CCF Editor’s Note: Occasionally we like to highlight an item from our vault that should be required reading for any person interested in how we got from rational, scientific thinking to the current hysterical pandering by politicians and environmentalists. This speech, while only a few years old, provides an excellent history “detailing how over the last thirty years scientists have begun to intermingle scientific and political claims.”
My topic today sounds humorous but unfortunately I am serious. I am going to argue that extraterrestrials lie behind global warming. Or to speak more precisely, I will argue that a belief in extraterrestrials has paved the way, in a progression of steps, to a belief in global warming. Charting this progression of belief will be my task today.
Let me say at once that I have no desire to discourage anyone from believing in either extraterrestrials or global warming. That would be quite impossible to do. Rather, I want to discuss the history of several widely-publicized beliefs and to point to what I consider an emerging crisis in the whole enterprise of science-namely the increasingly uneasy relationship between hard science and public policy.
I have a special interest in this because of my own upbringing. I was born in the midst of World War II, and passed my formative years at the height of the Cold War. In school drills, I dutifully crawled under my desk in preparation for a nuclear attack.
It was a time of widespread fear and uncertainty, but even as a child I Believed that science represented the best and greatest hope for mankind. Even to a child, the contrast was clear between the world of politics-a world of hate and danger, of irrational beliefs and fears,of mass manipulation and disgraceful blots on human history. In contrast, science held different values-international in scope, forging friendships and working relationships across national boundaries and political systems, encouraging a dispassionate habit of thought, and ultimately leading to fresh knowledge and technology that would benefit all mankind. The world might not be a very good place, but science would make it better. And it did. In my lifetime, science has largely fulfilled its promise. Science has been the great intellectual adventure of our age, and a great hope for our troubled and restless world.
But I did not expect science merely to extend lifespan, feed thehungry, cure disease, and shrink the world with jets and cell phones. Ialso expected science to banish the evils of human thought—prejudiceand superstition, irrational beliefs and false fears. I expectedscience to be, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, “a candle in a demonhaunted world.” And here, I am not so pleased with the impact ofscience. Rather than serving as a cleansing force, science has in someinstances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics andpublicity. Some of the demons that haunt our world in recent years areinvented by scientists. The world has not benefited from permittingthese demons to escape free.
But let’s look at how it came to pass.
Cast your minds back to 1960. John F. Kennedy is president,commercial jet airplanes are just appearing, the biggest universitymainframes have 12K of memory. And in Green Bank, West Virginia at thenew National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a young astrophysicist namedFrank Drake runs a two week project called Ozma, to search forextraterrestrial signals. A signal is received, to great excitement. Itturns out to be false, but the excitement remains. In 1960, Drakeorganizes the first SETI conference, and came up with the now-famousDrake equation:
N=N*fp ne fl fi fc fL
Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is thefraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable ofsupporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fiis the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fractionthat communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet’s life duringwhich the communicating civilizations live.
This serious-looking equation gave SETI an serious footing as alegitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that noneof the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The onlyway to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-justso we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be”informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with lifechoose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informedguess. It’s simply prejudice.
As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billionsand billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything meansnothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literallymeaningless, and has nothing to do with science. I take the hard viewthat science involves the creation of testable hypotheses. The Drakeequation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI isunquestionably a religion. Faith is defined as the firm belief insomething for which there is no proof. The belief that the Koran is theword of God is a matter of faith. The belief that God created theuniverse in seven days is a matter of faith. The belief that there areother life forms in the universe is a matter of faith. There is not asingle shred of evidence for any other life forms, and in forty yearsof searching, none has been discovered. There is absolutely noevidentiary reason to maintain this belief. SETI is a religion.
One way to chart the cooling of enthusiasm is to review popularworks on the subject. In 1964, at the height of SETI enthusiasm, WalterSullivan of the NY Times wrote an exciting book about life in theuniverse entitled WE ARE NOT ALONE. By 1995, when Paul Davis wrote abook on the same subject, he titled it ARE WE ALONE? ( Since 1981,there have in fact been four books titled ARE WE ALONE.) More recentlywe have seen the rise of the so-called “Rare Earth” theory whichsuggests that we may, in fact, be all alone. Again, there is noevidence either way.
Back in the sixties, SETI had its critics, although not amongastrophysicists and astronomers. The biologists and paleontologistswere harshest. George Gaylord Simpson of Harvard sneered that SETI wasa “study without a subject,” and it remains so to the present day.
But scientists in general have been indulgent toward SETI, viewingit either with bemused tolerance, or with indifference. After all,what’s the big deal? It’s kind of fun. If people want to look, letthem. Only a curmudgeon would speak harshly of SETI. It wasn’t worththe bother.
