Enough has been revealed, written and said about “Climate-gate” for me to be alarmed. And the alarm is about more than what our global weather is or is not doing. In this country especially, science and scientists have been elevated to a god-like status. There should be little argument that humanity’s pursuit of understanding how the physical universe works has led to hundreds of years of scientific discovery and consequential inventions. Science and scientists can honestly claim credit for truly immense improvements in health, agricultural productivity and material well-being for all of us. They are our go-to people for mastery and application of the scientific method, the methodology for gaining usable knowledge about our world. At times, science has also challenged our myths and beliefs. It has revealed facts about our history and the development of our societies and cultures. It has helped us know who we are. And the reason we have given such exalted status to science is that it has proven for the most part to be reliable. It has given us predictable and repeatable results, most of the time.
However, science and its methodologies are not infallible. Scientific theories are built from observations. Then those theories are tested against more observations. Scientific peers independently test the theories and observations of other scientists. It is this process that builds confidence the results are usable, if not necessarily 100% certain. Throughout history, there have been major shifts in humankind’s understanding of the universe. Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein are a few of many thinkers who have said, “Sorry, but our universe is different than we thought yesterday.” If scientists are honest they shy away from claiming certainty. They know they may not have all the observations needed, or their techniques and methods are not as reliable as required. These shifts and uncertainties are a normal part of doing “good” science. And if the principles of good science are followed, high confidence in the results can be maintained.
Science is corruptible. Conducting science with honesty and integrity is hard enough. But when those entrusted to hold to the rigorous and high principles of science begin to ignore or falsify observations, trust quickly turns to rejection. When bogus articles are quoted as truth without peer review or verification, doubt is born. And when we realize those who we trusted have hidden observations that are contrary to their theories, we also realize the scientists, their work and their conclusions are false. When they attack those who question their statements, the alarms go off.
Scientists have taught us a lot about how dynamic our planet is. Despite great expenditures of time and money, predicting Mother Nature, be it hurricanes or earthquakes, or even local weather, varies wildly from sometimes good, to sometimes iffy, to downright impossible. Our scientists may be getting better at predicting, but there is still a very long way to go. And that is in the situation where the scientists are trying to be honest. Virtually every sector of our society is dependent on having honesty and integrity in the underlying science. Imagine how we would feel if medical research was shown to have been falsified. We probably wouldn’t be so eager to get a flu shot or take our prescribed drugs. Our government has established regulatory and economic policies in medicine, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, education, construction, and other areas based on what has been learned from the underlying science. We might not buy that car if we knew it was safety tested using faulty scientific methods. We wouldn’t be eager to trust a physician’s opinion without confidence in their knowledge.
Seemingly in the blink of an eye, one whole sector of our scientific establishment is now discredited. That doesn’t mean every scientist was part of the scam. Many, if not most, were probably not. But being on the outside, how does the public know what is truth and what is not? There seems to be a vacuum of information and action by agencies and organizations who should be watching out for us. Right now our government doesn’t appear to be interested in correcting the situation. My guess is they drank the Kool-aid of the Climate-gate folks. They need to get back to some good science. If they don’t, the question can easily become, “Where else is honesty and integrity missing?” For me, I think I will dust off my copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac for the time being.