Thursday, August 18, 2011

Science? Why bother!

The politics of climate change
So the noble, intellectually deep governor of Texas proclaims basically that he doesn't 'believe' in human-engendered global climate change.  He believes that scientists have manipulated the data to make their case. 'Believe' is the appropriate word, and the fact that such a large state with at least some intelligent people in it persists in electing people like him to leading offices says a lot about the role of knowledge in human affairs.

Gov. Perry proclaims that there are 'increasing' numbers of people criticizing the evidence for anthropogenic global warming.  This can only be viewed as a willful ignorance of the evidence, of the nature of science, all driven by vested political interests.  A governor is a politician and as such isn't necessarily expected to actually know anything--s/he must rely on experts.  But a governor should at least be driven by evidence, or should simply state that s/he doesn't care about actual evidence.

That some people criticize the data on climate change--and similarly, evolution, another subject that the benighted Eyes of Texas seem not willing to gaze upon--is clearly correct.  Many if not most of the outspoken persons are media clunks or clear, demonstrable cranks.  But those aside, there is no reason whatsoever why a scientist could not, should not, or must not challenge the evidence!  Of course we, as a community of purportedly knowledgeable people, should.

Most every paper in science has limitations.  Were that not true, we'd already know everything and could look for other jobs.  Indeed, we on MT are among many who question various aspects of the current views, approaches, or data regarding evolution.  If we thought there was doubt that evolution as currently viewed didn't actually happen, it wouldn't mean we were being cranks to say so and say why.  It's our job to do that!

But even if the overwhelming avalanche of evidence supports the idea that evolution is a plain fact, there is no reason to do other than question the various details, mechanisms, and ideas about how it works.  Such questioning is the only way science can advance beyond dogma.

The same is true of climate change.  It is manifestly obvious that we're dumping greenhouse materials into the atmosphere, and that global climate is changing. It is much more difficult to determine how much of global climate change is part of natural cycles, which certainly exist, and how much human activity is affecting such cycles.

But we can take a more detached view and simply note that there is some non-trivial possibility that we humans are major players in such change, and that the change which we already  know is occurring (for whatever reason) can cause great social instability (in the form of famines, wars over food or  other resources, diseases, and so on).  Given that possibility, whether or not 'increasing numbers of scientists' are questioning (some aspects of the data on) anthropogenic warming, it is prudent to try to do something to ameliorate it.

What cretin politicians are doing is to defend ignorance, or in essence to defend establish vested interests by denying that there's a problem requiring action.

Doing it right, or at least honestly
One possibility, that would be at least more honest, is for politicians to say "Hey, we like our life style, and we want to protect the wealth we get from the oil patch.  Yes, maybe things will change in the 22nd century because of global warming, but we'll let our descendants deal with it.  There'll be trauma and maybe big wars or shifts in power, wealth (and food), but so what?  Humans in every generation have faced traumas of one kind or another.  Remember WWII?  'Nam? AIDS?  Our descendants will have theirs to deal with, as we've had ours."

The scientific evidence is irrelevant to such simple de facto, if selfishly short-term, views.  But selfishly short-term views are, after all, legitimate views to hold.  Denying evolution is another example.  It is perfectly legitimate to say one doesn't care to recognize or act on what biologists say, and wishes instead to rely on prayer.  Being in accordance with the facts is not a prerequisite for human culture.

A politician, fresh from his revival meeting that prayed for rain, could just be honest in that way, rather than intentionally or, more likely, willfully ignorantly, denying the evidence.  Of course, given that his prayer meeting failed to generate even a few clouds, maybe we needn't pay any attention to what he says.

Now, if in the future Texas becomes as withered and sere as its governor's brain, will they still be so detached, or will they change their tune and expect, demand, and provide moral reasons why the rest of the world should provide them with food?


James Goetz said...

Hi Ken,

I agree with most of what you are saying except that Governor Perry might have above average intelligence while he evidently has huge inconsistencies with his intelligence.

Anyway, you or Anne wrote about Texas in the past: What is up with Texas? :)

Ken Weiss said...

Well, it's rhetorical to equate willful ignorance or dishonorable dissembling to defend vested interests, or simplemindedness for low IQ. But the Governor deserves the ridicule, and the state does, too.

We lived for many years in Texas and we didn't know what was up with it then, either.

As some readers noted in our earlier comments, there are intelligent and right-minded (or, perhaps, correct-minded) people there, and lots of them. Qhy they're so badly outnumbered or outpoliticked by the cretinous contingent is anybody's guess.