March 2, 2010
Science's Big ProblemBy Christopher Chantrill
See also Science and the Toxic Scare Machine - editor
Last week, Dr. Judith Curry, climate scientist from Georgia Institute of Technology, admitted on Watt's Up With That that climate scientists needed to do a better job of communication in order to reestablish trust after the debacle of Climategate. In reply, both sides, warmist and skeptic, ripped her to shreds. That, Dr. Curry wrote, showed that she had probably got it right.
In fact, Dr. Curry doesn't have a clue. If she is talking about communication and trust, then she is merely talking about public relations -- fancy footwork in the dance of politics. Today in America, we have a climate science that plays second fiddle to climate politics. It is just a prop for the Al Gores and the environmentalists and their program of political power.
It is disgraceful but true. Scientists today serve as loyal subalterns in the army of government power. The narrative of the disinterested scientist is a myth. Scientists get their money from government, and in return, they dance to the music of big government. That is science's Big Problem.
It all started in 1806, when the Prussians invented the research university as part of their plan to strengthen the state and defeat the French. Pretty soon, Marx invented "scientific socialism" to create a synergy between knowledge and political power. Social science developed knowledge that governments used to control people with the administrative state.
Of course, governments reward their supporters. Physicists helped government get a nice big bomb, and government gives physicists great big particle accelerators to play with as a reward. Biologists work for government doing the science for environmental impact statements; climate scientists work for government to support the politics of climate change. If you wonder why college professors all vote Democratic, just follow the money.
Curiously, in the year the Germans got all this going and opened the University of Berlin, someone figured out that there was going to be a problem.
Goethe published the first part of Faust in 1806.
At least Goethe's scientist hero in 1806 understood that his search for the essence of life was a pact with the Devil. Our modern scientists don't possess that level of self-consciousness. They don't believe in the Devil, so they don't have a problem.
In her Watt's Up With That article, Dr. Curry blandly writes about "what some have called a 'monolithic climate denial machine.' Skeptical research published by academics provided fodder for the think tanks and advocacy groups, which were fed by money provided by the oil industry."
There are peer-reviewed article about this -- for instance, "The Organization of Denial: Conservative Think Tanks and Environmental Skepticism" in Environmental Politics in June 2008. It teaches that oil companies did contribute to the skeptic campaign as part of the Global Climate Coalition in the 1990s, but that they withdrew after the 2001 IPCC report. Since then, the conservative think-tanks have struggled on in denial alone, although Media Matters thinks otherwise.
Modern scientists like Dr. Judith Curry are not in the least disturbed by the dance between knowledge and power. They know, of course, that dancing for the Pentagon is bad. They know that lap-dancing for Big Oil is bad. But it never occurs to them that the dance between scientists and government in climate science might make them ethically challenged. Anyway, as members of the "educated class," they fully endorse the program of the governing elite -- as they should.
It's easy to sneer at the scientists. They accept the idea that corporate money might taint their science. But that is the limit of their ethical universe. That government money might corrupt the scientist is beyond the ken of modern scientific ethicism.
The scandal is not that scientists are ethically challenged when it comes to living on the government dollar. Nor is it shocking that scientists have conspired with politicians to falsify results or to anathematize the opponents of the politicians. A political servitor should do no less. The scandal is that politics has so enveloped science into its worship of power and its ritual of force that decent practitioners of science like Dr. Judith Curry utterly lack an appreciation of their debasement and their servitude.
In the theory of the Greater Separation of Powers that I have developed from Michael Novak's Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, the solution is obvious. We must have a separation of science and state. Science, as a part of the moral/cultural sector, must be separate from government and the political sector. But how can we create a scientific tradition that can liberate science from its servility? Will it take a Moses to lead the scientists out of the land of Egypt into the wilderness until the servile generation dies out?
One thing we know: That Moses won't be President Obama. He's increased the government's research budgets substantially over the benighted levels in the Bush administration. Expect America's scientists to be suitably, and ingratiatingly, grateful.