Marching for Science

The March for Science, happening tomorrow 22 April in Washington DC and in satellite events around the globe (including here in LA), is on the one hand an obviously good idea, and at the same time quite controversial. As in many controversies, both sides have their good points!

Marching for science is a good idea because 1) science is good, 2) science is in some ways threatened, and 3) marching to show support might in some way ameliorate that threat. Admittedly, as with all rallies of support, there is a heavily emotive factor at work — even if it had no effect whatsoever, many people are motivated to march in favor of ideas they believe in, just because it feels good to show support for things you feel strongly about. Nothing wrong with that at all.

But in a democracy, marching in favor of things is a little  more meaningful than that. Even if it doesn’t directly cause politicians to change their minds (“Wait, people actually like science? I’ll have to revise my stance on a few key pieces of upcoming legislation…”), it gets ideas into the general conversation, which can lead to benefits down the road. Support for science is easy to take for granted — we live in a society where even the most anti-science forces try to portray their positions as being compatible with a scientific outlook of some sort, even if it takes doing a few evidentiary backflips to paper over the obvious inconsistencies. But just because the majority of people claim to be in favor of science, that doesn’t mean they will actually listen to what science has to say, much less vote to spend real money supporting it. Reminding them how much the general public is pro-science is an important task.

Charles Plateau, Reuters. Borrowed from The Atlantic.

Not everyone sees it that way. Scientists, bless their hearts, like to fret and argue about things, as I note in this short essay at The Atlantic. (That piece basically what I’ll be saying when I give my talk tomorrow noonish at the LA march — so if you can’t make it, you can get the gist at the link. If you will be marching in LA — spoiler alert.) A favorite source of fretting and worrying is “getting science mixed up with politics.” We scientists, the idea goes, are seekers of eternal truths — or at least we should aim to be — and that lofty pursuit is incompatible with mucking around in tawdry political battles. Or more pragmatically, there is a worry that if science is seen to be overly political, then one political party will react by aligning itself explicitly against science, and that won’t be good for anyone. (Ironically, this latter argument is an attempt at being strategic and political, rather than a seeker of universal truths.)

I don’t agree, as should be clear. First, science is political, like it or not. That’s because science is done by human beings, and just about everything human beings do is political. Science isn’t partisan — it doesn’t function for the benefit of one party over the other. But if we look up “political” in the dictionary, we get something like “of or relating to the affairs of government,” or more broadly “related to decisions applying to all members of a group.” It’s hard to question that science is inextricably intertwined with this notion of politics. The output of science, which purports to be true knowledge of the world, is apolitical. But we obtain that output by actually doing science, which involves hard questions about what questions to ask, what research to fund, and what to do with the findings of that research. There is no way to pretend that politics has nothing to do with the actual practice of science. Great scientists, from Einstein on down, have historically been more than willing to become involved in political disputes when the stakes were sufficiently high.

It would certainly be bad if scientists tarnished their reputations as unbiased researchers by explicitly aligning “science” with any individual political party. And we can’t ignore the fact that various high-profile examples of denying scientific reality — Darwinian evolution comes to mind, or more recently the fact that human activity is dramatically affecting the Earth’s climate — are, in our current climate, largely associated with one political party more than the other one. But people of all political persuasions will occasionally find scientific truths to be a bit inconvenient. And more importantly, we can march in favor of science without having to point out that one party is working much harder than the other one to undermine it. That’s a separate kind of march.

It reminds me of this year’s Super Bowl ads. Though largely set in motion before the election ever occurred, several of the ads were labeled as “anti-Trump” after the fact. But they weren’t explicitly political; they were simply stating messages that would, in better days, have been considered anodyne and unobjectionable, like “people of all creeds and ethnicities should come together in harmony.” If you can’t help but perceive a message like that as a veiled attack on your political philosophy, maybe your political philosophy needs a bit of updating.

Likewise for science. This particular March was, without question, created in part because people were shocked into fear by the prospect of power being concentrated in the hands of a political party that seems to happily reject scientific findings that it deems inconvenient. But it grew into something bigger and better: a way to rally in support of science, full stop.

That’s something everyone should be able to get behind. It’s a mistake to think that the best way to support science is to stay out of politics. Politics is there, whether we like it or not. (And if we don’t like it, we should at least respect it — as unappetizing as the process of politics may be at times, it’s a necessary part of how we make decisions in a representative democracy, and should be honored as such.) The question isn’t “should scientists play with politics, or rise above it?” The question is “should we exert our political will in favor of science, or just let other people make the decisions and hope for the best?”

