Who Really Is “Anti-Science”?

In any national election we can depend on the usual liberal ad hominem attacks on Republicans and their candidates. One chestnut already appearing is the charge that Republicans comprise the “anti-science party,” as even a Republican, presidential primary candidate Jon Huntsman, fretted recently. Huntsman’s angst arose over doubts expressed by some other candidates, particularly Texas governor Rick Perry, that human-caused climate change is an established scientific fact, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman believes: “The scientific consensus about man-made global warming — which includes 97 percent to 98 percent of researchers in the field, according to the National Academy of Sciences — is getting stronger, not weaker, as the evidence for climate change just keeps mounting.”

Well, apparently not all the evidence. Just recently, experiments conducted at the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva by Jasper Kirkby (who is following up on over a decade of research by Danish physicist Henrik Svenskmark) suggest that variations in cosmic rays influenced by the sun contribute to increases or decreases in cloud formation, which in turn affect temperature changes. Kirkby had earlier speculated that confirming Svensmark’s research could “probably be able to account for somewhere between a half and the whole” of 20th-century warming. In other words, rather than accepting premature claims of  “consensus” on climate change, some scientists are doing what they should do: adopt George Orwell’s attitude toward saints, and assume that all hypotheses and theories are guilty until proven innocent.

This genuinely scientific sensibility was recently described by physicist Michio Kaku writing in the Wall Street Journal about another consensus-smashing experiment, this one suggesting that Einstein’s cosmic speed limit, the speed of light, might not be as absolute as once thought. Writes Kaku, “No theory is carved in stone. Science is merciless when it comes to testing all theories over and over, at any time, in any place. Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.” This doesn’t sound much like the attitude of those self-styled defenders of reason and science Al Gore or Paul Krugman, who keep telling us that human-created climate change is an incontrovertible fact established by scientific “consensus,” and so anyone who entertains doubt about the theory is akin to a holocaust denier.

Non-scientists like Krugman and Gore are prey to such arguments from authority in part because of our culture-wide mistaken attitudes about what it is scientists do. Many of us assume that research scientists are cool rationalists objectively gathering evidence that conclusively establishes the truth of a theory. But science doesn’t work that way, as philosopher Mary Midgley points out. Science is not “something so pure and impersonal that it ought to be thought of in complete abstraction from all the motives that might lead people to practice it.” In addition to the usual human motives such as money, ideological prejudice, and fame, such a view leaves out “the importance of world-pictures. Facts are not gathered in a vacuum, but to fill gaps in a world-picture which already exists. And the shape of this world-picture––determining the matters allowed for it, the principles of selection, the possible range of emphases––depends deeply on the motives for forming it in the first place.”

These “world-pictures,” Midgley goes on, necessarily involve “symbolism,” which thus “is not just a nuisance to be got rid of. It is essential. Facts will never appear to us as brute and meaningless; they will always organize themselves into some sort of story, some drama. These dramas can be indeed be dangerous” for they can “distort our theories.” The way to guard against this distortion that arises from our “preferences,” Midgley suggests, is to practice the same sort of stern skepticism about them that Kaku recommends for all scientific theories. This means “criticizing them carefully” and “expressing them plainly” rather than hiding behind assertions of impartiality, objectivity, or arguments from the authority of some professional “consensus.”

The idea that disastrous climate change is caused by human activity illustrates the truth of Midgley’s observations, for it depends not just on the evidence (some of which itself is questionable), but on a “world-picture” and a “story” that often determines how the evidence is interpreted. That story is one of the oldest we know, the myth of the Golden Age, that time when humans lived without suffering, crime, or work because a benevolent earth provided like a mother everything humans need. Yet this paradise was lost with the advent of agriculture and cities, which brought in their wake oppressive rulers and laws, private property and greed for gain, cramped dirty cities, crime and punishment, trade and war––the Iron Age in which we unfortunates now live. The villain in this ancient melodrama is technologies like agriculture, metallurgy, and shipbuilding, all of which broke the harmony humans once enjoyed with the natural world, and thus alienated them from their true nature.

The rise of industrialism, widespread urbanization, and ever more sophisticated technologies and inventions has kept alive the Golden Age myth. In 1930 Sigmund Freud gave voice to this received wisdom when he wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents, “What we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery . . . and we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions.” These days, much of modern environmentalism indulges this ancient anxiety about the costs of civilization. Al Gore, the Elmer Gantry of the global warming gospel, preached the myth throughout his book Earth in the Balance, where he decried our “technological hubris” for its “increasingly aggressive encroachment into the natural world” and the resultant “froth and frenzy of industrial civilization.” In these new versions of the Golden Age, the apocalyptic scenarios claiming to show the effects of global warming provide a dramatic illustration of the wages of “technological hubris” and capitalist greed. Just as the Iron Age of myth would end when humanity became so corrupt that a disgusted Zeus destroys them, so too the climate change alarmists predict the end of our own civilization unless we begin to rein in our destructive, unnatural life-style of selfish greed and wasteful consumption.

