Science loses its method

I noted a few days ago that the frenzy over global warming seems to have converted many scientists into inquisitioners, demanding an end to critical thinking on the subject, an end to discussion, and immediate obedience to their authority.  I used the persecution of Bjorn Lomborg, the skeptical environmentalist, as my example.

Well, it must be the global warming equivalent of flu season.  Neil Collins at the Telegraph reports on a letter he received from Sir David Wallace, CBE, FRS, treasurer and vice-president of the Royal Society:

We are appealing to all parts of the UK media to be vigilant against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence about climate change and its potential effects on people and their environments around the world. I hope that we can count on your support. [. . .]

There are some individuals on the fringes, sometimes with financial support from the oil industry, who have been attempting to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change.

An appeal not to publish contrary views:  can anything be less in the spirit of science?  A charge of conspiracy by evil-minded, world-destroying oil corporations:  can anything be more contrived or shallow?  A distinction between those who have a the right to be heard, and those on the “fringes” whose “distorted view” must be silenced by the media.  I’m trying hard to think of moderate words to describe this attitude, but “aristocratic” is the best I can do, if I’m to avoid “tyrannical.”

In my previous post, I argued against this corruption of the scientific approach without presenting my own views of global warming.  The reason was simple:  I’m no expert, and my opinion is only that.  But if the experts seek to impose an end to the discussion, and to attack and discredit their opponents, then one must wonder how much their opinions are worth, and how sure they are of their arguments.  So let me come clean.

That the earth is getting warmer seems to me pretty certain.  The extent of the change, on the other hand, is far from certain.  The responsibility of the human race for global warming is wholly unproven.  The consequences of any amount of warming will be unpredictable, and may well be benign.

After all, the entire history of human settlement and civilization has taken place during a brief interglacial period.   When Lord Salisbury, prime minister, retired from politics at the height of his powers in 1902, someone explained his decision in terms of cosmic perspective:  “He knows that there was once an Ice Age, and that there will be one again.”  Ponder that, and worry less about global warming.

 

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