File:Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents.pdf
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Science in the Public Square: Global Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents
Though valuable as a process, science is always problematic as an institution. Charles Darwin often expressed gratitude for being able to be a gentleman scientist with no need for an institutional affiliation. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, the gentleman scientist no longer exists. Even in the 19th century, most scientists needed institutional homes, and today science almost inevitably requires outside funding. In some fields, including climate, the government has essentially a monopoly on such funding.
Expanded funding is eagerly sought, but the expansion of funding inevitably invites rent-seeking by scientists, university administration, and government bureaucracies. The public square brings its own dynamic into the process of science: most notably, it involves the coupling of science to specific policy issues. This is a crucial element in the climate issue, but comparable examples have existed in other fields, including eugenics and immigration, and Lysenkoism and agronomy.
Although there are many reasons why some scientists might want to bring their field into the public square, the cases described here appear, instead, to be cases in which those with political agendas found it useful to employ science. This immediately involves a distortion of science at a very basic level: namely, science becomes a source of authority rather than a mode of inquiry. The real utility of science stems from the latter; the political utility stems from the former
For science to be politically useful, several features are involved:
- Powerful advocacy groups claiming to represent both science and the public in the name of morality and superior wisdom;
- Simplistic depictions of the underlying science so as to facilitate widespread “understanding”;
- “Events,” real or contrived, interpreted in such a manner as to promote a sense of urgency in the public at large;
- Scientists flattered by public attention (including financial support) and deferent to “political will” and popular assessment of virtue; and
- Significant numbers of scientists eager to produce the science demanded by the “public.”
These features are hardly independent. Moreover, they interact in important ways (see Figure 1). This tale illustrated in the figure is not meant to explain any particular abuse of science but rather to demonstrate why the system is vulnerable to abuse...
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