Sunday, March 21, 2010

The assault on science and reason

"As the cacophony of voices attacking climate science grows, I have to wonder: where are the journalists? Have they forgotten their job description? In any other field, if such an obvious, misinformed lobby arose, would they rate any attention?

Well, maybe.

During organized tobacco's war on science, many newspapers reported propaganda created by paid tobacco lobbyists as a legitimate alternative to mainstream science. Other industries took up the same strategy: producers of CFCs who paid ozone hole deniers, and asbestos vendors who refused to acknowledge guilt in killing their own workers in the most horrific way in the cause of making a quick buck. In South Africa, according to a Harvard study, over 300,000 people died unnecessarily because the Mbeki government chose to believe pseudo-science when reality did not suit the president's politics."

So starts an excellent post by "vocal local" Phil Machanick on how the climate change denial industry is recycling the same strategies used in previous science denial campaigns and the astounding habit of the media to be taken in every time.

Also of grave concern is the seeming elevation of unsubstantiated opinion to the same level as scientific evidence as part on an all out attack on any piece of science that doesn't fit ones particular ideology. As a scholar of science myself, I would humbly suggest that when one's political ideology comes into conflict with the fundamental physical and chemical processes that govern the universe, its probably time to reconsider your opinions.

Or as Phil says more elegantly than I can:

"Science is not a matter of opinion: a theory stands or falls by how well it fits the evidence, including how well its predictions stand up to measurement. By attempting to turn climate science, and indeed any science that offends a particular special interest, into a matter for debate where the evidence counts for less than personal preference, we risk reverting from a society of reason to a society of superstition."

This assault on reason is prominent in Australia as well, in response to the recent climate change report from CSIRO and the BOM (two of Australia leading and most respected scientific organizations) Liberal Senator Julian McGauran attacked CSIRO scientists as politically biased. It is of course difficult to accuse thermometers, rain gauges and satellites as having a political bias, hence the rise in attacks on the scientists themselves when their evidence unequivocally points to a warming world.

In our technologically advanced society, science and scientists provide us with explanations for much our forebears could not answer, what causes infectious disease?, is vaccination safe?, why is the average temperature of the earth warmer than that of the moon? Before he opens his mouth next time scientists report information he doesn't like, I hope Senator McGauran will consider the implications for a society who, due to repeated smear campaigns, no longer trust scientists and scientific knowledge and whether such a society is on a path to long term prosperity?

Meanwhile, NASA are reporting that it is almost certain a new 12 month global temperature record will be set this year (see a summary here or download their draft paper here), darn physics.

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