Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Real, Sad Legacy of Climategate

Daniel Henninger:
I don't think most scientists appreciate what has hit them. This isn't only about the credibility of global warming. For years, global warming and its advocates have been the public face of hard science. Most people could not name three other subjects they would associate with the work of serious scientists. This was it. The public was told repeatedly that something called "the scientific community" had affirmed the science beneath this inquiry. A Nobel Prize was bestowed (on a politician).

Global warming enlisted the collective reputation of science. Because "science" said so, all the world was about to undertake a vast reordering of human behavior at almost unimaginable financial cost. Not every day does the work of scientists lead to galactic events simply called Kyoto or Copenhagen. At least not since the Manhattan Project.

What is happening at East Anglia is an epochal event. As the hard sciences-physics, biology, chemistry, electrical engineering-came to dominate intellectual life in the last century, some academics in the humanities devised the theory of postmodernism, which liberated them from their colleagues in the sciences. Postmodernism, a self-consciously "unprovable" theory, replaced formal structures with subjectivity. With the revelations of East Anglia, this slippery and variable intellectual world has crossed into the hard sciences.

Read the whole thing.

The lessons seem clear to me:

(1) Scientists and other "experts" are people
(2) People are motivated by perceived self-interest (even in acts of altruism)
(3) Hence, experts' "opinions", even if they represent a "consensus", are helpful in exposing their self-interest but mostly useless in determining "truth."
(4) Truth (or rather UN-truth) can only be determined via the disciplined application of reason and the scientific method.

In short, the opinion of an "expert" or a "scientist" should be given no greater weight that that of the average schmuck, unless it is anchored in reason and confirmed by diligent application of the scientific method. In the case of Climategate, the "Hockey Players" actively sought to subvert diligent application of the scientific method by refusing to publicly disclose much of their data and methods (except to like-minded scientists who they knew in advance would be supportive of their conclusions).

As a caveat, I will emphasize that this doesn't necessarily make their conclusions wrong, but it does make them unscientific.

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