Monday, July 10, 2006

Politics Masquerading as Science, by Mark Humphrey

The following comment by Mr. Mark Humphrey was originally posted on the blog of the Mises Institute on June 29. It is reprinted here with his permission.

The global warming crusade is politics masquerading as "science". One indication of this bait and switch tactic is the argument, continually promoted by left-wing Greens, that a "consensus" of climate scientists supports this officially sanctioned thesis. Aside from the questionable truth of this claim (more on this below), consensus has nothing to do with the process of identifying evidence, facts, and the logical integrations that lead to new scientific breakthroughs. So scientists properly ought not to be concerned with consensus. Consensus is the obsession of politicians maneuvering to impose their will by force on other people.

Reasonable people should be highly skeptical of much of the "science" produced by contemporary state-sanctioned institutions, because those institutions owe their existence to coercion. They are financed with tax dollars, and more and more they tend to be staffed and run by ambitious political types, who know how to massage the system for grants, prestigious awards, budget boosts, and official approval. Authentic scientists devoted to the adventure of discovery and understanding do not fare well in these institutions of Correctness, because the greater their devotion to science, the higher their resistance to compromising truth for political gain. There are many examples from history of the basic contempt for knowledge fostered by and characteristic of command science. As Ayn Rand explained years ago, force and intelligence are logically and fundamentally antagonistic.

In sharp contrast to the deceit that emerges when science is distorted by a regime of coercion, privately funded science, whether by Exxon or some other organization, has a major stake in establishing the truth. For private funding is voluntary, so both sponsors and scientists have a huge stake in getting results, which in this case means establishing facts. The privately-funded scientists want to establish facts because their reputations and prospects for advancement in science depend on it. Their sponsors want to establish facts, because such is their only effective defense against those who attack them. "Scientists" who embark on a career in tax-funded politically-driven institutions think of themselves as engaged in science, but to the extent that their job security and advancement depend on acceding to political considerations, they are engaged in pretend-science. And these political considerations, whether or not they are acknowledged in public, comprise the whole purpose behind the institution that employs them!

The seeming unanimity of opinion among scientists about global warming is the result of powerful political tides, all pulling in one direction. Dissenters get the silent treatment, are denied grants and fellowships, and will be demoted, sidelined and ostracized by their more politically-sensitive brethren. But despite this great pressure to conform with the official line,
17,000 scientists signed a petition a few years ago dissenting from the global warming thesis. These were scientists who had some professional connection to this issue, climatologists, oceanographers, astronomers, etc. The left-wing dominated press, whose reporters all emerged from public universities with nearly identical ideological outlooks, saw fit to bury this news—a program that continues to this day.