Other ideologies, of course, contribute to the acceptance of the climate change narrative. Leftover Marxists, socialists, big-government liberals, and other haters of free-market capitalism have found in global warming hysteria a useful stalking horse for collectivist or dirigiste economics. That’s why at every anti-globalization rally you will see the hammer-and-sickle flying next to the Greenpeace banners. But for most people, the Golden Age narrative, dressed up in the quantitative robes of scientific research, provides what political philosopher Chantal Delsol calls a “black-market religion”: a story of good and evil, sin and redemption, devils and saints that gives meaning to their lives and makes them one of the righteous elect. Unfortunately, too many scientists who should know better let this story distort their work and short-circuit, through professional shunning and gate-keeping, the “merciless” testing of theories Kaku speaks of.

So when it comes to climate change, who really is “anti-science”–– the skeptics demanding more empirical proof before accepting as fact an as yet unproven theory that could generate public policies costing trillions of dollars and weakening our economy; or the true believers shrilly insisting on the basis of a presumed “consensus” that the question is settled, and that anyone who disagrees is “vile” (Krugman) or “evil” (Al Gore), a dangerous heretic to be scorned and demonized?

  • RobbinsMitchell

    Yea,well anybody like Huntsman who thinks his panties are "magic" shouldn't be worrying about others grasp of the facts regarding the 'global warming' hoax

    • winoceros

      Don't care much about underwear, but please distinguish between things that matter to more than one person, and things that don't.

  • davarino

    Unlike the global warming scientists, the ones that discovered faster than light particles are questioning their results and are asking for confirmation from the rest of the scientific community, rather than demanding that all the facts are in, and their results are proven and cannot be questioned.

  • tagalog

    It is not possible that there are particles that travel faster than light.

    There is, and has been for some time, a near-unanimous consensus of highly respectable scientists at the very pinnacle of their various disciplines, who agree that the speed of light is the "speed limit" of the universe.

    The science has been settled for over a century, if not longer.

    Therefore, since the science is settled, and there is an overwhelming consensus on the point, nothing in the universe can travel faster than light.


    • mrbean

      Ahhhh….Now don't be so quick with your QED. Quasars have been a mystery since their discovery. Immense energy is packed into a relatively small object that may actually be the energy cores of recently born galaxies. Approximately double the size of our solar system, they emit hundreds of times more energy than an entire galaxy. Quasars appear to move at enormous, often superluminal, speeds when the standard interpretation of redshifts is considered. According to relativity theory nothing should travel faster than the speed of light, and therefore, the apparent superluminal — faster than light — speeds of some objects alone either brings into question the standard interpretation of redshifts or the speed of light in a vacuum as a maximum. It is an open question based on actual measurements and/or the validity of the standard relativistic doppler effect calculation.

      • tagalog

        I'm telling Al Gore on you!

      • winoceros

        But isn't that tag's point? That no consensus, rather, analysis of data over time, should bring clarity and understanding, and that to "decide" the issue is really just one discovery or experiment away from an exception to the rule?

        I agree that the recent news could be a question of measurement, but by all accounts they've asked many groups to verify their measurements and no one has yet come up with different numbers. That leaves the assumptions/deviations as a problem, or the theory is correct, and there is superluminal speed.

        This global warming stuff is just exasperating.

  • winoceros

    On a related tangent, this is what is so distressing about Protestant congregations being taken over whole-cloth to global warming alarmism. They kinda forgot about the whole "no flood ever again promise" thing that concluded the Noah's Ark adventure.

    Are you Bible-based Christians or aren't you? Shame on your pastors and lay leaders, who are being led along the garden path by the Gramsciites who would destroy your churches by taking them over, lock, stock and barrel.

    (How's that for mixed metaphors?)

  • maturin20

    The Republican Party is certainly the anti-science party when it comes to economics.

    • Spider

      Why ? Because they don't believe that taking more money from people who produce things of value and giving it to lazy idiots who produce nothing creates prosperity. ?

      • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

        Well they certainly believe in overcompensating CEOs for “producing,” especially if what they produce is bribes. Also, as was the case with Ken Lay, and Enron, they believe in compensating companies for halting production.

        • Spider

          I agree – the lazy idiots I referred to also included corporate welfare recipients
          like the Ken Leys' , Fannie Freddie and Bank CEOs etc.

