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Reader's View: Scientific theories aren't truth, but educated opinions

Being a skeptic about the causes of climate change is not only "quite all right," as Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC's "Squawk Box" this month; it is crucially necessary for science, especially one as complicated and immature as climate science, to advance ("Rick Perry just denied that humans are the main cause of climate change," June 19).

Perry was also correct when he said that it is "inappropriate" to label people Neanderthals because they do not agree with the global-warming science promoted by the United Nations. As demonstrated by dozens of open letters and other public lists, many experts do not support the hypothesis that we face a man-made climate crisis.

The Climate Scientists' Register assembled by the International Climate Science Coalition is perhaps the simplest document of its kind. In only a few days in 2010, more than 100 experts from 22 countries agreed to the following statement: "We, the undersigned, having assessed the relevant scientific evidence, do not find convincing support for the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, dangerous global warming."

While many environmentalists present the UN's point of view on climate change as an irrefutable truth, almost a religion, it shouldn't be that way. Scientific hypotheses, even scientific theories, are not truth. They are educated opinions based on interpretations of observations and so can be, and often are, wrong.

Indeed, philosophers since ancient times have understood that observations cannot prove truth. This is especially the case in climate science, a field that University of Western Ontario applied mathematician Chris Essex calls "one of the most challenging open problems in modern science."

Perry is right to encourage an open discussion about this field free from the pressures of political correctness. I wish Canada's politicians had such courage.

Tom Harris

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The writer is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition (