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“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Climate change and scientism

For some time now I have been cautious about the supposed 'reality' of anthropogenic climate change and the need for urgent action to save the planet.  There is nothing wrong with being cautious, that's part of what it means to be a conservative.  Is it possible that we have rushed too quickly in conferring upon scientists a high degree of infallibility when after all, they are subject to the same failings and human weaknesses as the rest of mankind? The peer review process is also not exempt from similar frailties.

A recent Editorial in the New Zealand Herald went so far as to say:

"attacks on the honesty of scientists and health professionals, invite instant dismissal. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Thus, an irrational fog has descended over a number of issues. Expertise deserves respect. Everyone is free to disagree but ignorance does not have an equal right to be heard."

In the mind of the Editor of the Herald, one has to be 'legitimised' by other scientists or health professionals before an opinion deserves a hearing, and even then it has to fit within a set criteria or risk being dismissed out of hand.  This kind of censorship is no doubt well intentioned, but comes with considerable risks.  How often has it taken someone outside of the 'approved' authorities to question the status quo, and uncover new scientific or technical insights?  One could reasonably argue that this is often the way new discoveries are made.  Galileo would be just one example.

And is it realistic to place scientists beyond reproach, simply because they have a particular qualification?  Are they no longer subject to normal human frailties once they have pulled on the white dust coat?  An excellent article on scientism had this to say:
The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett explicitly state that most human institutions, including “governments, political parties, churches, firms, NGOs, ethnic associations, families … are hardly epistemically reliable at all.” However, “our grounding assumption is that the specific institutional processes of science have inductively established peculiar epistemic reliability.” This assumption is at best na├»ve and at worst dangerous. If any human institution is held to be exempt from the petty, self-serving, and corrupting motivations that plague us all, the result will almost inevitably be the creation of a priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself.
"A priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself", could easily describe the present grouping of climate change scientists who insist their theories are trustworthy, and with some additional funding will deliver even more evidence that cannot be denied.

Ice skating on the Thames anyone?


  1. The issue is actually that in the name of balance, newspapers have made it look like scientists are not united about whether climate change is occurring or not. The reality is that over 85% of scientists believe that climate change is occurring and is man-made.

    The scientific process is one based on peer-review. Therefore if 85%+ say that it is happening, you can be pretty sure that it is.

    I think it is incredibly unfair to accuse scientists of having a hidden agenda of wanting to raise funding by promoting climate change.

    1. Balance. Dara O'Briain: Funny.

  2. David, your confidence in scientific peer review is potentially misplaced.


  3. Brendan, your scepticism of the scientific peer review is potentially misplaced.