What About the War on Science?

December 22, 2009

Every year it seems I hear about the War on Christmas— mercifully less so this year– and most of the time I want to join in on the fight. That’s a totally different post for later this week as the glorious day approaches until then let’s have this one tide you over. Courtesy my friends Pop Raak and Pants:

Jason Boyett Doesn’t Like Focus on the Family. (In this case)

In fairness, it makes me think of the bumper stickers I’ve seen in Colorado: Focus on your own damn family.

So instead of the War on Christmas (cue ominous/news-y music) I want to talk about the War on Science, which I actually think is happening.

Sort of.

Andrew and I were talking about this Friday over lunch. One of his colleagues at Tear Fund was on some form of media broadcast which I can’t remember at present. (TV? Radio? Help me, Andrew, you’re my only hope.) His colleague was debating a crazy person from the United States. (Why is it always Americans?) This person apparently thinks the world is just a few thousand years old and is not being affected by all the goop humans are continually putting into the air.

I’d like to know why they’re still getting air time.

Look, I get that our organs of journalism have enshrined in some conceptual headspace the idea of equal time, but at what point can a journalist just step up and say, “Look, the warming capacity of carbon dioxide has been documented for well over a hundred years, and we’re increasing the saturation of carbon dioxide in the air every day. How does that not warm the earth?” I’ve said this before: when can I just say “You’re crazy; leave me alone”?

What I’m writing here smacks a bit of contradiction, since I’ve previously said in this space that there’s no such thing as a bare fact, and all knowledge is contingent. Fair enough. We’ve seen over and over again that science can’t answer a lot of questions facing humans.

Like meaning.

Or God.

In fact, most honest scientists would admit that the whole God question is just beyond the remit of science. It’s an irrelevant question, at least to natural science. No proof one way or the other, and no way to orchestrate proof. Why bother?

This is why we have theology.

Theology doesn’t explain atmospheric conditions or melting polar ice caps, though. For that we have climactic science, and it remains our best way of understanding what’s going on in our air. The irony is that the people who are most committed to the idea of absolute truth are also the people who are undermining their position by fabricating studies and twisting data to fit their arguments. Andrew mentioned that his colleague’s counterpart (the denier) claimed that a majority of scientists thought that anthropogenic climate change was bunk. When drawn on that the denier refused to elaborate on the methodology of the study, or the wording of the conclusion. It could have been a skewed sample; or prejudicial wording; or malign (or, if I’m being charitable, benign, as well) distortion of the conclusion. No honest climactic scientist, if pressed, will claim 100% certainty, and many will critique their peers’ work. This isn’t because they think their peers are wrong; they want to see the data tightened up.

Back in the 70s and 80s, the scientific community was party to legitimate and good faith debate over the merits of climate change theory. That time has long since passed. Now, the people holding that line are guilty of conflicts of interest on the scale of tobacco scientists or pseudo scientists.

So the question for me is, why is this farcical debate still being given air time, and what is it about people that they can’t just accept a scientific conclusion? We still live in an age when the majority of Americans think that natural selection isn’t a real thing. Darwin’s theory is just about as well proven a theory as exists in science today. It is more right than Newton, and people would rather trust falling apples than the evolution of species.

Seriously, can we get an armistice?


2 Responses to “What About the War on Science?”

  1. Andrew said

    Revelation TV.


    To be fair to journalists generally, no mainstream TV channel would have allowed the other guy into the room; and if they had, they wouldn’t have allowed him to get away with the crazy-ness…

    Although I’m with you on the spirit of what you’re saying generally, I don’t know if I like the idea that you can completely put theology in one box and science in another. Have you ever read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?’…

  2. christophermahlon said

    Yeah, this isn’t the greatest phrasing ever, is it? I certainly don’t think that theology and science belong in separate boxes either; I’m much more of the These are all tools in your toolbox, use them as necessary type of mindset. But you would agree that understanding climate isn’t really the specialty of Eugene Peterson, right? Peterson can help orient a person in a godly way toward the environment so that they can respond to the underlying science, sure, but I don’t think he helps me understand the effects of increasing carbon concentration.

    I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but in the US crazy people get heard out all the time. You can practically see the anchors grinding their teeth, thinking “I can’t believe they’re saying this,” but they can’t attack because they’re afraid to alienate the section of their viewership who agrees with the crazy people. It’s pretty frustrating, and to top it off many of the tv journalists today demonstrate a woeful lack of preparation when they come on air to interview their subjects. They have a script, and they stick to it. If the subject says something nuts, the most you’ll usually get is, “Really? You really think that?” Never an actual factual refutation, which just makes the interviewer’s position look unfounded.

    And… No, I have not read that book, but I’ve been told I should. One day I will get to it.

    Thanks, Andrew!

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