David Hines
Dear scientists in the headlights
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By David Hines
December 18, 2009

The revelations of fraud by climatologists have wider repercussions than may at first be apparent.

The reaction by proponents of the Copenhagen accord are educational. Top officials have said that though the methodology has been shown to be fraudulent, the conclusions reached are nevertheless sound. Despite the bad press from the revelations, they say, there are hopes that the political agenda can be carried forward.

This is about as frank an admission as politicians can manage that it's not about science but rather about politics. Reinforcing that perception is the fact that politicians are more concerned about researching who leaked the damning e-mails than discovering how fraudulent the science is.

Some fear that the event will call into question the entire concept of technocratic rule. On the left especially, there has been a call to trust bureaucrats to operate government according to what are presumably scientific principles. This would supposedly eliminate political corruption and political influence, entrusting government to a scientific/bureaucratic priesthood. But if the science is demonstrably false, that entire paradigm falls apart.

Heretofore, failures of technocratic regulation have been framed as a partisan issue. If only we get "our" technocrats in so they do it according to the science, we're told, the system will work well. This assumes that the science is correct and has been all figured out.

But science is never all figured out. It's always subject to revision.

Because of his fame, Aristotle's circumference of the earth was accepted even unto the time of Columbus, though the estimate of Eratosthenes was more accurate.

Because of his éclat, Lord Kelvin's estimate of the age of the earth — 100 million years — was considered Gospel. It was calculated using heat dissipation from the earth's core since creation. Though his calculations were meticulous and were based upon the best science available, they assumed that no heat is added. Kelvin was unaware of radioactivity.

The genius of Newton settled physics for a long time, then Einstein came along. Now Einstein is being challenged.

Can we safely assume that all such surprises are behind us? No matter how competent and honest the technocrat, his system is built upon assumptions. With government programs those assumptions must include not just physical science but also the reactions of people. The technocrat must master such diverse and contentious fields as psychology, microeconomics, etc.This is a tall order, and the system must be subject to constant revision. No expert can master all the necessary fields of study, least of all people's reactions. There is no gene identified as the driver of people's economic decisions, no determinative matrix of how and what they'll buy. Even the most accomplished technocrat can't account for personal taste. With an incomplete data set all calculations are merely estimates; the pretense of scientific certainty is merely a cover for guesswork.

The recent revelations of fraud demonstrate that the science behind technocracy is not the least bit settled. Rather, it is manipulated by political ideology. This is what concerns politicians. The e-mail hacker must be found and severely punished, else other false science pushing political agendas might be revealed at inopportune times.

People's trust in technocracy has been shaken. That's as it should be. Coercive policy, even driven by accurate science, is an iffy proposition. The necessity of constant revision conflicts with the hard-coding of bureaucratic regulation. Coercive policy driven by politicized pseudoscience is an abomination. It calls into question all science, making mysticism and ignorant speculation seem more attractive by comparison. Is that really the direction we should be going?

Science is already mingled with politics. Matters of funding influence what research is pursued and what is ignored. It's very dangerous and foolish to let the two intermingle completely in the hidden recesses of lab computers and the halls of Congress. When science becomes as sleazy as politics, we may all have that "deer in the headlights" feeling.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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