Seperation of Science and State

Been reading the endless and inescapable  STUPID claims that Sandy PROVES that we need to do more right now about global warming or we’re DOOMED!

A single weather event proves nothing, as all even slightly saner heads admit. Global warming may be happening – seems to be, although not over the last decade. But a decade or even a century is a pretty brief time frame, climate-wise.  We are still coming out of an ice age, geologically speaking, so it has clearly been warming up over the last 10,000 years or so. And, man may be contributing to this rise by dumping carbon dioxide into the air. Could be, although the chain of reasoning and the data upon which that reasoning is based is remarkably difficult and treacherous: how reliable are the temperature measurements made by different people over many years  at stations that used to be out in the countryside but have since come to be surrounded by cities? We’re talking about tiny fractions of a degree, here. How reliable are computer models incorporating multiple tricky-to-determine variables (and omitting many others) of uncertain independence from each other? I’ve built comparatively simple financial models, and even they are prone to being influenced by what the builder would like to see. If the result seems ‘reasonable’ – it is what I expected to see – I dig a lot less diligently through all the assumptions and caveats than if the result seems ‘unreasonable’ – not what I expected. That’s how people tend to work. That’s not how science works, however.

But today’s thought is more about gullibility and arrogance than technical discussions that can quickly devolve into hair-splitting and on which I am, in any event, largely unqualified to comment.  (I’m perfectly qualified to critique Science! in general, but not qualified to answer the kinds of questions I’ve mentioned above. You’d need to be an expert in statistics, model building and the calibration of scientific measuring devises – Mike Flynn, for example.)

Eisenhower famously told us all to beware the military/industrial complex. And many of us do – BS warning klaxons go off whenever a military supplier and the generals and admirals who will get the cool new toys start telling us we HAVE to have these weapons to counter the growing threat of mumble mumble shuffle shuffle. Do we waste billions on useless military hardware and redundant military bases? Is this even a question? (answer: no. it’s a rhetorical devise.) Once you add in the aspect that voting for military projects is an ideal way for elected officials to send jobs and money back to their districts, our democracy is all but doomed to buy enough nukes to blow up every conceivable opponent a hundred times over, and so on.

In the same speech, a few lines later, Eisenhower also said (and it was enlightening and disheartening to read this speech to see how far political rhetoric has fallen in a mere 50 years!):

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity [my emphasis]. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded [my emphasis].

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

OK, so: do the same BS warning klaxons go off when suppliers of Science! to the government start pitching their wares? Do we turn a gimlet eye toward political officials who stand to benefit if the government spends more money on Science! in their districts? Do we demand equal time for those who would dispute the claims?

Or do people even less qualified to judge the particular science than I am – Bloomberg? Rosanne Freakin’ Barr? Al Evil Mr Rogers Gore? – get to call other people stupid and tools of da’ Man for, you know, insisting on actual science? For insisting that the claims do not get out in front of the headlights? The fundamental complaint: our self-appointed betters find us cats just exasperatingly difficult to herd.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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