Monday, August 03, 2009
Last week, the scientific news magazine Chemical and Engineering News, received a large number of letters to the editor (HT: Alan Sullivan) in response to an editorial it previously carried in which Rudy Baum, its editor-in-chief, proclaimed that the scientific debate over climate change (aka global warming) is over -- and implicitly compared scientists who disagree with him to Holocaust deniers. Many were scathing rebuttals from scientists, and at least one called for "find[ing] a new editor." Among the rebuttals was one by a scientist who identified himself as a "progressive" and dismissed a conservative think tank as, "free-market fanatics."
I'll quote from a few of my favorites below. (Note that not all of these are necessarily by scientists.)
First, Edward H. Gleason of Ooltewah, Tennessee, reminds Baum of the uncomfortably close and inappropriate relationship often existing between government and science today.
I can't accept as facts the reports of federal agencies, because they have become political and are more likely to support the regime in power than not. Baum's attempt to close out debate goes against all my scientific training, and to hear this from my ACS [American Chemical Society] is certainly alarming to me.Second, a couple of writers weigh in on hysterical claims to the effect that complex scientific issues have been "settled," and on the nature of actual scientific debate. The first of these is by Howard Hayden of Pueblo West, Colorado.
I am always intrigued by claims that science is settled, especially when it comes to something as complex as climate. Rudy Baum's remarks are particularly disquieting because of his hostility toward skepticism, which is part of every scientist's soul. Let's cut to the chase with some questions for Baum: Which of the 20-odd major climate models has settled the science, such that all of the rest are now discarded? [my emphasis]Heinrich Brinks of Monterey, California, adds the following coupe de grace:
I'm sure you would have espoused the merits of phlogiston theory as it was a matter of "scientific consensus" at the time and took a great deal of skepticism, experimentation, and thought to overturn it. [link added]And, lest we forget who is calling whom Nazis in this debate, here's a letter in support of Baum from one Roger Shamel of Lexington, Massachusetts:
Your comments about the climate-change deniers are right on target. In fact, your closing paragraph, "Sow doubt; make up statistics," etc., was one of the best summaries I've seen of the deceitful practices that the deniers are allowed to get away with.That one makes me think of a certain Inconvenient Amendment.
We humans seem to learn from experience, and thus our modern systems of justice are not well geared for dealing effectively with climate-change deniers. This is a shame, because every month's delay in taking meaningful action likely will lead to more climate-related death and destruction in the future. There should be a law. [my emphasis]
And that reminds me of the one thing I wish had been mentioned, but wasn't: individual rights. I was happy to see that some respondents appear to see on some level that see the scientific debate over global warming and its causes is a distinct issue from the debate over what to do about it if it is occurring due to human causes.
This is unfortunate, because it requires a firm grasp of the concept of individual rights (as well as of the proper purpose of government) to see that the real political question is: "Should the government do anything at all about global warming if, for the sake of argument, it is occurring and is due to human activity?"
Today: Corrected characterization of Chemical and Engineering News from "journal" to "scientific news magazine."