Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Justifiable exclusion or suppression?

So many things to talk about it's hard to know where to begin. One thing is for sure, unlike many people who seem to be able to make a living writing their diary on the internet - all those bloggers who blather interminably and normally crudely about the daily political round - the SSCP lacks sufficient time (though Dulcie would probably disagree) to attend to these sorts of writings. I mean I still have my real book to finish; so how can I be wasting time doodling here?

An article in New Scientist, my absolute favourite science publication, which it is my custom to review over a pint of filthy at my local hostelry (which is on the verge of going out of business it would appear), caught my eye. The author was Lawrence Krauss, who is some kind of physicist often found to be slagging off the faith people in his defence of the rationality of science: he criticized the magazine recently for accepting advertising money from the Templeton Foundation. But that is another story.

In this article he was discussing how the line can be drawn between uncensored, open debate on scientific issues and the exercise of control on the content in these debates. The determining factor should be that the former should be restricted to discussions where there are legitimate scientific differences to discuss. That sounds fair; but exactly who gets to define what is "legitimate" can be the problem. He was relaying the slightly embarrassing, yet highly amusing, tale of how his American Physical Society's Forum on Physics and Society had inadvertently invited a climate change "skeptic" (that means nutter), a certain Christopher Monckton of Brenchley (you know with a name like that you should be wary), to share the stage in a discussion of the accuracy of climate change predictions. The slightly amazing thing is that no one in the publication seemed to be aware who is this Monckton chappie was, even though I have previously exposed him in these very pages. They even addressed him as Dr. Monckton, even though he is no closer to obtaining a PhD than the fellow who delivers my newspaper, with all apologies to the latter if he is an out-of-work Fermi physicist. The wily Monckton wasted no time in seizing his opportunity and now claims to the world that his concocted "evidence" for the absence of climate change has been peer reviewed in a prestigious publication. This is not the case; it was (foolishly) invited, which is way different from enduring the critical eye of review. Worse, political opportunists such as Senator Inhofe are now using this unfortunate blunder as evidence that the American Physical Society is skeptical of climate change. This changes the episode from a slightly amusing gaffe to something of serious consequence. The level of high octane ranting against climate change and alternative energy proponents on the part of the nutty right-wing commentators such as the odious, vile and loathsome Rush Limbaugh, the only person you hear on the radio west of the Mississippi it seems, is truly terrifying. Collectively anyone supporting action against global warming and in favour of alternative energy is part of an extreme liberal, left-wing, Marxist conspiracy to take over the world. The solution according to Limbaugh is simply to drill a bunch of holes.

Although climate change is a pretty hot topic, so to speak, and there are well-funded "skeptics" out there trying to obfuscate the issues with their fake science such as the aforementioned crackpot Monckton, the most popular arena where the boundaries between legitimate discussion and fake science are blurred is undoubtedly evolution. Although the Dover decision may have derailed the Creationist community, operating under the guise of "Intelligent Design," momentarily, like one of those creatures from the horror flicks, it refuses to die completely. This time the approach is even sneakier as the proponents of "ID" (do we really have to continue the pretense?) are pursuing legislation in states like Louisiana that support the "legitimate" questioning of scientific theories in high schools. On the surface it sounds great; I regard skepticism and critical thinking as primary characteristics of a scientific mind. Scratch a little bit deeper and the true motivation of the initiative is revealed: there is really only one theory that is being called into question. Why am I not surprised. So, the story goes, weakness in the scientific theories can be discussed and alternatives (now what might they be?) reviewed, or something like that. So here we are again, pitching millions of man years of research and facts against a few nutty activists and their preconceived ideologies. Is that legitimate debate? I don't think so. Time was, in my naive youth, at the very dawn of ID, which I think emanated from honest men, I would have countenanced the discussion. When ID was hijacked by the Creationist activists and became a weapon in their "wedge of truth" strategy (courtesy of clever but devious creatures like Phillip Johnson (I note in passing that he is a son of Aurora) things changed (trust a lawyer to muddy things up): it's no longer about science, but about social and religious (not even theological) agendas. Nowadays the very mention of ID has me rushing headlong for the porcelain.

1 comment:

Snipper "Book Zeller" said...

They even addressed him as Dr. Monckton, even though he is no closer to obtaining a PhD than the fellow who delivers my newspaper, with all apologies to the latter if he is an out-of-work Fermi physicist.

All the insight, now with 20% more humoUr. SSCP does it again!

You do not think that the work of thousands of scientists for millions of man hours should be debates by a few ideological people claiming that global warming is a fad and/or a cyclical trend? I would have to agree with you on that.