Democracy can be difficult, exhausting, and heartbreaking. It’s a messy, chaotic process, a far cry from the beautiful regularities of the natural world that science works to uncover. But participating in democracy as actively as we can is one of the most straightforward ways available to us to make the world a better place. And there aren’t many causes more worth rallying behind than that of science itself.

 

 

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36 Responses to Marching for Science

  1. Arash says:

    It is April 22nd.

  2. Ray Gedaly says:

    Amen! (And I mean this in the purely secular sense, not the more common definition as applying to a 1980s television sitcom starring the late Sherman Hemsley.)

  3. Sean Carroll says:

    Oops, fixed April 21 -> 22.

  4. Chris G says:

    Liking this thinking Sean, particularly because, coincidentally, I’ve just read Jerry Coyne arguing against the march (or March as you call it).
    On the subject of typos, always rather embarrassing to trip-up in the first sentence: by “on the on hand”, I presume you mean ‘one hand’?
    Feels churlish to point this out, but I feel obliged, sorry.

  5. Sean Carroll says:

    Always happy to have typos pointed out. (Well, appreciative, if not truly happy.)

  6. Chris G says:

    Your appreciation makes me happy.
    But fix ‘March’ as well – do I really need to point this out twice? FFS!
    Oh, and have a gander at “much less vote to spend to spend real money “.
    Come on Sean, you’re much better than this!
    On a more positive note, I like your ‘science is political whether we like it or not’ stance.
    Clear honest thinking from the other side of the Atlantic is much admired by (some of) us Brits.
    Keep up the good work Mr Carroll. Thank you.

  7. Mik says:

    Well said! Science IS political but should not be partisan.

  8. Tom Clark says:

    “And more importantly, we can march in favor of science without having to point out that one party is working much harder than the other one to undermine it.”

    Sorry, but why not point this out since it’s a threat both to science and to our collective well-being? That one political party is demonstrably willing to ignore basic facts about critical issues related to planetary survival is simply to state the empirical truth about our current administration. Advocates for science are necessarily politically partisan: against those legislators and administrators (mostly conservatives) who ignore or undermine trust in our most reliable basis for knowledge and action, and for those who champion unfettered inquiry (liberals more than conservatives). It’s no coincidence that empiricists are more likely to be progressive (just 9% of AAAS member identified as conservative in 2009): divesting oneself of non-empirical grounds for belief subtracts any justification for treating different classes (of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) differently. And it means being more reality-oriented – a basic ethical requirement – when facing the critical issues of our time.

    To march *for* science we have to call out its opponents, otherwise they will continue on their not-so-merry way, putting us all, as well as universal human rights, in jeopardy.

  9. murmur says:

    @Sean You bring about the denial of science by the right wing. But what about the denial of science by left wing, specifically opposition to GMO food? Will the scientists oppose that?

  10. John Healy says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I wonder if any other theoretical physicists will be speaking at events around the globe and in the United States. (A friend is attending the March for Science at Lawrence Livermore.) Your post will likely get me to reading more about the history of engagement in politics by well known scientists. Einstein, … And how science advisors have fared in the political arena in charting policy. When “alternative facts” (denial) and magical thinking get into politics, we’re in for a bumpy ride, eh. Never saw this era coming when I was young!

  11. Francis Lane says:

    I have to disagree – Einstein said “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”. I take “religion” to essentially mean “ideology”: Any set of unquestioned values by which our actions are judged, whether those values are defined by an organized religion, or a liberal or a conservative or a libertarian or a humanistic ideology. Science is our best guess at a roadmap along with a point on the map that says “we are here”. Ideology is putting your finger on the map and saying “here is where we want to be”. Politics and war are are processes by which we deal with the fact that different people with different ideologies, put their fingers in different places, and ideally this does not alter the roadmap one bit.

    The argument that “science is political because science is done by humans and everything humans do is political” is wrong. When a scientist is working on refining the roadmap in an intellectually honest way, they are not engaged in politics, they are not advocating an ideology, they are not pointing to a place they want to go, they are not being political. Yes, their choice of which part of the roadmap to concentrate on may be ideology driven (which questions to ask, which research to fund) but their results should not be, and if they are, its propaganda, not science. Einstein’s advocacy for the development of atomic weapons by the U.S. was not science, he did not modify any physical theory when he did that. The pressure to modify the roadmap in order to advance an ideology is great, war and politics means guns and money, and the more we try to turn every single question into an ideological question only amplifies the pressure.

