Science’s real problem
I was reading this interesting article in the Independent about scientists, and namely, their lamentation that they are under “villification” by “polemicists” in the media. And that’s a fair question; science has been misrepresented and misconstrued for years. Journalists like big, definite things to sell to their readers, even when science doesn’t really have such a big thing, or it has misgivings or qualifications as to what it’s trying to present.
But the problem that the new president of the Royal Society brings up isn’t so much the media’s fault. Rather, I feel it lies at the fault of the scientists. We are both, of course, talking about “climate change” (or “anthropogenic global warming,” or what-have-you.) This is certainly a field full of controversy. But what exactly is Sir Paul talking about when he says that scientists are “under attack” and that he is shocked at the “vilification and distrust levelled at some scientists?” I don’t really see that going on. Sure, you have some blowhards on talk radio and late night cable saying some dumb things. Ignore them, they say dumb things about everybody. But in general, has there been vilification and distrust?
I argue against the former but tentatively for the latter. No, people are not “vilifying” scientists, and we are not going on a crusade against them. But there are a great number who are skeptical of what these scientists are saying, and are even more skeptical at their so-called “remedies” to our so-called “problems.” And is not skepticism the entire crux of which science depends upon? Is not science saying, “What is that, how does it work, why does it happen that way, and I’m not sure I buy that explanation“?
For this case, I point to the scandal at East Anglia. The article states that “four independent inquiries have cleared the scientists involved of scientific fraud or misconduct” but pray tell, what was the point of altering the data in such a fashion? No one has explained this to me. Not one. And I’m just supposed to buy that “this is how we do science?” Balderdash.
There are also serious questions raised over how they gained the data, namely over their temperature stations, many of which started out in rural areas but were then absorbed and surrounded by pent-up conurbations, particularly in China, thus distorting the data for later years. There’s the question of the IPCC’s inclusion of an unfinished grad student’s paper in their report, and their information on receding glaciers taken from casual remarks made by hikers.
There is undoubtedly a great deal of questioning about how much federal funding goes into projects to study “global warming” and into the supposed remedies for it. Let’s open up that can of worms; I’d be very interested in that sort of information, though I doubt Sir Paul and his ilk would be. They always croon about “global warming denialists” receiving money from the big bad oil companies, but has anyone done a serious inquiry into how much money government pours into the coffers of climate change scientists? And has anyone connected the dots and thought, if the scientists concluded that global warming was not happening, what would happen to said government funds?
And finally, there’s a very big question of: have their looked up recently? I can excuse the scientists at East Anglia for missing this–they do live in England, after all–but there is a very large body of burning gas up there that emits a huge amount of light and heat, and is one, if not the one, major factor in our climate. Maybe if they talked more about the Sun rather than us piddling human beings who cannot hope to blow this planet asunder–well, not yet, anyways–they’d get less dubious looks.
No, the real problem facing scientists is that they act shocked–shocked, I tell you–that the public has the temerity to doubt their assertions. Other intellectuals, fine, they’re used to that. But the public? The public is supposed to take their statements unquestioningly! After all, they’re scientists! This is their job! They cannot accept the public doubting their conclusions. They (probably) feel its going back to pre-Enlightenment times. That is the problem facing scientists today. And thus, the problem is not with science at all.
For the record, I do believe in climate change and global warming, however, I do not believe it affects us nearly as much as these scientists do. No, I believe that it will not be a serious threat to our existence for at least three or four centuries, most likely longer. New York City will not be flooded by 2050 (maybe if there was a god, it would be), the polar bears will still have glaciers, and demagogues will have other issues to complain about.
I welcome scientists who wish to enter the debate, and “take on” those “polemicists” in the “media” who distort what they say. But let’s all be honest about this. Otherwise, they’re being as polemical as all those other guys.