The Ham Hock of Liberty

Thursday, July 20, 2006


This article by Peggy Noonan was actually published in the Wall Street Journal. This is, amazingly, the type of logic and argument that shapes our discourse, and to a lesser extent, policy-making:

You would think the world's greatest scientists could do this, in good faith and with complete honesty and a rigorous desire to discover the truth. And yet they can't. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized.

All too many of them could be expected enter this work not as seekers for truth but agents for a point of view who are eager to use whatever data can be agreed upon to buttress their point of view.

And so, in the end, every report from every group of scientists is treated as a political document. And no one knows what to believe. So no consensus on what to do can emerge.

Figuring out where to start untangling this logical, factual and rhetorical mess makes the Gordian Knot look like a shoelace. There is no serious debate that climate change is happening, that it's been happening incredibly rapidly, on a geological scale. There's no actual debate that increased levels of CO2 and assorted "greenhosue gases" in the atmosphere can trap the earth's infrared radiation. And it's almost self-evident that increased population, increased power consumption and decreasing forestation all increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Dramatically.

But because partisans, ideologues, and those with vested economic interests in the continued output of CO2 would like to confuse people such as Peggy Noonan, for their own self-interests, a fictitious "debate" gets created almost out of whole cloth in the popular media. In the scientific, peer-reviewed media, of course, the debate ended long ago. And so you end up with opinions like La Noonan's, which are notably free of references to exactly -which- scientists are "politicized," or how the conclusions of individuals and groups with no identifiable bias or self-interest are unreliable. But Peggy reads the Journal's editorials and concludes that there's still a disagreement. As a coup de grace, she blames "scientists" for her inability to distinguish fact from fiction, because she doesn't believe they're speaking with a unified voice.

They are, Peggy. The Journal editorial writers are not, but the scientific community is. If it hasn't been made clear by now, someone with a masters or even PhD can be found to advance almost -any- proposition, if someone else is sufficiently motivated to find a "scientist" to advance a claim that person wants advanced. Witness the "debate" about the causal link between cigarettes and lung cancer, and how long it took to overcome the mud thrown up in the air by the industry that had a vested interest in denying that causal link. This "debate" is no different, and as long as useful idiots like Peggy Noonan are given column inches in widely-read newspapers, we'll continue merrily digging our own graves.


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