Climate change, hacked emails and why it really doesn’t matter
In a recent WSJ blog, Mike Hulme said
“The problem […] with getting our relationship with science wrong is simple: We expect too much certainty, and hence clarity, about what should be done. Consequently, we fail to engage in honest and robust argument about our competing political visions and ethical values.”
Let me put my credentials on the table first of all.
I’m not a climate scientist, a hacker or a philosopher. I believe that climate change is anthropogenic, without being able to have a very informed debate on the subject. I believe that some scientists have been indiscreet in committing some of their views and intentions to email, but I also believe it was wrong to steal the emails and publish them out of context.
The thing is, it just doesn’t matter.
We are watching a group of scientists behave like scientists. Dissent, resentment, emotion, political behaviour, bias and withholding of information are absolutely part of the scientific process. Just remember Huxley, Darwin and Wallace.
Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, sums up the issue perfectly in the following quotation:
“The proliferation of competing articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals, all these are symptoms of a transition from normal to extraordinary research.”
Anthropogenic climate change is not just normal science – it is a new paradigm – a final acknowledgement that humans step heavily enough on the earth for the earth to react. We are still in the early days of a collective intuitive leap to a different view of our effect on the world. Change is frightening, and it is not in the least surprising that people go to excessive lengths to either promote or deny the change. It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily wrong – that’s not logic.
As Kuhn also says,
“If any and every failure to fit were ground for theory rejection, all theories ought to be rejected at all times.”
Don’t use dissent and denial as a convenient reason to reject the science – understand the process. I give Mike Hulme the last word:
“If climategate leads to greater openness and transparency in climate science, it will have done a good thing.”