Thursday, December 14, 2006

In the Name of Science - One of the constant refrains from the Left is that conservatives are “anti-science,” and they are quick to cite our collective skepticism regarding global warming as proof that such is the case. The fact that progressives lose any sort of perspective when it pertains to climate change, and in fact resort to the same sort of blind zealotry that they accuse the right of is more evidence that they are motivated less by facts than by fear.

The cutting irony is that it is the certainty of liberals on this matter, and their refusal to acknowledge the lack of accord regarding man-made climate change that are the greatest insults to the scientific method in particular and science in general. As Dr. Richard Lindzen suggested in his paper for the CATO Institute magazine Regulation, there is increasing pressure within the scientific community to come to the “right” conclusions. And as the February 2, 2006 Wall Street Journal informs us, one of the casualties of the increasingly acrimonious debate surrounding global warming has been the necessary cooperation between scientists.

The 2,000-plus scientists at the [2006] annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society had plenty to talk about, from last year’s droughts to flash floods and wildfires. But the biggest question at the meeting in Atlanta – why last hurricane season was the worst since recordkeeping began 151 years ago – was almost too hot to handle.

William Gray, America’s most prominent hurricane scientist and an ardent foe of the belief that global warming has worsened hurricanes, was supposed to join a panel discussing the storms. So was Greg Holland of the National Center on Atmospheric Research – who
disagrees with Dr. Gray. But the organizers withdrew the invitations after deciding the dispute had grown so nasty it was too risky to put the two in the same room.

The internecine wrangling within the scientific community notwithstanding, we would do well to remember that real science welcomes, indeed engenders skepticism. As Robert K. Merton observed in his essay, “Science and the Social Order,” “[m]ost institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.” The pseudo-science behind global warming is threatened by anything other than capitulation to the “scientific consensus,” which on this topic is little more than shared ignorance.

With nary a trace of irony, progressives suggest that global warming will be simultaneously responsible for flooding caused by torrential rainfalls in some areas, and droughts in others. But by now, we are quite used to both the Left’s arrogance and hysterics. After all, global warming is only today’s bete noir. Hysteria on the part of left-leaning environmentalists led to a ban on the use of the pesticide DDT in the United States. And even with today’s advances in food production, the frantic Left will intermittently become panic-stricken over their Malthusian visions of global famine based on supposedly unsustainable population growth.

Even more curious, because of temperature trends in the 1950s and 1960s, many scholarly publications in the mid-1970s – along with such paragons of mainstream journalism as The New York Times, Time and Newsweek – were sounding similarly hectic alarms about global cooling. In an apologia published on the Newsweek website on October 23, 2006, Jerry Adler admits that the news media may have correctly reported incorrect predictions regarding global cooling based on the science of that time, while simultaneously suggesting that today’s science supporting global warming is more robust and predictive.
The point to remember … is that predictions of global cooling never approached the kind of widespread scientific consensus that supports the greenhouse effect today. And for good reason: the tools scientists have at their disposal now—vastly more data, incomparably faster computers and infinitely more sophisticated mathematical models—render any forecasts from 1975 as inoperative as the predictions being made around the same time about the inevitable triumph of communism.
So with this comment, Mr. Adler reveals one of the differences between scientists and journalists. A journalist (or for that matter, any other layperson) might well assume that all of the vagaries of the universe would be revealed if researchers only had better tools at their disposal; one can imagine Mr. Adler positing that Mother Nature is in reality a scientist with a really powerful computer. But if the tools available to scientists in 1975 were more useful than they were in 1945 – as one would presume that they would have been – wouldn’t the same be true regarding the instruments that would be available to science in 2055?

Might Mr. Adler concede that there are certain things yet to be revealed to smart people with fast computers? And might not the histrionics of today’s global warming advocates be rendered moot by knowledge that is yet to be uncovered? While scientific inquiry yields the fruit of knowledge, it does even more to instill humility in the researcher, as researchers invariably discover more questions than answers. Indeed, it is the scientist most of all who understands that the gap between man’s understanding and that which lies beyond will never entirely be bridged by “more sophisticated mathematical models.”

1 comment:

Pali Gap said...

Standing back from this I would say that leftists/progressives have a rather old-fashioned weakness for positivism and scientism. This encourages their scientific hubris. On the right there is a greater understanding and appreciation of fallibilism. It is so ironic that lefties think they march "with science on their side". Actually it is the right with their instinct for fallibilism that can field the intellectual heavyweights: Peirce, Duhem, Popper and Wittgenstein...