From The Huffington Post:
On January 27, 1986, the night before the Space Shuttle Challenger was to be launched, a phone conference took place between NASA managers and Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the shuttle’s solid rocket motors. Engineers from the rocket company told NASA that it would be too cold (26ºF) to launch since the previous coldest launch (53ºF) showed burn-through problems with the O-ring seals and therefore there was no data to show that it was safe to launch. The NASA managers asked if they could prove that the rockets would fail at low temperatures and, of course, it could not be proved. NASA then held a private call with the rocket company’s managers, with the engineers excluded, and got them to agree to say it was OK to launch. The Challenger exploded the next day, 73 seconds after launch.
Of course, the NASA managers had asked the wrong question given that it was a life and death matter. Rather than asking if there was proof that the launch would fail, they should have asked if there was proof that the launch would succeed.
The discussion of climate change is following a similar course. Climate scientists are telling us that we are headed for catastrophe if we keep emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But instead of heeding their warnings, we are asking for proof of the impending disaster. We harp on minor errors in otherwise overwhelming evidence and we rail against scientists when they express their frustration about the ability of deniers to confuse the public.
[Read more The Huffington Post]