"science and politics can't be divorced"

No matter where I look, it seems there's no getting away from people who seek to impose their morality on others.

Take today's headline. "Climate scientists plan campaign against global warming skeptics"

John Abraham of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, who last May wrote a widely disseminated response to climate change skeptics, is also pulling together a "climate rapid response team," which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk radio and television shows.

"This group feels strongly that science and politics can't be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists," said Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York.

"We are taking the fight to them because we are ... tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed."

I sensed something in Michigan's student newspaper last week, in which a prominent researcher announced that there had to be a major shift in morality, because we must be made to see to see the burning of fossil fuels the same way we see slavery.

The problem is that these rhetorical and moral arguments simply are not science. The questions of whether the climate is changing and the theory of why it might be changing do involve science, but the questions of what could or should be done about it, the weighing the pros and cons in the form of a cost-benefit analysis -- these are inherently political questions. Scientists can invent new technologies, new drugs and vaccines, but their implementation is not up to them, nor is it up to them to judge human morality or immorality. Whether a breakthrough in life extension technology is ultimately for the good of mankind or the bad is not up to the researchers -- any more than the ultimate deployment of the Hiroshima bomb was up to the scientists at Alamogordo. Of course, being free people, we are all entitled to our opinions, including scientists like Robert Oppenheimer, who waxed philosophically about his work:

After the initial euphoria of witnessing the explosion had passed, test director Kenneth Bainbridge commented to Los Alamos director J. Robert Oppenheimer, "Now we are all sons of bitches."[27] Oppenheimer later stated that while watching the test he was reminded of a line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita:
Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.[28][29]
While it was perfectly OK for Oppenheimer to say that, it can hardly be considered science. Oppenheimer had serious moral problems with the use of the bomb, and he had every right to become an anti-nuclear activist, just as scientists are free to oppose nuclear weapons or nuclear power today. But if scientists declared that political activism against nukes constitutes "science" (or that it was a "scientific consensus") that would not make it science.

The assignment of collective blame and the insistence that something be done is not science. It is a public policy argument based on morality, with quasi-religious overtones. Calling it science contaminates morality and debases science.

Scientists who wish to impose their morality on us are of course free to try, but they shouldn't be able to get away with calling it science, nor should they have a leg up on everyone else just because of scientific credentials.

I miss the good old days of separation of morality and science.

posted by Eric on 11.08.10 at 10:16 AM










Comments

(to the tune of "Marching to Pretoria")

"We're coercing to Utopia,
U-top-i-a hurrah!"

TallDave   ·  November 8, 2010 10:20 AM

It is time, and past time to stop government financing of most science. Libertarians, if they are serious about their principles, and not just a pressure group for Stuff IT Geeks Like, would support this.

Gov't financing does debase science as it forces politics more into the mix.

Science is the daughter of Christianity, but they do not need to live in the same room, just in the same mansion, and the mother needs to have a hard talk with the daughter about that sleazy boyfriend Government who's moved in with her.

Tennwriter   ·  November 8, 2010 10:45 AM

The Chair of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University has stated that one of his major goals is to find the narrative necessary to impose Global Climate constraints upon our nation. Of course, it is his degree in English that compels me to trust his viewpoint.
.

OregonGuy   ·  November 8, 2010 11:16 AM

it is his degree in English that compels me to trust his viewpoint.

Well, I have a degree in Rhetoric, which compels me to deconstruct emanations from those whose degrees are in English!

It's part of my bigoted tribal obligation, doncha know!

Eric Scheie   ·  November 8, 2010 11:31 AM

I am reminded of what Obama said about “science” and politics several weeks ago:

"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hardwired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country's scared."
Obama's exposure to math and science past high school is unlikely to equal that of Al Gore, who took all of two math or science courses in college. And the science courses Al Gore took were of the rigor of "Science for Poets."

Perhaps there is an underlying truth to Obama's "science" remark, when one recalls the mantra in past years about scientific socialism coming from Marxists on both sides of the Iron Curtain. From both Obama in his autobiography, where he wrote about "seeking out" Marxists, and from John Drew, we have evidence of Obama's Marxist orientation as a student. His "science" remark was an unwitting reminder of that.

Gringo   ·  November 8, 2010 12:44 PM

If the "science" is conclusive all true scientists will support it.
However it seems the science has been developed by government supported environmentalists, has not been properly reviewed.
It seems their main purpose is to redistribute wealth, they make no attempt to answer why (with all this burning of fossil fuels) we are still in the lower half of historical temperature range for this planet.
All their efforts have been exceedingly profitable for them, no other group can come close to their funding increases during the past ten years.