And of course it is true that untestable theories may have heuristicvalue. Of course extraterrestrials are a good way to teach science tokids. But that does not relieve us of the obligation to see the Drakeequation clearly for what it is-pure speculation in quasi-scientifictrappings.
The fact that the Drake equation was not greeted with screams ofoutrage-similar to the screams of outrage that greet each Creationistnew claim, for example-meant that now there was a crack in the door, aloosening of the definition of what constituted legitimate scientificprocedure. And soon enough, pernicious garbage began to squeeze throughthe cracks.
Now let’s jump ahead a decade to the 1970s, and Nuclear Winter.
In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences reported on “Long-TermWorldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear Weapons Detonations” but thereport estimated the effect of dust from nuclear blasts to berelatively minor. In 1979, the Office of Technology Assessment issued areport on “The Effects of Nuclear War” and stated that nuclear warcould perhaps produce irreversible adverse consequences on theenvironment. However, because the scientific processes involved werepoorly understood, the report stated it was not possible to estimatethe probable magnitude of such damage.
Three years later, in 1982, the Swedish Academy of Sciencescommissioned a report entitled “The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War:Twilight at Noon,” which attempted to quantify the effect of smoke fromburning forests and cities. The authors speculated that there would beso much smoke that a large cloud over the northern hemisphere wouldreduce incoming sunlight below the level required for photosynthesis,and that this would last for weeks or even longer.
The following year, five scientists including Richard Turco and CarlSagan published a paper in Science called “Nuclear Winter: GlobalConsequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions.” This was the so-calledTTAPS report, which attempted to quantify more rigorously theatmospheric effects, with the added credibility to be gained from anactual computer model of climate.
At the heart of the TTAPS undertaking was another equation, neverspecifically expressed, but one that could be paraphrased as follows:
Ds = Wn Ws Wh Tf Tb Pt Pr Pe… etc
(The amount of tropospheric dust=# warheads x size warheads xwarhead detonation height x flammability of targets x Target burnduration x Particles entering the Troposphere x Particle reflectivity xParticle endurance…and so on.)
The similarity to the Drake equation is striking. As with the Drakeequation, none of the variables can be determined. None at all. TheTTAPS study addressed this problem in part by mapping out differentwartime scenarios and assigning numbers to some of the variables, buteven so, the remaining variables were-and are-simply unknowable. Nobodyknows how much smoke will be generated when cities burn, creatingparticles of what kind, and for how long. No one knows the effect oflocal weather conditions on the amount of particles that will beinjected into the troposphere. No one knows how long the particles willremain in the troposphere. And so on.
And remember, this is only four years after the OTA study concludedthat the underlying scientific processes were so poorly known that noestimates could be reliably made. Nevertheless, the TTAPS study notonly made those estimates, but concluded they were catastrophic.
According to Sagan and his co-workers, even a limited 5,000 megatonnuclear exchange would cause a global temperature drop of more than 35degrees Centigrade, and this change would last for three months. Thegreatest volcanic eruptions that we know of changed world temperaturessomewhere between .5 and 2 degrees Centigrade. Ice ages changed globaltemperatures by 10 degrees. Here we have an estimated change threetimes greater than any ice age. One might expect it to be the subjectof some dispute.
But Sagan and his co-workers were prepared, for nuclear winter wasfrom the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign. Thefirst announcement of nuclear winter appeared in an article by Sagan inthe Sunday supplement, Parade. The very next day, a highly-publicized,high-profile conference on the long-term consequences of nuclear warwas held in Washington, chaired by Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, themost famous and media-savvy scientists of their generation. Saganappeared on the Johnny Carson show 40 times. Ehrlich was on 25 times.Following the conference, there were press conferences, meetings withcongressmen, and so on. The formal papers in Science came months later.
This is not the way science is done, it is the way products are sold.
The real nature of the conference is indicated by these artists’ renderings of the effect of nuclear winter.
I cannot help but quote the caption for figure 5: “Shown here is atranquil scene in the north woods. A beaver has just completed its dam,two black bears forage for food, a swallow-tailed butterfly flutters inthe foreground, a loon swims quietly by, and a kingfisher searches fora tasty fish.” Hard science if ever there was.
At the conference in Washington, during the question period, Ehrlichwas reminded that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientists were quotedas saying nothing would grow there for 75 years, but in fact melonswere growing the next year. So, he was asked, how accurate were thesefindings now?
