First – Do No Harm

  • Posted: February 2, 2023
  • Category: Blog
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Our betters instruct the benighted droolers such as myself, those dull hayseeds unable to comprehend the perfected faith found within Adorable America’s group think bubble, to “follow the science”. Always respectful of the hall monitors as I am sure they have my best interests at heart, let’s follow the science and see where it might lead. For example, one might think of Immanuel Velikovsky, a well-respected scientist in mid-20th Century America. By all accounts a brilliant fellow, he authored reams of scientific peer reviewed papers in scientific journals on mathematics, physics and medicine.

A Jew born in Russia (Belarus), he was an influential scientist, collaborating with Albert Einstein while living in Berlin. With WWII on the horizon, Velikovsky emigrated to the United States along with many other Jewish intellectuals fleeing the specter of Nazi Germany.

Dr. Velikovsky enjoyed the esteem and respect that comes with being a first-rank scientist in America, but then in 1950 – things changed. He authored a book, Worlds in Collision, recounting his re-examination of the myths and stories of ancient civilizations around the world, including the Hebrew Bible.

Unlike virtually all his colleagues, Velikovsky treated these ancient writings with respect, puzzled by the great similarity in their descriptions of strange events in past times. He postulated that such widespread reports must mean that they described actual events, however garbled by superstition and time. But he asked, what did these ancient observers really see? Putting his scientist hat on, Dr. Velikovsky theorized that if some of the planets in the Solar System had changed orbits that would explain some of the miraculous events spoken of in the ancient texts.

The academic community, Dr. Velikovsky’s colleagues, erupted in a firestorm. Not only had he given credence to what were clearly myths concocted by and for the ignorant and superstitious, but the very idea that the planets could move out of their unchanging orbits was a slap in the face of settled science. The scientific community lost no time in piling wood and straw for Dr. Velikovsky’s public immolation, burning at the stake the only punishment fitting such blatant misinformation.

Macmillan & Co. had published Worlds in Collision, after all it was a science book written for a general audience by a reputable scientist and that was what Macmillan & Co. did. As are all publishers of science books, Macmillan was heavily dependent upon its school textbook business. The academic community, in the spirit of truth-seeking scientific inquiry, boycotted Macmillan’s entire line of textbooks, putting it out of business unless “it did not stop peddling the egregious bullshit”. Macmillan thereupon tore up their contract with Velikovsky and destroyed all unsold copies of his book. So much for “following the science” or even “following the law”.

Some 70 years later, the academic community has not really changed its opinion of Dr. Velikovsky. Wikipedia has this to say; “academic consensus remained firm in almost unilaterally rejecting Velikovsky’s work as impossible woo.” Investigating further, Wikipedia defines “woo” as “dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.”

Left unsaid is the embarrassing fact that the ideas proposed in Velikovsky’s theory are now accepted dogma. He proposed that planetary orbits were not necessarily always stable, that chaotic events might be possible. In fact, present day astronomical theory regards solar systems to be a bit like a billiard table, with planets the billiard balls. Velikovsky’s former heresy, the possibility of chaotic planetary movement, is a well-accepted tenet of modern astronomical science – and they have computer models proving it.

As we bumpkins, ignorant rubes easily misled by misinformation, attempt to “follow the science”, we might remember another saying, more popular in days gone by than now, describing Velikovsky and his fate, “You can always spot the pioneers by the arrows in their back.” Those who venture into the dark out from under the village elders’ thumb will not be treated kindly. Perhaps today’s rarity of the adage is due to the fact that pioneers, whether scientific or otherwise, are seldom found in group think bubbles, Adorable or otherwise.

Velikovsky and his book are 70 years past, his ideas proven scientifically valid, yet he remains a heretic. At the risk of offending the sensibilities of indigenous communities, one realizes that Velikovsky’s scalp, a bald pate fringed in white, hangs on the trophy poles among the lodges of the academic elders to discourage other “truth seekers”.

Despite the vitriolic reaction of that day’s scientific community and its long memories, there was actually little at stake in the Velikovsky Affair other than Velikovsky’s posterior. Perhaps the bitter malice of the Velikovsky affair was an example of Henry Kissinger’s observation – “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because stakes are so small”.

But not always. Today, Western Civilization is in upheaval over another scientific theory. “Following the science”, we are imagining a climatic apocalypse driven upon us by the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We have computer models that prove the apocalypse is upon us. And ”following the science”, we are scaling up unproven technologies in a wholesale short term transformation of our civilization, a “Climate Emergency”.

