase. There are, however, several problems with that argument.

First, correlation can indicate causation under certain circumstances. Namely, situations where you have controlled all confounding factors. In other words, if you can show that Y is the only thing that is changing significantly with X, then you can reach a causal conclusion (even placebo controlled drug trials are really just showing correlations between taking the drug and recovery, but because they used the control, they can use that correlation to reach a causal conclusion).

In the case of climate change, of course, we have examined the confounding factors. As I explained in the previous section, we have constructed statistical models with the various drivers of climate change, and anthropogenic greenhouse gasses are necessary to account for the current warming. In other words, we have controlled for the other causes of climate change, therefore we can reach a causal conclusion.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there is nothing wrong with using correlation to show a particular instance of causation if a causal relationship between X and Y has already been established. Let me give an example. The figure to the right shows the smoking rates and lung/bronchial cancer rates in the US. There is an obvious negative correlation between the two (P < 0.0001), and I don’t think that anyone is going to disagree with the notion that the decrease in smoking is largely responsible for the decrease in lung cancers.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with reaching that conclusion, and it does not commit a correlation fallacy. This is the case because a causal relationship between smoking and cancer has already been established. In other words, we know that smoking causes cancer because of other studies. Therefore, when you see that the two are correlated over time, there is nothing wrong with inferring that smoking is driving the cancer rates. Even so, we know from laboratory tests and past climate data that CO2 traps heat and increasing it results in more heat being trapped. In other words, a causal relationship between CO2 and temperature has already been established. Therefore, there is nothing fallacious about looking at a correlation between COand temperature over time and concluding that the CO2 is causing the temperature change.

Ad hoc fallacies and the burden of proof

At this point, I often find that people are prone to proposing that some unknown mechanism exists that scientists haven’t found yet. This is, however, a logical fallacy known as ad hoc. You can’t just make up an unknown mechanism whenever it suits you. If that was valid, then you could always reject any scientific result that you wanted, because it is always possible to propose some unknown mechanism.

Similarly, you can’t use the fact that scientists have been wrong before as evidence, nor can you argue that, “there are still things that we don’t understand about the climate, so I don’t have to accept anthropogenic climate change” (that’s an argument from ignorance fallacy). Yes, there are things that we don’t understand, but we understand enough to be very confident that we are causing climate change, and, once again, you can’t just assume that all of our current research is wrong.

The key problem here is the burden of proof. By claiming that there is some other natural mechanism out there, you have just placed the burden of proof squarely on your shoulders. In other words, you must provide actual evidence of such a mechanism. If you cannot do that, then your argument is logically invalid and must be rejected.


Let’s review, shall we?

  • We know that it’s not the sun
  • We know that it’s not Milankovitch cycles
  • We know that it’s not volcanoes
  • We know that even when combined, natural causes cannot explain the current warming
  • We know that CO2 traps heat
  • We know that increasing CO2 causes more heat to be trapped
  • We know that CO2 was largely responsible for past climate changes
  • We know that we have roughly doubled the CO2 in the atmosphere
  • We know that the earth is trapping more heat now than it used to
  • We know that including anthropogenic greenhouse gasses in the models is the only way to explain the current warming trend

When you look at that list of things that we have tested, the conclusion that we are causing the planet to warm is utterly inescapable. For some baffling reason, people often act as if scientists have never bothered to look for natural causes of climate change, but the exact opposite is true. We have carefully studied past climate changes and looked at the natural causes of climate changes, but none of them can explain the current warming.

The only way to account for our current warming is to include our greenhouse gasses in the models. This is extremely clear evidence that we are causing the climate to warm, and if you want to continue to insist that the current warming is natural, then you must provide actual evidence for the existence of a mechanism that scientists have missed, and you must provide evidence that it is a better explanation for the current warming than CO2. Additionally, you are still going to have to refute the deductive argument that I presented earlier (i.e., show that a premise is false or that I committed a logical fallacy), because finding a previously unknown mechanism of climate change would not discredit the importance of CO2 or the fact we have roughly doubled it. Finally, you also need to explain why the earth is trapping more heat than it used to. If you can do all of that, then we’ll talk, but if you can’t, then you must accept the conclusion that we are causing the planet to warm.

Related posts

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Speculative history: Possibility of prehuman civilization

Could an intelligent species have lived on Earth before humanity? Could it even have developed an industrial civilization? If one had existed on Earth – many millions of years prior to our own era – what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today?

The Stairway of Time Geologic eras

Technosignatures of pre-human civilizations here on Earth


Did Antarctica remain entirely unvisited by humans until the early 19th century? History.Stackexchange.Com

Could an Industrial Prehuman Civilization Have Existed on Earth before Ours? Scientific American

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? A look at the available evidence. The Atlantic.

Technosignatures of ET life elsewhere in our solar system

THE BIG QUESTIONS Did Intelligent Space Aliens Once Live in Our Solar System? NBC News

The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record? Gavin A. Schmidt, Adam Frank

If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today? We summarize the likely geological fingerprint of the Anthropocene, and demonstrate that while clear, it will not differ greatly in many respects from other known events in the geological record. We then propose tests that could plausibly distinguish an industrial cause from an otherwise naturally occurring climate event.

Prior Indigenous Technological Species, Jason T. Wright

One of the primary open questions of astrobiology is whether there is extant or extinct life elsewhere the Solar System. Implicit in much of this work is that we are looking for microbial or, at best, unintelligent life, even though technological artifacts might be much easier to find. SETI work on searches for alien artifacts in the Solar System typically presumes that such artifacts would be of extrasolar origin, even though life is known to have existed in the Solar System, on Earth, for eons.

But if a prior technological, perhaps spacefaring, species ever arose in the Solar System, it might have produced artifacts or other technosignatures that have survived to present day, meaning Solar System artifact SETI provides a potential path to resolving astrobiology’s question.

Here, I discuss the origins and possible locations for technosignatures of such a prior indigenous technological species, which might have arisen on ancient Earth or another body, such as a pre-greenhouse Venus or a wet Mars. In the case of Venus, the arrival of its global greenhouse and potential resurfacing might have erased all evidence of its existence on the Venusian surface. In the case of Earth, erosion and, ultimately, plate tectonics may have erased most such evidence if the species lived Gyr ago. Remaining indigenous technosignatures might be expected to be extremely old, limiting the places they might still be found to beneath the surfaces of Mars and the Moon, or in the outer Solar System.