Friday, November 9, 2007

Global Warming and Science

There seems little point in going deeply into the whole "global warming" thing specifically. Most people have already made up their minds.

Instead, I'd like to focus for a moment on the religious aspect of this public debate, on the way that this has been allowed to be framed as a question of personal morality.

Whenever I hear phrases like "does not have a clue" and "cannot be denied," I know we have left the realm of responsible science and entered the world of doctrine.

There's nothing wrong with being for or against something per se. There are plenty of things I'm personally for or against. But it's wrong to claim that definitive statements of personal belief should be accepted as though they were real science. Insisting that the currently available data "prove" that humans are responsible for global warming is a misuse of, misunderstanding of, and insult to science as an open-ended process of continuous refinement of our understanding of reality.

This isn't a statement "against" global warming. It's a statement against allowing moralism to masquerade as science. We need science, and we especially need its tentativeness, its humility, its capacity to admit incompleteness and error. That is a requirement for effective long-term decisionmaking.

Hearing only what supports our belief and dismissing anything (and anyone) else is not worthy of respect. It's not science.

Here's a test: read the comments of Freeman Dyson (yes, the guy who came up with the idea of the "Dyson sphere," and no right-wing nut job) and John Coleman (the founder of the Weather Channel) and the varied reports over at ICECAP. If you can't read any of the statements made there without instantaneously rebutting those comments in your mind in order to preserve a personal belief, then you may be a lovely person but you are not practicing science and have no business claiming that your beliefs are scientifically sound. (And yes, exactly the same goes for anyone who refuses to consider the validity of evidence supporting an anthropogenic source for global warming.)

In any dispute over science, whichever side claims "the debate is over" is the side less deserving of anyone's trust. If the facts were really so strongly in their favor, they wouldn't need to try to stifle dissent, would they?

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