The demise of science

As somewhat of a scientist myself (it says so in my job description, anyway) I have always been a big fan of the Popper model of science. In fact, it was my introduction to Karl Popper in the mandatory philosophy course at university that informed my decision to extend my period of learning with another 4 years of PhD work. It is the perfect description of how the scientific method goes about approximating The Truth in an imperfect world where The Truth is an unattainable, but ever-present goal.

There is one major flaw in Poppers theory, however. It presupposes scientists that are dedicated to truth. Or to attainable truth, anyway. Scientific truth, in its popular designation. Nowadays more people then ever are working in science, publishing papers, attaining tenure then in any time in human history. With all that man/person/brain power to go around, you'd think that all of humanities great (materialistic) problems could be adequately solved within now and very soon. But alas...

At the end of the day even scientists need to bring home the bacon. That means acquiring funding. And that means catering to whatever fad policy makers and other people with money deem worthwhile. In Europe the EU Commission is THE largest body of scientific funding. If the EU decides that 'sustainability', however vague a term that may be, is a major goal, a scientist in need of money better make sure that the term is well represented in his research proposal. Else his application is dead before even completing the forms (1).

It is not so much that scientists are forced into getting results that please the funder. Blatant pandering to whoever supplies the money, especially if they're evil corporations, can and does still ruin careers. Just today LGF linked to a piece, in which the Lancet study claiming 650,000 Iraqis has died since the invasion is dissected and exposed as politically motivated pseudo-science. After such exposure the authors of that 'paper' will find it increasingly more difficult to get grants approved. Or that should be the case in a not-already-rotten-to-the-core world, anyways.

No, it is the fact that the research question itself, the question that is the basis of a proposal, must be agreeable to the funder. It is only when scientists are delivered from the bonds of funding bodies that real scientific truth finds cracks in the wall to shine through.

But vested interest will convince the average citizen that it is the wall that is the truth, and that the cracks where that painfully blinding light surges through are the aberrations. Holes in a beautiful edifice that must be plugged. With force if necessary, with derision and marginalisation if possible. Science has become the extension, and the excuse, of policy making.

Nowhere is this better observed as it is in the modern man-made global warming myth. Next Thursday UK Channel 4 will air a rather brave and contrary documentary, entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle. Blurb from Channel 4:
The film brings together the arguments of leading scientists who disagree with the prevailing consensus that a 'greenhouse effect' of carbon dioxide released by human activity is the cause of rising global temperatures.
Instead the documentary highlights recent research that the effect of the sun's radiation on the atmosphere may be a better explanation for the regular swings of climate from ice ages to warm interglacial periods and back again.

The reaction to this announcement was swift, as exemplified by this atrociously argued op-ed in the Guardian:
Given that the world's climatologists have just published a careful, sober report showing global warming is real and worrying, the programme is an astonishing foray into the debate.
Careful and sober are not the words I'd chose when describing the recently released IPCC report. First of all, it wasn't the full report, it was the Summary for Policy Makers only. By definition, the SPM cannot be 'careful and sober', because it wouldn't be workable for the intended audience (policy makers, I mean). So we still have to wait and see how the actual science in the IPCC's Forth Assessment will hold up, how careful and sober the science really is. Second, nobody with any sense of the problem is denying that we see a warming trend in the climate. It is real alright. However, the (still unasnwered) question is: Is it all that worrying? And the bigger question, equally unanswered, is: Is it man-made? Around 2 to 6% of the worlds CO2 is human released CO2, but total CO2 represents only a tiny fraction of our atmosphere. Water vapor, greenhouse gas par excellence, encompasses a fraction that is 30 to 120 times of CO2. Should we drain the oceans to stop water evaporating into the atmosphere?
Its contents are largely untrue, for a start. That is Channel 4's problem. Yet a couple of important points do emerge from this nonsense and we should not make the mistake of ignoring them. To back his case, director Martin Durkin interviews climate-change deniers including Phillip Stott, Piers Corbyn, Nigel Calder and Nigel Lawson who reveal their antipathy to the idea we are altering Earth's weather systems.
But what of the contents are exactly 'largely untrue' is conveniently not mentioned. And note how the term 'climate-change deniers' is used. As if it were on par with 'holocaust deniers'.
These names are scarcely unknown. Listeners to Today and viewers of Newsnight have been hearing Stott and the rest promote their views for years. Indeed, they have dominated and distorted the whole global warming debate, a point stressed by Alan Thorpe, head of the Natural Environment Research Council. 'These people are never off the radio or TV, yet now they claim debate is being suppressed? It is preposterous.' So what, we might ask, is the deniers' problem?
The deniers problem may very well be with the way that nobody toeing the party line has the courage to engage these people in a serious scientific debate. These independent minds, lovingly referred to as 'deniers' by the Guardian, may also have a problem with the way there ideas are labeled as 'largely untrue' and 'nonsense' before critics like the Guardian ever take the time to study their ideas.
Examine their movement and you see a common thread: most proponents are elderly, only a few are scientists and several have pronounced pro-market views.
So, all of them are independent of the climate research funds generously handed out by the UN and the EU. And this diminishes their credibility how, exactly? Second, 'only a few are scientists'? Are you sure about this? Or do you mean scientists working in the exact field of climatology? Remember, it took an econometrist with a deep understanding of principal component analysis to thoroughly debunk the Hockeystick Graph the IPCC sold to the people. And they are 'pro-market' too? Say it ain't so!

Inadvertently, the Guardian points to exactly from which corner the actual danger is coming. There's only a limited number of political leanings where 'pro-market' is an indictment. None of these leanings are known for their dedication to individual freedom. All of them want to force the average citizen to behave and think in the way they deem desirable.

Allowing the climate change proponents to get away with this bait 'n switch might be more dangerous to people fond of their own individual freedom and autonomy then one would expect on face value. If you don't believe me (and why should you?), read this through but worrying piece of investigative blogging at Riehl World. It details the menace that Al 'I burn 20 households worth of energy all by my self' Gore and his pals form. And the worrying thing is that the people involved have the deep pockets and the networks within the tranzi machinery of UN and EU to make sure that only those scientific proposals get funded that ask the right questions. Only the questions that the Green Machine wants answered will be answered. Other questions will not be asked for fear that the answers will break the 'narrative'. If they have their way we will witness the demise of science in any real sense. What we're left with will be nothing more then new generations of Lysenko's raised in the politically correct art of scientific sounding ideological drivel that serves no other purpose then the legitimization of a totalitarian system in which Gore and his pals will inhabit the Green Kremlin (2).

(1) Which in themselves are an absolute nightmare. Not only is there an obscene amount of paperwork involved in it (and this is actual paper. As in real cellulose. As in real trees. I shudder to think how many square yards of forest I personally had to sacrifice in my relatively young career). Due to the requisite that any proposal must have somewhere between six and 12 (international) partners means the time you have to spend on herding a pack of cats, I mean scientists, the time involved in getting the whole thing together is as much, if not more, then the time spent on doing actual science. My direct boss, the poor fellow who has to manage everything, spends about 10% of his time on research, the rest is taken up by procedures and forms and meetings about same. In that respect I am lucky. At least I get to spend around 40% of my time on real science.

(2) Read also is outstanding critical piece by Micheal Crichton, accompanying his latest: State of Fear (via LGF)

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