    The science of economics and the theory of evolution have much in common. If we consider humanity to be evolutionary progress (I do), then that progress did not occur by fiat, but by letting cooperation and competition sort things out. A “free” market operates on the same idea. The idea that the liberal ideology is so enlightened as seen by their support of the theory of evolution is a joke. They have caught the conservatives in their fiat-by-God fantasy, and like a dog with a bone, they won’t let it go. They talk the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk, they detest the idea of letting cooperation and competition in the market sort things out, preferring their own fiat-by-smart-people fantasy.

    With regard to climate change, the market has a tough time dealing with that. Climate change is real, and I don’t want our planet polluted and upset by human-induced climate change, but we must always be aware of the perverse incentive for exaggeration by those who detest the market, and again, the more we make it a ideological question, a them-versus-us question, the more pressure there is for that perversion.

  12. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    True science can tell us only what we can do. Politics is how we decide what to do. Regarding climate change, please cite some empirical evidence that the primary cause of climate change is human activity. The climate models are not empirical evidence. They are not data. And they are clearly wrong. Next, provide some empirical evidence that the climate change we are experiencing is dangerous. CO2 is not a pollutant; it is making the planet greener. Satellite imagery shows that. Evidence from ice cores shows that temperatures increase before atmospheric CO2 increases. Increasing CO2 is not causing climate change. The models are wrong; the science is not settled.

  13. Francis Lane says:

    @Andrew G Van Sant – climate models are not supposed to be data any more than F=ma is supposed to be data. F=ma is part of a theory (i.e. a model of reality) and expresses a proposed relationship between measurements (data) which has been verified to a high degree of accuracy for relatively simple cases. Climate models are proposed relationships between climate measurements ( thermodynamic, chemical, fluid, etc. paramters). The climate models are far more complicated than F=ma, so much so that predictions or verification of their agreement with data must be carried out on computers. Their predictions cannot be expected to be as accurate as simpler models (e.g F=ma). This does not make them “wrong”, the only question really is, are they accurate enough to be useful?

    Salt (NaCl) is a “pollutant” in my drinking water, and noting that it is required for metabolism does not change that. CO2 makes the planet greener, but it has other effects as well. Of course variations in CO2 cause variations in climate, the question is how much, and the basic question is, are those effects as a whole good for us or bad? I agree – the science is not “settled” to the degree that orbital mechanics is, but even that is not “settled”. Climate models do not invoke any new science, they are an application of fairly settled science to a very complex problem. Orbital mechanics likewise, when the problem involves billions of objects (e.g. the rings of Saturn). Also there is the question of chaos – using “settled” science does not mean you can make a meaningful prediction in every case. With regard to our understanding of climate, error bars are mandatory, and the question is, do we have a useful theory?

    A major problem is that simple science can be more easily and intuitively understood while only a dedicated climate scientist can understand climate models. Hence we are reduced to reliance on their judgement, rather than truly understanding it ourselves. Sure, simplified arguments can be made on both sides, but for most of us it’s like watching a tennis match. Ultimately we are asked to trust the results of climate scientists and a rather large majority of them agree there is a problem. I’m not happy about that, but it is what it is. I’m suspicious of “appeals to authority” when it comes to science, and I’m suspicious of any scientific question that is so complicated that it can become a political football, where the question is not “do you understand?” but rather “whose side are you on?”.

    You ask “please cite some empirical evidence that the primary cause of climate change is human activity”. There is none that is unarguable, plenty that is arguable (see the Wikipedia article on “climate change”.) Ultimately we have to ask ourselves, as scientists, would information that contradicts our present “position” on climate change provoke curiosity or annoyance? If the answer is annoyance, then, to paraphrase Sean Carroll, “If you can’t help but perceive a message like that as a veiled attack on your political philosophy, maybe your political philosophy needs a bit of updating.”

  14. Simon Packer says:

    Perhaps Darwinism can explain why so many large SUVs with one or two occupants charge unecessarily from light to light, potentially hastening the end for humanity? Is it ignorance? Climate change denial? I doubt it. How did their genes get so far? Ah, evolution drives on to humanity then uses us to destroy the planet. Or do we smart up and move first? Being the ultimate ‘not even wrong’ theory, believers will probably be able to find a way to work all this out. Nothing has quite so much ability to evolve as the theory itself has exhibited.