Ehrlich answered by saying “I think they are extremely robust.Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannotimagine what their basis would have been, even with the state ofscience at that time, but scientists are always making absurdstatements, individually, in various places. What we are doing here,however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group ofscientists…”
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, andthe rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensusscience as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stoppedcold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been thefirst refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claimingthat the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus ofscientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, becauseyou’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do withconsensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on thecontrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, whichmeans that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference tothe real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant isreproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are greatprecisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
In addition, let me remind you that the track record of the consensus is nothing to be proud of. Let’s review a few cases.
In past centuries, the greatest killer of women was fever followingchildbirth . One woman in six died of this fever. In 1795, AlexanderGordon of Aberdeen suggested that the fevers were infectious processes,and he was able to cure them. The consensus said no. In 1843, OliverWendell Holmes claimed puerperal fever was contagious, and presentedcompelling evidence. The consensus said no. In 1849, Semmelweissdemonstrated that sanitary techniques virtually eliminated puerperalfever in hospitals under his management. The consensus said he was aJew, ignored him, and dismissed him from his post. There was in fact noagreement on puerperal fever until the start of the twentieth century.Thus the consensus took one hundred and twenty five years to arrive atthe right conclusion despite the efforts of the prominent “skeptics”around the world, skeptics who were demeaned and ignored. And despitethe constant ongoing deaths of women.
There is no shortage of other examples. In the 1920s in America,tens of thousands of people, mostly poor, were dying of a diseasecalled pellagra. The consensus of scientists said it was infectious,and what was necessary was to find the “pellagra germ.” The USgovernment asked a brilliant young investigator, Dr. Joseph Goldberger,to find the cause. Goldberger concluded that diet was the crucialfactor. The consensus remained wedded to the germ theory. Goldbergerdemonstrated that he could induce the disease through diet. Hedemonstrated that the disease was not infectious by injecting the bloodof a pellagra patient into himself, and his assistant. They and othervolunteers swabbed their noses with swabs from pellagra patients, andswallowed capsules containing scabs from pellagra rashes in what werecalled “Goldberger’s filth parties.” Nobody contracted pellagra. Theconsensus continued to disagree with him. There was, in addition, asocial factor-southern States disliked the idea of poor diet as thecause, because it meant that social reform was required. They continuedto deny it until the 1920s. Result-despite a twentieth centuryepidemic, the consensus took years to see the light.
Probably every schoolchild notices that South America and Africaseem to fit together rather snugly, and Alfred Wegener proposed, in1912, that the continents had in fact drifted apart. The consensussneered at continental drift for fifty years. The theory was mostvigorously denied by the great names of geology-until 1961, when itbegan to seem as if the sea floors were spreading. The result: it tookthe consensus fifty years to acknowledge what any schoolchild sees.
And shall we go on? The examples can be multiplied endlessly. Jennerand smallpox, Pasteur and germ theory. Saccharine, margarine, repressedmemory, fiber and colon cancer, hormone replacement therapy…the list ofconsensus errors goes on and on.
Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensusis invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the scienceis not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agreesthat E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 millionmiles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.
But back to our main subject.
What I have been suggesting to you is that nuclear winter was ameaningless formula, tricked out with bad science, for policy ends. Itwas political from the beginning, promoted in a well-orchestrated mediacampaign that had to be planned weeks or months in advance.
Further evidence of the political nature of the whole project can befound in the response to criticism. Although Richard Feynman wascharacteristically blunt, saying, “I really don’t think these guys knowwhat they’re talking about,” other prominent scientists were noticeablyreticent. Freeman Dyson was quoted as saying “It’s an absolutelyatrocious piece of science but…who wants to be accused of being infavor of nuclear war?” And Victor Weisskopf said, “The science isterrible but—perhaps the psychology is good.” The nuclear winter teamfollowed up the publication of such comments with letters to theeditors denying that these statements were ever made, though thescientists since then have subsequently confirmed their views.
At the time, there was a concerted desire on the part of lots ofpeople to avoid nuclear war. If nuclear winter looked awful, whyinvestigate too closely? Who wanted to disagree? Only people likeEdward Teller, the “father of the H bomb.”
Teller said, “While it is generally recognized that details arestill uncertain and deserve much more study, Dr. Sagan nevertheless hastaken the position that the whole scenario is so robust that there canbe little doubt about its main conclusions.” Yet for most people, thefact that nuclear winter was a scenario riddled with uncertainties didnot seem to be relevant.
I say it is hugely relevant. Once you abandon strict adherence towhat science tells us, once you start arranging the truth in a pressconference, then anything is possible. In one context, maybe you willget some mobilization against nuclear war. But in another context, youget Lysenkoism. In another, you get Nazi euthanasia. The danger isalways there, if you subvert science to political ends.
