BWW Review: Political Play KINGS At South Coast Rep Exposes The Influence Of Lobbyists

I’m neither a Republican nor a conservative nor a Democrat nor a liberal. Or even a Tea Partier. It doesn’t matter what I am, but the point is I don’t have a dog in this fight politically. I am, however, hugely interested in science, and have read more science books than any other nonscientist I know. My special interests are cosmology, quantum physics, complexity theory, information theory, evolution, environmental science and economics (if you consider that a science, which I do).

Let me say at the outset that you are dead right about the GOP stance on evolution. The science is now more than 150 years old and becoming more definitive all the time now that we have such detailed evidence from the human genome. There are still some holes in evolutionary theory but they do not appear to be of the kind that will cause the whole edifice to come crashing down someday. Recent attacks by the “irreducible complexity” critics — the most serious challenge in decades — have been soundly refuted. My personal guess is that natural selection will soon be supplemented by complexity theory and other emerging disciplines to give a more detailed picture of exactly what happened when on the great tree of life. So at worst Darwin might get folded into a bigger, richer picture just as Newton got folded into the larger reality revealed by Einstein.

Let me go further and say that I don’t buy the common argument that the Republican view on evolution doesn’t matter because it has no practical consequences. It has terrible practical consequences. To introduce nonscientific theories into the classroom as a supposed counterweight to established science is just insane. It’s an attack on rationality and the whole scientific method, and I have no doubt it will hurt us materially as a nation down the road. Ideas have consequences.

The issue of climate change is a little more complicated. For starters, it is a very young science, really only several decades as a distinct discipline. That’s why few of the experts have degrees in it specifically. Until very recently there were no such degrees.

More to the point, as with any young, growing science, there has been some rather extreme flip-flopping on the consensus view. I am old enough to remember when global COOLING was the climate disaster du jour. It’s even mentioned in the lyrics to the title song from London Calling by the Clash (who would no doubt be writing songs about global warming today if they were still around). That view changed almost overnight and has held steady ever since to the global warming thesis, pausing only to adopt the climate change label along the way for propaganda purposes.

There are a few extreme GOP folks who deny that there has even been any warming over the last 150 years. Those people are definitely rejecting well-established science. There certainly has been some warming. But that is not the prevailing Republican view that I know of. The real controversy is over the exact cause of the warming (posited to be greenhouse gases, specifically CO2), and mankind’s role in that. And here, although the Republicans are indeed bucking a consensus, I don’t believe that necessarily equates with rejecting science per se.

The reason is that the science is too young and so far too error-riddled for a consensus about climate change causation to mean much at this point.

The computer models on which nearly the entire argument is based are woefully inadequate. They can’t even accurately predict existing conditions, let alone future conditions. They don’t accommodate solar cycles and variations and they are so far incapable of addressing the precise role of clouds, cloud formation and water vapor, because to date those variables are not all that well understood, particularly in their complex interactions with one another. The science is making rapid strides and will no doubt get better. But at the moment it is not unreasonable to say, let’s not bet the farm on anthropogenic warming.

Further, the critique of the right that climate science has been highly politicized from the beginning, and sometimes corrupted by money and politics, is dead on. The ClimateGate scandal revealed this clearly from the mouths of leading climate scientists, and the failure of the climate establishment to acknowledge its failings and deal with this issue forthrightly has tarnished not just climate science but science in general. It has done terrible damage. The investigations of ClimateGate were basically all inside jobs and produced little but whitewashed lies. The public fallout from that is continuing and well deserved. Anyone who actually cares about environmental issues should be leading the charge to clean up this mess. So far, no takers on the left.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was from the beginning not a disinterested group seeking only scientific truth about the climate but rather a very political entity. They didn’t so much discover that global warming was manmade as simply assume it. So there has always been some selection bias in their research and conclusions.

A startling recent experiment using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and published in a peer-reviewed journal strongly suggests that cosmic rays and solar activity may account for (in the opinion of one of the experimenters) anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of the warming we have experienced in modern times. Even if you assume the low end of that estimate, it would radically change the scientific and policy debate on climate change. If the truth turns out to be somewhere closer to the high end, then we will indeed have spent a lot of time and money on something that humanity cannot affect much one way or the other.

Aside from the actual results, the interesting thing about that experiment is how long it took to get approved (7 or 8 years) and how delicately the CERN administrators have tiptoed around the public announcement of the outcome. Would they have been so shy and reticent if the results had confirmed anthropogenic warming? I think we know the answer to that.

So while I am as pro-science as anyone I know, I am not pro-politicized science, whether the politics are left or right or anywhere in between. I want the truth and I want it straight. Don’t keep trying to sell me doomsday scenarios that overstate the case and misuse science.

And there we come to the crux of the problem regarding the Democrats and science. They are in the tank for environmentalism, which of course is the not the same thing as environmental science. As a recovered environmentalist who spent a very active decade in the movement in the 1970s, I know how little respect for science there is among these activists. It’s all politics.

The fact is that they have bet everything on climate change being the issue that will put their agenda to the fore. The jury is still out on that but my guess is that they bet on the wrong issue. Which is a shame in a way because there are certainly serious environmental problems that need our attention — water availability, biodiversity, and deadly pandemics, to name just three. I would add the threat of impacts from space objects, which unlike climate change are known to be the real harbingers of extinction-level events. They don’t happen often but we know for a fact they have happened before and will happen again, and now that for the first time in human history we have the technology to prepare for them, we have done almost nothing. Climate change has sucked the air out of just about every other environmental issue.

Source : http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/28/erasing-false-balance-the-right-is-more-antiscience-than-the-left/

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