    If science is uniformly (emphaisise uniformly) sound, (our understanding of) physics should eventually subsume all other lines of reasoning. Many people can see that it is not time for that at the moment and probably never will be. If the universe is reducable to an equation, it is deterministic and your thoughts are neither here nor there in terms of accuracy, and neither are mine, they are simply part of the current local state of the universe, outworked in brain chemistry. You can’t have your philosophical cake and eat it. Deny free will and then use yours to pontificate on reality.

    In reality, science as practised, rather than as an ideal, is political, because people are political. Who we are asserts itself into the answers we come up with, especially on the ‘big picture’ issues; evolution, cosmology.

    Science as practiced by us is very likely to be a self-limiting exercise in humanity discovering its innate limitations. That is a fully logical statement. Try correcting me.

    Sean, philosophically you are going round in decreasing circles. Time to get real and admit it.

    Personally I believe the world will wrap up for reasons utterly and completely outside your control and you should face that too.

  15. Michael Cassady says:

    I’m fine with marching for science understood as a species of independent critical thinking, but in that spirit, I like the idea of acting out a collective expression as an individual, first-person issue. A collectivity of peers who maintain their moral authority by insisting it wear an actual face is more in keeping with the future of the present I’m acting out predicated on reisiting mob thinking by getting past the crisis reflex of the panic driven World War II mobilization. A birth defect of science, as it turned out, due to making empiricism too philosophical, making the notions of “first person” and “moral individual” beyond the pale of demonstrable seriousness for purposes of healthy consensus arbitration: actual observation is of unique particulars by particular persons, and particular persons who characteristcially care about doing such things as looking about for “information.” As practiced, science is not immune to the sirens of commerce and metaphysical urges: what research gets funded is subject to elite fashions, and there’s a bit of the searach of the Grael about spending large sums to find life in the depths of space and some ‘evidence basis’ that human life is somehow factually vindicated as valuable. Equally, the fascination of AI researchers to replicate, and improve human persons is oddly mystical one might think for people sworn to honoring the tangible solidity of particles, even as some pesky particules via quantum superposition seem to take on qualities of “life.” So, I’ll join with others—through nerves and wires of networks— while retraining the right to keep my opinions nuanced and by resisting passing my moral authority over to political-party proxies, to personalities gone cancerously public by hysterical and enthusiastic self-inflation.

  16. BobC says:

    I did not march. As an engineer with both professional and personal relationships with many scientists, I was pushed and prodded to participate.

    Why not? I have several reasons, but two rise to the top for me:

    1. The March for Science “movement” was getting way too political, in the “us against them” way. I march for expanding unity, not to focus on divisiveness.

    I marched against the Viet Nam war while in High School. Then I joined the all-volunteer military as that war wound down. The sign I remember most from those days was: “Love our Soldiers, Hate the War” I saw that sign again during the Iraq War.

    I also participated in civil rights demonstrations. One line I remember from a speech was: “We may disagree and have divides to bridge, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re family.” More recently, the original Black Lives Matter movement started with that ethos, though as it grew its focus and premises shifted.

    I prefer to focus on our fundamental commonality and shared principles. I seek to grow the consensus, not emphasize any divide.

    The March for Science paid relatively little attention to this overriding responsibility. At least not from the perspective of what many of its leaders and participants wrote and said.

    Some say it was “taken over” or overwhelmed by anti-Trump-ists. If so, that’s all the more reason for the event leaders and organizers to more strongly clarify their message. If they did, I didn’t hear it.

    2. The March for Science website paid short shrift to Engineers, and to STEAM in general.

    This felt like a version of the Theorist vs. Experimenter divide present in some scientific fields, expanded to prioritize “pure” science over applied science.

    The world needs more STEAM folks at ALL levels, from young Makers to PhD researchers. I think the March for Science missed its chance to focus on PEOPLE and EDUCATION over funding, political, or nebulous (but important) philosophical issues.

    I suppose I’m looking for, and missing, where the “Kumbaya” moments would be in the March for Science. Not that they need to (or even should) literally happen, but there should be a unifying atmosphere that could support them.

    Don’t worry, it’ll happen. We’re still figuring this stuff out. Our messages and strategies will improve with time.

    But only if the March for Science isn’t a one-time thing. This march itself may be, and to me it was a rough start, but the need for an ongoing program and presence should be the real result. We need cultural and institutional respect for the practice science and for science education. Hopefully, something cohesive and enduring will arise.

    The best way to win a debate within a democracy is NOT by having the best arguments or rhetoric! It’s by shifting the electorate. And the best way to shift the electorate when it comes to science is to raise a generation with better science education. This is the real battle.

