Why Political Pressure is Good For Science
It is always nice to see one’s perspectives confirmed by events. In the past I have strongly argued that science and politics are not autonomous or independent from one another. I have always believed that while scientific methods cannot be subject to political control, scientific presentations that do not take political moods into account are as arrogant as they are irrational. The arrogance stems from scientism – the belief that only scientific methodology reveals truth.
What political science – or perhaps, more accurately, political philosophy – teaches is that, following the wisdom of Hobbes, on any matter that touches human interests, there will be political disputes, especially over how data and findings are to be interpreted. Not even physics has been exempt, when we look at the degree to which it was politicized in the USSR and the battle between the “Copenhagen” interpretation of quantum physics and those interpretations preferred by Marxist materialists. And the further one descends from theoretical physics to say, biology, the greater and more politicized the controversies are likely to become.
But there is a vast difference between political control from above, as was exercised by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and political pressure from below, such as that which has been exerted upon the climate scientists of the IPCC. While they, and their most rabid defenders, first reacted to the Climategate scandal with utter contempt for the “denying” or “skeptical” masses, they have now actually admitted that they are culpable for the disaster and are in a far more conciliatory mood – indeed, what else can they do in the wake of scandal after scandal after scandal?
They understand, belatedly that they have lost the public’s trust, and that the public’s trust actually does matter, at least in a free, open and democratic society. And we only had to harass them night and day for months to get them to finally admit it. Now they are promising greater transparency, and all I can say to that is that it’s about bloody time.
The next thing they ought to do is apologize to the entire planet in general, and the skeptics in particular, for all of the nasty and libelous things that they said about them. It turns out after all that we were not “crazy”, “insane”, “naive”, “bought off” or any of the other things that were said about us; we were right all along, to a far greater extent than they ever were willing to admit, and the whole time they knew it but thought that they could bully their critics into silence with insults and by stonewalling. Now that they’ve failed, and admitted that they were at fault, it is also time for them to apologize for their arrogance.
Finally, its time we all learn a lesson about life in a democratic society: legitimacy is derived from the consent of the governed, especially when a massive global agenda of taxes and regulations that could affect millions of jobs and cause an unknowable number of unforeseen consequences is on the order of the day. If as a scientist you are claiming that human activity is killing the planet, and politicians are using your claims to rationalize power-grabs unprecedented in their size and scope, you have an absolute moral obligation to make all of your methods, data, and results down to the most minute detail known to the entire planet. It isn’t about allowing public opinion to dictate scientific results, but allowing citizens and policymakers to have a clear and truthful picture of the objective situation.
We cannot be asked to make major sacrifices on the basis of blind trust; that’s just fundamentalism, whether we’re talking about religion or science. After all, it isn’t as if science is never wrong, never revised, never changing, or as if scientists themselves were not human beings subject to human problems. Reason tells us that for these reasons and more, we have every right to be cautious and even skeptical when listening to scientific claims with vast political implications. We have every right to demand transparency and openness, perhaps in a way we wouldn’t demand when the topic is something mundane. But this is the kind of wisdom that must come from outside of science itself.
In general, but most especially when the political stakes are this high, we must have as much certainty and accuracy as possible when we move from the scientific stage to the political stage. This has nothing to do with “denial” - this is about the people of the world being able to decide their own fate, and not have it decided for them. That’s what it means to live in a democracy. We must also remember that the truths that the American founders believed were “self-evident” were not establish by data sets, but through philosophical, religious and historical wisdom.
So in the end I think this development will be good not only for democracy but for science. I think it is entirely possible that a belief, an assumption, on the part of the scientists that they would not be accountable for their work and that politicians would take its accuracy for granted actually may have caused the blunders that have now come to light. I think it is entirely possible that in the future, knowing how closely the public scrutinizes at least some matters that most intimately affect its interests, climate scientists will be more scrupulous in their work and the result will be more accurate data.
One thing must be absolutely clear now, though: we will not be frightened, bullied, shamed through insults or coerced into accepting the planetary climate-change regime. Our watch over these processes remains vigilant and alert! So don’t underestimate us again!