December 8, 2009
Climategate's Bullyboy ScientistsBy Christopher Chantrill
The biggest thing to take a pounding in the last two weeks of Climategate is the fantasy PR image that scientists have maintained for so long.
Of course scientists fake results. Of course they bully other scientists. Of course they toady up to politicians. Of course they try to get people who disagree with them fired. Of course they threaten journalists with the "Big Cutoff."
What do you think they are? Monks or something? The only surprising thing is that they kept people fooled for so long. On second thought, it's not surprising. Given what scientists dangle in front of us as they ask for money -- a world without suffering, a world without physical labor, maybe even to know the inner secrets of the universe and the mind of God -- why wouldn't we believe in them?
But there ain't no such thing as an impartial scientist. Ain't no such thing as settled science.
In the first place, as Thomas Kuhn related in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, science is a social endeavor. Here is one plausible explanation of the scientific process:
Actually, that last paragraph was taken from a study of religion: For the Glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunts and the end of slavery by Rodney Stark. (For "science," substitute "religion.")
In the second place, scientists are completely in bed with government. It's a symbiotic relationship. Scientists want to do important work, and politicians want the fruits of science when it gives them more power.
Just as religious leaders have often turned to politicians and kings when the going gets rough, so scientists have turned to government for help. After all, that's where the money is.
But just as an establishment ruled by religion is a bad thing, so is an establishment ruled by science. Today, if Thomas Jefferson were alive, he'd probably be calling for a separation of science and state, and in The New York Times science section, to boot.
Physics offered the politicians bombs of unimaginable power, and it offered the scientists budgets of unimaginable size. It's a pity the bombs are so powerful that they can't be used. And it's a pity that science-based war is now so expensive that the low-rent political actors have turned to terrorism, which is warfare on the cheap.
Macroeconomics offered the politicians the hope of manipulating the economy to reward their supporters without tears. It offered economists a seat in the citadel of power. Yet under the reign of the macroeconomic expertise, the value of money has fallen faster than in the bad old days when kings and princes managed to debase the coinage without the help of scientists.
There is nothing mysterious about this. The world is full of good ideas: scientific ideas, political ideas, business ideas. But what about good ideas that actually work? Not so many.
People with merely "good ideas" tend to sell them to the political world rather than the business world.
Conservative politicians have always been cautious about expertise. Edmund Burke railed against economists, sophisters, and calculators. Lord Salisbury, Conservative Prime Minister of Britain, wrote in a letter to a friend in 1877:
If you believe the climate scientists, nothing is as warm as today. So James Hansen, Michael "The Bruiser" Mann, and Phil Jones are nothing new. What is new is the cruel way in which Climategate is humiliating the Manns and the Joneses.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn asserts that a scientific field truly becomes a "science" when its practitioners can "take the foundations of their field for granted" and report their results in articles addressed to and understandable only by other specialists.
When a man like Steve McIntyre can come in from another field and rock the foundations of hockey-stick-ology with his critique, then he is telling the Manns and the Joneses that they don't have a "science." All they have is a religion.
...Not that there's anything wrong with that.