    I don’t necessarily want a movement based on getting more pro-science folks in political office (though I’m *certainly* not against it): I want a movement to get more science folks into middle-school classrooms!

    Focus on generations rather than administrations.

    What will yesterday’s marchers do today and tomorrow? Or have they “had their say” and will now move on?

  17. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    @Francis Lane. Please describe the other effects of CO2. Regarding climate models, they are not useful for predicting future climate. The atmosphere is a chaotic system. It cannot be modeled.

    Please explain how global temperature is measured and what the measurement represents. Why do you believe that the data used in climate models is accurate? Because the “official” data is constantly being manipulated to modify the most accurate data to conform more closely to less accurate data as is commonly done with air and water measurements?

    There is no conclusive evidence that human activity is causing dangerous climate change. There is no evidence that the climate change we are experiencing is dangerous or even unprecedented.

    Wikipedia is not a reliable source for much of anything.

  18. Francis Lane says:

    @Andrew G Van Sant – I don’t want to get into an argument over climate change. I’m not a climate scientist, and I cannot rationally argue for or against it, and I refuse to appeal to authority with the usual “99.99 percent of all …” etc.) All I can tell you is how I deal with my ignorance, which, as a computational physicist is not total.

    You make blanket statements that trouble me – “The atmosphere is a chaotic system. It cannot be modeled”. This is not strictly true – chaotic systems can be modelled for “short” time periods, or else prediction of tomorrow’s weather would be totally useless, and it’s not. The question is “how far in the future can we predict?” I don’t know, maybe far enough, maybe not. Climate data, as you say, has been found to be rigged in some cases in order to further a political agenda, or with the idea that data-rigging in order to save our planet is no vice. This attitude is detestable, but any suggestion that climate change is a total hoax is too much for me to believe. I have worked with scientists involved in this question, and I see how the science can be shaded one way or another, grant money goes to those who see a problem, the same way money goes to a doctors who sees a problem. With a clean bill of health, you go home and have a beer, with a problem, you get a second and third opinion. That’s a problem, but I don’t see a strongly ideologically driven agenda there. As with the scientists who worked for the tobacco industry who claimed that smoking is not dangerous, I try to follow the money and the ideology. Any entity which rings an alarm bell on climate change and tells me to vote liberal, I discount. Any entity which denies climate change and tells me to vote conservative, I discount. Any pronouncements by a “scientific body” which depends on liberals or conservatives for their funding, I discount. When I see a link to “Tell President Trump that we won’t back down while he attempts to dismantle environmental protections!” on the “March for Science” page, I’m not marching, any more than if I saw “Tell President Hillary Clinton that we won’t back down while she attempts to expand environmental protections!”

    You say “There is no conclusive evidence that human activity is causing dangerous climate change”. Strictly speaking I agree, but the scientific arguments I hear make sense to me, as do some arguments against, but there is also no conclusive evidence that it is not, and it makes sense to me to keep a close watch on this. Also, the blanket statement “Wikipedia is not a reliable source for much of anything” is wrong. Its simply the result of many people putting forth their take on the subject, backed up by references. In my mind, the fact that it is a consensus, with references, among capable people who often strongly disagree makes it more timely and valuable than a mainstream, legacy encylopedia like Brittanica.

  19. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    @Francis Lane – of course we have some success at short-term weather forcasting. My understanding is that the most accurate forecasts are achieved by comparing current conditions to prior conditions to see what weather resulted, not from weather models. Climate models are weather models that are run over and over again on a supercomputer. Errors are multiplied and propagated resulting in “predictions” that are wide of the mark. The point is that the models are not useful for making predictions of future climate or for taking radical energy decisions to replace reliable fossil fuels with unreliable “renewable” sources.

    A major theme of the March for Science was to promote support for action against human-caused climate change. Two of the speakers at the Washington DC event were Bill Nye, who is not a climate scientist and spouts nonsense about climate change, and Michael Mann, who is a climate scientist who also spouts nonsense about climate change. Dr Mann, who has falsely claimed to have been awarded a Nobel Prize, was defending his “hockey stick” theory that has been shown to be wrong. He even claimed that it had not been proven wrong, another misrepresentation on his part. Until real scientists besides Dr. Judith Curry, Dr. Roy Spencer, and Dr. Roger Pielke, who are all slandered by pseudoscientists like Dr. Mann, stand up and admit that natural variability plays a major role in climate change and that climate models are useless for making projections, people like me, who investigate for themselve, will not be persuaded that climate change needs to be, or even can be, mitigated.