Hugh   ·  November 8, 2010 2:20 PM
newrouter   ·  November 8, 2010 5:33 PM
newrouter   ·  November 8, 2010 5:35 PM

It's not science even aside from the confusion of politics in it.

You can't tell a cycle from a trend with a segment of data that's short compared to the cycle you wish to exclude.

So there's zero evidence of a temperature trend; and lots of evidence of long term cycles.

I think the thing to look at is mass delusion rather than bad faith, though.

rhhardin   ·  November 8, 2010 6:03 PM

It's a religion.
A particularly intolerant religion with fire and brimstone prophets (Gorequemada, Hanson at NASA, Mann of the hockey stick, the climategate tools who admitted coordinating the attack of "deniers") and a vengeful god (Gaia) sending plagues (floods, droughts, more hurricanes, fewer hurricanes, more tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hotter temps, colder temps, more snow, less snow, cats and dogs living together http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm) on an imprius world.

And that's why I only point and laugh anymore.
The mistake I've made over and over is trying to reason somebody out of a belief they weren't reasoned into.
It's annoying to both of us and doesn't accomplish anything.
So when I point and laugh, it accomplishes the same as reasoned argument (nothing), but at least that way only one of us is annoyed (the global warmmonger).
That's a win in my book.

Veeshir   ·  November 8, 2010 6:54 PM

Science is the daughter of Christianity

That Galileo guy was quite a comedian.

===

Science was actually part of a movement designed to check the power of Christianity.

M. Simon   ·  November 8, 2010 8:52 PM

I must say that the Catholic Church did learn its lesson after a long while. They currently support the general outlines of Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

M. Simon   ·  November 8, 2010 8:58 PM

Science is the daughter of Christianity

That Galileo guy was quite a comedian.

===

Science was actually part of a movement designed to check the power of Christianity.
M. Simon

M. Simon: ask yourself the following. What was the difference in worldview between Europe, Islam, and China that meant that from 1500 on science stagnated in the latter two and advanced in the former?

Gringo   ·  November 8, 2010 9:07 PM

What was the difference in worldview between Europe, Islam, and China that meant that from 1500 on science stagnated in the latter two and advanced in the former?

I realize the question was directed at Simon, but I think that thanks to internal Christian religious strife (by various warring Reformation sects, the Inquisition, etc.), science was able to advance while its enemies were distracted.

Modern Islamists (making the logical mistake of post hoc ergo propter hoc) concluded that the advances in science were because of the Christian Reformation rather than in spite of it, and an unintended consequence of this mistake has been a revival of radical fundamentalist Islam -- in the name of "reform" -- but that is just my opinion, and I lack the necessary academic credentials which might lend it authority.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 8, 2010 10:14 PM

What most call Science has its earliest traceable roots around 400 BCE in the Socratic Method of questioning. His student, Aristotle began its refinement toward the Scientific Method. The books ascribed to "Luke the Physician" show strong evidence of its influence. The method calls for questioning and testing of basic assumptions; something authoritarian power structures (including those of the science community itself) have often sought to limit or control.

Will   ·  November 9, 2010 12:53 AM

Sorry, Aristotle was a student of Plato, who was a student of Socrates.

Will   ·  November 9, 2010 1:52 AM

What was the difference in worldview between Europe, Islam, and China that meant that from 1500 on science stagnated in the latter two and advanced in the former?

Let me echo Eric - theocracy was weakened in Europe.

Islam the opposite - plus Allah Wills It i.e. no cause and effect.

China - new technology is disruptive.

M. Simon   ·  November 9, 2010 7:40 AM

You didn't answer my question: "difference in worldview."

WORLDVIEW

Gringo   ·  November 9, 2010 12:35 PM

Gringo,

Oh. I get it. The difference in Worldview between Europe and Islam? God is not capricious. He works through natural law.

For China - disruptions to the system are bad.

M. Simon   ·  November 9, 2010 5:19 PM

I'm puzzled by how unperceptive so many science types are. About a century ago, many scientists decided that the scientific establishment must become an arm of the state, and progressive tyranny was the result. The seduction of power corrupted scientists and the rest of academia into permanent confirmation bias.

Political activism has lost scientists their credibility; these intelligent people don't have the smarts to understand that fact.

Brett   ·  November 10, 2010 8:01 AM

M.Simon :
Oh. I get it. The difference in Worldview between Europe and Islam? God is not capricious. He works through natural law.or China - disruptions to the system are bad.

Bingo.

From what I had read of the history of science, trying to find out in better detail how God had ordered the world, was a not insubstantial influence on science from Medieval times onward in Europe.

These days, probably not.


Gringo   ·  November 11, 2010 3:01 PM

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