Climate Science Heretics

Kevin Kelly studies western science from a few different perspectives. He’s got a pretty good feel for it as an institution. For his regular Cool Tools newsletter, he reviewed The Deniers, a book celebrating scientists who dispute the global climate change consensus. If I get a chance I’d like to read it, but regardless of the book, Kelly’s review is worth a read in its own right.

“What should we do with the 1% who dissent about global warming? By logic, we should embrace them, but currently “deniers” of global warming have become demonized, which is a sign that global warming has become slightly religious. Which is a shame because many global warming skeptics are not crackpots or paid shills, but first-class prestigious scientists with a minority view.

Throughout its history, science usually advances from the edges. Heretics should be cherished for forcing edges to the center. The most respected scientific global warming heretics have been rounded up in this very readable book, The Deniers. Significantly, many of the eminent scientists included here don’t call themselves deniers at all. They say, “I believe global warming is evidenced in all these other fields; Except in the field that I am expert in, the evidence is totally bogus.” One by one the field-specific heretics make their case. And a number of them are rather persuasive. But at the moment there is no unified alternative theory of climate change, so the critique of global warming amounts to exposing holes in the current science. Any good scientific theory will have holes.”

I get frustrated when I hear people complain that scientists didn’t do enough to alert the world to the climate change threat. According to received wisdom, scientists aren’t supposed to be involved in the setting of social priorities at all, they’re just supposed to pump objective factual information into the mix and let civil, democratic institutions decide what to do or not do about it. So even if scientists hadn’t become activist around global warming, it wouldn’t seem totally fair to blame them. And the thing is, scientists were activist. For decades, when media and government and even environmental groups seemed to be dropping the ball on global warming, it was a cadre of research professionals who fumbled it along, and if they didn’t do a better job of it, can you really blame them? If you didn’t hear about global warming during the 90’s, it wasn’t because there wasn’t a labcoat who was trying to tell you, they just didn’t know how to do it well.

Perhaps one of the drawbacks of that breaking down of the notional firewall between science and politics is that scientific institutions subsequently aren’t dealing productively with climate change minority views, as Kevin Kelly and apparently the authors of this book think.

1 comment:

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