    It is important to remember that “the map is not the territory” and “the model is not the system.” It is not unreasonable to be skeptical of claims about the causes and consequences of climate change. Be very skeptical of anyone who says they are embarked on a noble cause to save the earth.

  20. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    @Francis Lane – you claim that consensus supports the idea that Wikipedia contains reliable information. The same claim (97 percent of scientists. . ) is made for human-caused climate change. Whenever you hear an appeal to consensus be very skeptical. That is not the way science works. It takes only one piece of repeatable data to disprove a theory. There is significant data to disprove the theory of human-caused climate change, which explains the efforts to manipulate and change climate data and the refusal of some climate scientists to make their study data available to skeptical scientists. (If you are not naturally skeptical, you are not a scientist.)

    We are not arguing; we are having a rational discussion about science, one valuable result of the March for Science.

  21. Barry Curran says:

    Thanks Sean for the great post and the very cogent piece in the Atlantic. Oh that wise words and commited actions on the part of the science community and public at large were enough to halt the foul headwinds of the present moment. How did the glowing aura of science of our 1950´s and 60s public school classrooms come to this wierd new impass of hostility and indifference? Where are now Mr. Wizard? Is it really because science has become so misunderstood of late? I wonder. The problems are described and much, or enough, data on issues such as climate change are pretty much in place and known already but convincing many of our emotionally biased and monotheistcally overwrought fellow primates of the urgency is another daunting task indeed; perhaps even beyond the best powers of communication of our most able scientists. There might be found any array of viable solutions over time to the many vexing problems facing us, (Most of all by drastically less consumption of all natural resources but by whom, how and where?) but they seem to my mind to be coming way too late in the day for their application to have even a remote chance of mitigating them much in even our children´s lifetimes, if ever. Pessimistic yes, but can anyone point to signs at the moment that say otherwise without being in serious denial? If anyone can then please inform the coral reefs, amphibians, rain forests and other critters and flora world wide. I´m sure they´d love to hear it.

  22. murmur says:

    Let’s be clear what the “march for science” is: it’s identity politics through and through. I for one wouldn’t march with someone who considers ISIS to be marginalized people.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/march-for-science-blows-it-again-defends-isis-as-marginalized-people/

  23. Francis Lane says:

    @Andrew G Van Sant – “argument” is a good word in my book as long as its respectful, but ok, “rational discussion” works for me. Regarding Wikipedia, I have edited some pages and follow others, and I see the process at work, and in my experience, cogent, referenced arguments win out most (not all) of the time. The talk pages for the articles are especially informative, since they show the behind-the-scenes struggle that has occurred to produce the article.

    I am skeptical of both sides in the climate change argument, and I wish I could become a climate scientist overnight rather than taking years of study so that I could separate the wheat from the chaff, but that’s not going to happen, so I have to listen to the arguments pro and con and keep my BS alarm in working order. When the honorary chair of the march, Bill Nye, suggests that climate change deniers should be punished, the sound of that alarm is deafening. Which is not to say his pronouncements on climate change are wrong. The fundamental problem is that there is no smoking gun. E=mc squared and BOOM, theres a mushroom cloud. Not with climate change. Its not something you can prove axiomatically. Young people see no change, they haven’t lived long enough. I’m an old guy, and I can’t see a monstrous change in my climate since I was young. So the bottom line is we have to rely on experts to tell us if the sky is falling, and that means a HUGE opportunity to turn it into a political football, and science always suffers when that happens. If I had to bet my life, I would say yes, there is a scientifically detectable climate change, caused by humans, and its worth worrying about. I wish to God the politicians with their money and guns would back off and let the scientists have a rational discussion, without fear of any punishment other than a personal feeling of failure for getting it *demonstrably* wrong. And not be publicly lionized or trashed by political activists, left and right, who don’t have the slightest understanding of the science, and don’t feel the slightest need to learn it.

  24. Simon Packer says:

    Climate change and big picture evolution (Sean mentioned it first!) are very similar examples of tentative (to many, in each case) outcomes of the scientific endeavour. Both could be categorised under the heading of ‘lose correlation between some evidence and some outcomes may mean causation’.

    To lump everything coming out of the body of people in full time scientifically based endeavours simply as ‘science’, with the implication that it is all worthy, objective and true is a big problem these days. It gets in the way of really understanding things and is open to abuse. Conversely, it can denigrate respect for truly solid science.