      • maturin20

        Because they don't believe in skepticism towards economic assumptions.

    • winoceros

      Special. Thanks for the unbased assertion, thereby proving the author's point.

      Neither is economics a science.

      It's just such a sophomoric tag I just despair over the level of rhetoric out of these people. What next? Nanny nanny boo boo?

      • maturin20

        What is economics?

        • winoceros

          It is a discipline. This is not to say there are not data to be analyzed. But science works by being able to recreate the results of tested hypotheses experimentally.

          Economic data, unfortunately, largely operates in arrears, and valid historical analysis born out by the data can help lead to decision making by rational and irrational actors alike. But because economics is based on human behavior, (even the algorithms doing the bulk of the trading, for example), only some paradigms can be readily predicted and/or recreated. For example, placing a population near natural resources and ensuring laws that allow for individual, unassailable land ownership will most often create an economic boomlet. This was the premise of the great land rushes of the 19th century. Land was not given as largesse, but because planners knew the economic benefit would largely outpace the net investment by individuals.

          Finally, there is skepticism toward economic assumptions, and then there is the sideways, hide, divide, double-count and hope for the best un-disciplined "economics" of the present administration, and Democrat Socialists writ large. Republicans do not believe there are only so many slices to the pie, due to productivity and individual ambition. Democrats think there is an endless supply of free ingredients.

          • maturin20

            Please pass on your message of economic skepticism to the leaders of the American Right, they need to hear it.

          • winoceros

            They already know this. Every conservative knows this. It seems to be news to you, though, you must have been all in on the economic assumptions (and I use the term economic loosely) of the Obamacare central planning fiasco.

            Economic assumption are based on historical models, not wishful thinking. Skepticism does not entitle one to invent scenarios they hope might exist if they wish really hard and are really good people.

            And thanks for the advice. I pass along my desires and understandings to my representatives on a regular basis.

          • maturin20

            I can't agree with you. Too many on all sides of the political spectrum have been trumpeting our current economic understanding as the final word on policy, for now and ever. Recall the triumphalism of the years leading up to the dotcom bubble, and then the housing bubble, and then the derivatives bubble. And now our current bubble. It is disheartening how belief outlasts experience.

    • tagalog

      Economics is scientific? I mean, I know they call it the "dismal science," but isn't that kind of a joke?

      • maturin20

        It's certainly presented as such by the elite.

  • tanstaafl

    The output of solar energy from our Sun is not constant. Since the Sun is the engine that drives global climate, perhaps our "global warming" proponents could boycott the Sun……….

    • WilliamJamesWard

      They should all go up there and test the variations of output and if they are
      clever lefties they will go at night…………………………………William

  • mrbean

    Al Gore is a certifiable nutcase and a free loading con artist. Gore Ball warming is a hoax.

  • johnnywoods

    Just remember this, Al Gore did not invent the internet he invented global warming. I have a t-shirt that says that so the science is settled and if you disagree then you may be a holocaust denier.

  • Lloyd

    Why not faster than light?
    Star Trek had "Warp Speed" 10+ times the speed of light.

    But if God wanted to go from one end of the universe to the next,

    would he do it in a year, a month, a day, or in the blink of an eye?

    I believe in God and I believe he could do it in a blink.

  • xlent

    But even light is slowing down.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Who can prove the faster than light idea, I know that it is all around us, just think
    how fast the government goes after your pay check and other income. It has been
    reported citizens are continuously skinned by the government faster than light,
    why the President and his administration lie faster than light and move the pea
    under the nut shell at alarmingly and increasingly enormous speeds far past
    ten to the tenth……….the pea being the truth………………………William

  • BrooksH

    Al Gore needs to question the authors of the papers upon which rests the hypothesis of Anthropogenic Global Warming (or Climate Change, if you prefer) as to why they have either refused or obfuscated the release of their data and methods. It is only through the wide distribution of data and methods that real science progresses. No hypothesis can be proven if it is obscured from scrutiny. True scientists would never refuse to release their data and methods, because they want independent verification of their work.

    I wonder whether Al Gore or Paul Krugman would be willing to fly on a new aircraft which had been designed totally in secret using a new design and new materials and where the designers refused to release any of the data, design calculations or test results to anyone outside of their department.

    The climate science community and their supporeters are asking the entire population of the planet to embark on the maiden flight of such an aircraft. Furthermore, they are refusing to answer questions about the design because it is "settled." Anyone who questions the design is compared to a holocaust denier.

  • Mark Anderson

    Ah, thank you, now I can keep adding Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere as fast as I choose to. Who wants to live in Texas anyway.