The letter from Donald Boesch, "Climate change is real" (Oct 29) seems to typify for me the problem underlying many of these science vs. special interest debates that constantly roil public opinion in the U.S. and prevent the effective implementation of common sense public policy. Climate change and environmental policy is not the only example. Evolution and the origins of the universe are other famous examples which have affected education policy, and we see the first glimmers of new issues arising regarding vaccination and health policy.
However, people like Mr. Boesch like to portray these issues as the irrational mob versus the oppressed scientist. There is some truth in this, but the reality is that most of the blame for the failure of science to penetrate the barriers erected by these special interest groups lies solidly at the feet of the scientific community. Science is not just a tool for discovering new and amazing facts about our universe. It is primarily a unique intellectual methodology for achieving knowledge which we can trust … if we stay within the bounds of the scientific method.
The scientists within the areas of climate and evolutionary biology and often within the area of cosmology have betrayed people's trust in science by their unrestrained urge to make sweeping, authoritative and monumental claims in their respective areas that go far beyond what can be clearly supported by the scientific method, and they often attempt to consolidate their positions by pouring scorn and contempt on anyone who has the gall to challenge what they are saying. With some scientists in academia, it has almost reached the point where it is unacceptable to question what they claim simply because they have claimed it.
What is more, with remarkable naivete, they seem to consistently fail to understand the true agendas of their opponents on these issues and end up trying to argue their cases based on a mixture of scientific data and pompous pronouncements, when in reality most of the motivations of their opponents have little to do with science and the battles should be waged on different grounds.
An example of this last point which is illustrative of this whole issue, are the fundamentalist evangelicals battling the teaching of evolution in schools. In reality evangelicals have no interest in the science of evolution. Their issue is an internal theological one. They have chosen to accept the concept of revelations from a transcendent and infinite God but have soundly rejected the concept of a church, particularly as the interpretative authority which preserves Christian unity and prevents it dissolving into a mass of varying personal and arbitrary interpretations of those rather arcane and mystical scriptures. Unfortunately for them, the only way they can avoid this descent into the chaos of individualism is to put all their eggs in the basket of "literal interpretation," and the obvious problem with that is that if anything shows that the Bible is not literally true on any topic, then their entire house of cards will come a' tumblin down. The "word of God" will be wrong!
That is the battle they are fighting with science. If evolution is true, the Bible clearly cannot be literally true, and their goose is truly cooked! Yet for more than 200 years scientists have totally failed to understand the true cause of this dispute and consequently are still fighting the battle on completely irrelevant grounds. Add to that the typical arrogance of the Richard Dawkins clan who adopt the archetypical eloquent schoolmaster approach which is essentially that you had better accept what they tell you since they are the experts and you are stupid. That may browbeat a number of people who are not experts in the science, but the inability of science to resolve the dispute in over 200 years and the arrogance of the proponents ultimately does nothing other than undermine the public trust in science.
The same thing is unfortunately becoming true of the science of climate change. Despite the protestations of scientists like Mr. Boesch, even for hard core scientists and rationalists like myself, I am left scratching my head wondering exactly how they are so certain of the chain of cause and effect in this most complex of complex systems. There is excellent and solid scientific study showing evidence of human interaction with the atmosphere, and I take their word that there is real evidence of climatological change occurring, but I'm sorry, I really don't see anything approaching a demonstrated cause and effect relationship at this point in time, and without that, science has no authority to make the rather grandiose claims that it has been making . Plausible speculation, yes. Asking people to give them the benefit of the doubt until they can sort through the difficult challenges in this area , yes! Solid evidence demonstrating that human behavior is the primary cause of the current climatological change. That will simply not fly and not just with hard core conservatives, but many scientists choke over this.
But the real point is that the argument is not really about science at all. In this case it is about people who distrust government and who are concerned about governments using, at best, half-baked science to justify implementing ideologically motivated environmental statutes which will have adverse economic and financial impacts on them and their businesses and their way of life. And government sponsored local or international climate panels are not going to solve that problem … ever.
David Punshon-Smith, Ellicott City