That is why it is so important for the future of science that theline between what science can say with certainty, and what it cannot,be drawn clearly-and defended.
What happened to Nuclear Winter? As the media glare faded, itsrobust scenario appeared less persuasive; John Maddox, editor ofNature, repeatedly criticized its claims; within a year, StephenSchneider, one of the leading figures in the climate model, began tospeak of “nuclear autumn.” It just didn’t have the same ring.
A final media embarrassment came in 1991, when Carl Sagan predictedon Nightline that Kuwaiti oil fires would produce a nuclear wintereffect, causing a “year without a summer,” and endangering crops aroundthe world. Sagan stressed this outcome was so likely that “it shouldaffect the war plans.” None of it happened.
What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believethe lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and anaggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science,and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established asfact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war isalready over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and wehad a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.
In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmokingadults,” and that it ” impairs the respiratory health of hundreds ofthousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the elevenstudies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, andthat they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for actionby the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine,for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical associationat the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. Theythen classified second hand smoke as a Group A Carcinogen.
This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for banson smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California bannedpublic smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, theChristian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is thenation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American CancerSociety announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-handsmoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.
In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun”, and had”disregarded information and made findings on selective information.”The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by ourscience….there’s wide agreement. The American people certainlyrecognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings…a whole host ofhealth problems.” Again, note how the claim of consensus trumpsscience. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists thatBrowner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.
Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-handsmoke.
As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what mostpeople would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’twant people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill ofRJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have asocial policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’vegiven the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve toldthem that cheating is the way to succeed.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, the connection betweenhard scientific fact and public policy became increasingly elastic. Inpart this was possible because of the complacency of the scientificprofession; in part because of the lack of good science education amongthe public; in part, because of the rise of specialized advocacy groupswhich have been enormously effective in getting publicity and shapingpolicy; and in great part because of the decline of the media as anindependent assessor of fact. The deterioration of the American mediais dire loss for our country. When distinguished institutions like theNew York Times can no longer differentiate between factual content andeditorial opinion, but rather mix both freely on their front page, thenwho will hold anyone to a higher standard?
And so, in this elastic anything-goes world where science-ornon-science-is the hand maiden of questionable public policy, we arriveat last at global warming. It is not my purpose here to rehash thedetails of this most magnificent of the demons haunting the world. Iwould just remind you of the now-familiar pattern by which these thingsare established. Evidentiary uncertainties are glossed over in theunseemly rush for an overarching policy, and for grants to support thepolicy by delivering findings that are desired by the patron. Next, theisolation of those scientists who won’t get with the program, and thecharacterization of those scientists as outsiders and “skeptics” inquotation marks-suspect individuals with suspect motives, industryflunkies, reactionaries, or simply anti-environmental nutcases. Inshort order, debate ends, even though prominent scientists areuncomfortable about how things are being done.
When did “skeptic” become a dirty word in science? When did a skeptic require quotation marks around it?
To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the globalwarming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed onmodels. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models wereinvoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived withthe help of a computer model.” But now large-scale computer models areseen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged byhow well they reproduce data from the real world-increasingly, modelsprovide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed theyare, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational dataabout the year 2100. There are only model runs.
This fascination with computer models is something I understand verywell. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Becauseonly if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can youarrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.
Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’reasked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future?And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybodylost their minds?
Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers isbreathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who saythey know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one issure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But moreto the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they cannever get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundredyears from now is simply absurd.
Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would beprofitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea wasso crazy that it must be a scam?
Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If theyworried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably:Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about allthe horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse itwould be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?
But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except forsport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energysource that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium andJapan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900.Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t knowits structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport,or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet,an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA,EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay,remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, genesplicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards,lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive,plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dishantennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon,rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy,corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS… None of this would havemeant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know whatyou are talking about.
Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’seven worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into thefuture. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’sthought knows it.
I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, wehave already had an example of dire predictions set aside by newtechnology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlichsaid, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world willundergo famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve todeath.” Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would dieduring the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvationthat was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever goingto happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numberspredicted even ten years ago. In 1990, climate modelers anticipated aworld population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think thecorrect number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows forsure.
But it is impossible to ignore how closely the history of globalwarming fits on the previous template for nuclear winter. Just as theearliest studies of nuclear winter stated that the uncertainties wereso great that probabilities could never be known, so, too the firstpronouncements on global warming argued strong limits on what could bedetermined with certainty about climate change. The 1995 IPCC draftreport said, “Any claims of positive detection of significant climatechange are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in thetotal natural variability of the climate system are reduced.” It alsosaid, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part ofobserved climate changes to anthropogenic causes.” Those statementswere removed, and in their place appeared: “The balance of evidencesuggests a discernable human influence on climate.”