High stakes indeed! As one whose professional life intimately involved “following the science”, i.e. computer models based on equations of heat transfer of the type used to predict the oncoming apocalypse, I appreciate their power. But tempering that appreciation is my rueful understanding that computer thermodynamic models require real world validation to tune their assumptions.

Small variation in assumptions can drive great changes in results. Of course, how does one validate Earth’s future climate? How does one conduct experiments on a planetary climate in order to fine tune, to validate?

One might return to Immanuel Velikovsky for inspiration. Though I imagine Dr. Velikovsky’s back, bloodied with numberless arrows, along with his bloodied scalp might give the intrepid researcher pause. But then the image of the fearless truth-seeking scientist is a trope well worn, particularly in the propagandized elementary school classrooms seeking to tempt little girls away from princess dresses into the nerd chic appropriate to a STEM career.

The fearless truth seeking scientist might begin an  investigation with Google. One could type into the search bar – “Roman Warm Period”, or perhaps “Little Ice Age”.

I remain a lifelong student of Rome’s history. The history books record the emperors and generals, the philosophers and orators. But as one steeps oneself in the stories – looking deeper into the long rise and fall of Rome – one eventually begins to see hidden currents in its annals. Rome’s rise was impossible unless there were centuries of uninterrupted plenty in a region prone to famines.

The appearance of Rome as an apex culture in the historical record begins with the Punic Wars. The Punic Wars were a defining event somewhat like the world wars of our 20th Century, a multi-generations long conflict between two cultural centers for domination. Instead of the Anglo-American Alliance and Germany, the Punic Wars were an existential struggle between the city state of Rome and the empire of Carthage.

Beginning in 264 BC, Rome, as a regional power concentrated on the lower half of the Italian Peninsula, waged war with Carthage, a sea faring city controlling an empire whose influence took in the entire Mediterranean world. Over the next 80 years, Rome and Carthage fought a total war over the entire Mediterranean world resulting in the destruction of Carthage.

It was said the Roman general, Scipio Aemillianus, ended the 3rd Punic War by salting the very soil Carthage stood on – after burning it down and enslaving its inhabitants. Perhaps the third Scipio did so, but given that one of the greatest of Church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, was educated in Carthage some 600 years later; the salting was not a permanent deterrent to the city’s resurrection. The modern city of Tunis also stands on the ruins of ancient Carthage.

Much like the American experience of WW I/II, Rome was transformed from a rising and ambitious 2nd rate power into the greatest military and cultural power of its time and place by the Punic Wars. The history of the Punic Wars is full of larger than life people and events; the Barca family, the Scipio family, elephants crossing the Alps, the ghost legions, Cato the Elder, Fabius Cunctator, Cannae, Carthago Delenda Est, etc.

But hidden beneath the historical gloss of great men and great events is the sheer scale of the conflict, the massive armies and navies fighting over a vast panorama, and the logistics necessary to support these forces. As Chester Nimitz said in WW II, victory was “a matter of oil, bullets and beans”. So Scipio Africanus would have said that victory was “a matter of sail cloth, iron and grain”.

Hundreds of thousands of men under arms, vast fleets of hundreds of ships, multi-year campaigns carried out over continental distances require enormous logistical resources. Where did all the food come from? Simply supplying the iron for swords & armor, wood, rope and canvas for ships, horses, mules and oxen for land transportation was a staggeringly complex and expensive effort. How did these ancient peoples, both Roman and Carthaginian, provide the logistical support to support these forces, year after year, decade after decade.

In the space of eighteen months, the City of Rome fielded three separate armies against Hannibal Barca during his Italian Campaign. All three armies were badly defeated with losses amounting to 150,000 men, dead and enslaved. Yet Rome was able to not only replace these losses with a fourth army under Fabius Maximus Cunctator, but also send expeditionary forces to Spain, Sicily and Africa. Where did all these replacements, men, equipment and infrastructure, come from?

The idea is inescapable that the Mediterranean’s environment was conducive to very fertile conditions, growing ample food supplies to support a large and growing population even as millions were soldiers and craftsmen. Before the present contretemps over climate change made such ideas an invitation to professional suicide, there was a consensus in the scientific community about the “Roman Warm Period”.

The “Roman Warm Period” was a 600 years long period of abnormally warm weather. The existence of this abnormally warm period is irrefutable. Various methodologies such as tree rings, analysis of marine plankton, etc. show an increase of 4-6 oF in average temperature during this time, on a par with that forecast for our own existential “Climate Emergency”. The “Roman Warm Period” lasted from 250 BC to 400 AD. By a strange coincidence, Rome rose to greatness in 250 BC and its collapse came in 476 AD. How strange.