What is clear, however, is that on this issue, science and policyhave become inextricably mixed to the point where it will be difficult,if not impossible, to separate them out. It is possible for an outsideobserver to ask serious questions about the conduct of investigationsinto global warming, such as whether we are taking appropriate steps toimprove the quality of our observational data records, whether we aresystematically obtaining the information that will clarify existinguncertainties, whether we have any organized disinterested mechanism todirect research in this contentious area.
The answer to all these questions is no. We don’t.
In trying to think about how these questions can be resolved, itoccurs to me that in the progression from SETI to nuclear winter tosecond hand smoke to global warming, we have one clear message, andthat is that we can expect more and more problems of public policydealing with technical issues in the future-problems of ever greaterseriousness, where people care passionately on all sides.
And at the moment we have no mechanism to get good answers. So I will propose one.
Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded researchto determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded researchin other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computermodels, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who makethe models from those who verify them. The fact is that the presentstructure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigativeteams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have aclear stake in the outcome of the research – or appear to, which may bejust as bad. This is not healthy for science.
Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute inthis country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and byprivate philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must bepooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. Theinstitute must fund more than one team to do research in a particulararea, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement:teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In manycases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, andthose who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to addressthe land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on ourway to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place inglobal warming, and therefore what seriousness we must address this.
I believe that as we come to the end of this litany, some of you maybe saying, well what is the big deal, really. So we made a fewmistakes. So a few scientists have overstated their cases and have eggon their faces. So what.
Well, I’ll tell you.
In recent years, much has been said about the post modernist claimsabout science to the effect that science is just another form of rawpower, tricked out in special claims for truth-seeking and objectivitythat really have no basis in fact. Science, we are told, is no betterthan any other undertaking. These ideas anger many scientists, and theyanger me. But recent events have made me wonder if they are correct. Wecan take as an example the scientific reception accorded a Danishstatistician, Bjorn Lomborg, who wrote a book called The SkepticalEnvironmentalist.
The scientific community responded in a way that can only bedescribed as disgraceful. In professional literature, it was complainedhe had no standing because he was not an earth scientist. Hispublisher, Cambridge University Press, was attacked with cries that theeditor should be fired, and that all right-thinking scientists shouldshun the press. The past president of the AAAS wondered aloud howCambridge could have ever “published a book that so clearly could neverhave passed peer review.” )But of course the manuscript did pass peerreview by three earth scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, and allrecommended publication.) But what are scientists doing attacking apress? Is this the new McCarthyism-coming from scientists?
Worst of all was the behavior of the Scientific American, whichseemed intent on proving the post-modernist point that it was all aboutpower, not facts. The Scientific American attacked Lomborg for elevenpages, yet only came up with nine factual errors despite theirassertion that the book was “rife with careless mistakes.” It was apoor display featuring vicious ad hominem attacks, including comparinghim to a Holocaust denier. The issue was captioned: “Science defendsitself against the Skeptical Environmentalist.” Really. Science has todefend itself? Is this what we have come to?
When Lomborg asked for space to rebut his critics, he was given onlya page and a half. When he said it wasn’t enough, he put the critics’essays on his web page and answered them in detail. Scientific Americanthreatened copyright infringement and made him take the pages down.
Further attacks since have made it clear what is going on. Lomborgis charged with heresy. That’s why none of his critics needs tosubstantiate their attacks in any detail. That’s why the facts don’tmatter. That’s why they can attack him in the most vicious personalterms. He’s a heretic.
Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. Ijust never thought I’d see the Scientific American in the role ofmother church.
Is this what science has become? I hope not. But it is what it willbecome, unless there is a concerted effort by leading scientists toaggressively separate science from policy. The late Philip Handler,former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that”Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics ofscience, not those of politics. If the scientific community will notunfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern thedifference-science and the nation will suffer.” Personally, I don’tworry about the nation. But I do worry about science.
Thank you very much. Source
About the author:
Michael Crichton is the best-selling author of Stateof Fear, which takes the reader from the glaciers of Iceland to the volcanoesof Antarctica, from the Arizona desert to the deadly jungles of theSolomon Islands, from the streets of Paris to the beaches of LosAngeles. The novel races forward on a roller-coaster thrill ride, allthe while keeping the brain in high gear. Gripping and thoughtprovoking, State of Fear is Michael Crichton at his very best.