With the rise of the “Climate Emergency”, scientists in the spirit of truth seeking as well as understanding the need to dodge flying arrows have begun to question whether the “Roman Warm Period” was a global phenomenon or simply a regional artifact. In any case there is ample speculation, but the cause of the “Roman Warm Period” is unknown. Perhaps archeologists may someday unearth unknown Roman coal fired power plants.

One might also consider the “Little Ice Age”. Again the evidence is irrefutable, ranging from paintings of frozen rivers to literature to glaciation measurements, supporting a centuries long cooling period, approx.. 1300 to 1850 AD. Referenced prior to the present “Climate Emergency” as the “Little Ice Age”, average temperatures declined by 2-4 oF.

As with the “Roman Warm Period”, the causes of the “Little Ice Age” support ample speculation, but again cause unknown. Also, as with the “Roman Warm Period”, the responsible scientific community now questions the world-wide existence of the “Little Ice Age”, instead arguing it to be a regional anomaly existing only in Europe.

Dare I bring the “Medieval Warm Period” lasting from 950 to 1250 AD into the discussion? Surprisingly the prosperous times of the “Roman Warm Period” gave way to colder temperatures and what history calls the “Dark Ages”. But then for some reason, things get better around 1000 AD, just when the “Medieval Warm Period” kicks off. The Kingdoms of France and England are helpless for the later centuries of the “Dark Ages” to stop small bands of Viking raiders.

But then in less than a century shake off these hoodlums and become capable of sending large crusading armies of armored knights to reconquer Jerusalem thousands of miles away. Surprisingly, it’s around this same time that Viking property developers colonize Iceland and start selling building lots in this new area called “Greenland”. There’s even speculative land sales further west in a place called “Vinland”.

But then the “Medieval Warm Period” ends around 1250 AD. Surprisingly, that’s just when the Europeans get kicked back out of the Middle East, no longer able to support operations there. That’s also when property in “Greenland” starts going for fire sale prices and “Vinland” is consigned to myth and legend.

The “Medieval Warm Period” is followed in short order by the “Little Ice Age”. The “Little Ice Age” isn’t quite as nice a time. Lands that had been able to support large expeditions into the Middle East now have trouble feeding their people. These weakened populations fall prey to the bubonic plague and 1/3 of the population dies, a time that comes to be known as the Black Death.

Bothering to look, the evidence for significant climatic variation is easy to find in historical times. Average temperatures rise or fall by amounts equal to or greater to those we have declared a “Climate Emergency”. The causes for these climactic variations are speculated upon, but in truth, must be labeled unknown. Our computer models forecasting a “Climate Emergency” cannot explain these past variations unless assumptions are made invalidating any predictive power in the model.

Looking further back in time, we see a long line of climactic variations, unexplained by our models. For instance, some 12,000 years ago, the “Younger Dryas” was a drop in average temperatures of 7-18 oF lasting for 1200 years. Cause unknown. The “Younger Dryas” followed the “Older Dryas” and the “Oldest Dryas”. Also causes unknown, but those scientists – they have such a puckish sense of humor. One wonders what they name their children.

Obviously, the Earth’s climate varies significantly over relatively short time lines for reasons other than humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions. In our place and in our time, we are stewards of our lands, but we are also called to use our lands to benefit humanity. God Almighty, the creator and owner of the lands we are called to care for, directed us to

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it”

He did not tell us to stop when atmospheric carbon dioxide exceeds 400 PPM. In our stewardship, we are called to take care of our lands and that includes cleaning up our waste of which one may well be carbon dioxide. On the other hand, we really don’t know what causes short term (less than tens of thousands of years) variations in climate.

Humility in our judgments is called for. The dire pronouncements in the media, or the UN or the NOAA, of the “hottest summer on record” cover a time span of little more than a century, compared to the six centuries of the “Roman Warm Period”. Our actions are as likely to exacerbate as achieve the desired result. Perhaps, in our rush to judgment, we might remember the ethical foundation of the medical profession, i.e. practical scientists:

“First do no harm”

But even as we are called to be good stewards of the lands God has put in our care, He reminds us that He created the Earth for people – first and foremost. There is no purpose to His creation without people. People are not some parasitic infection that threatens the pristine Earth.

As the historic record shows, as the climate varies, regionally or globally, it has a significant effect on human beings and their well-being. The historical record also shows that, on balance, “Warm Periods” are better for human well-being than “Little Ice Ages” or “Dark Ages” or something called a “Dryas”.



One Response to “First – Do No Harm”

  1. Jim Emery says:

    Good read!
    I like to learn about topics of which I know little, especially ancient history.
    While familiar with the Biblical realm of salvation history, it’s enjoyable to tie in that which was occurring in other broad swaths of time.

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