Since the IPCC festival begins this week, I’m alternating posts like this with the series started yesterday.
In this thing called Science, just as in other human affairs, one can act in good or bad taste. You wouldn’t go to a fancy dinner party, a political fund raiser with The One for instance, and eat your salad with a soup spoon. People would titter and think you a rube. (They would still cash your check.)
Likewise, in Science, if one proposes a theory and makes predictions with it, and those predictions turn out to be a bust, you should not continue touting the theory. Do so and as you walk down the hall your colleagues would whisper “Graduate student” and giggle like cheerleaders as you pass by.
You’d only be compound the error and make a spectacle of yourself if you went on the lecture circuit (trips funded by Government) and said things like, “Other people beside me believe in my theory!” People would think you thought mere agreement trumped observation! Nothing more anti-science than that. You’d have to go into hiding.
Matters are different in Politics. Whatever you say is not expected to accord with reality, but with desire. A politician must say what he guesses his audience wishes to hear and not what he himself believes to be true. Thus a man will not write a solicitation to Leviathan admitting he has doubts about the theory because Leviathan says it will only reward those who profess ardent agreement. So the scientist writes the grant saying he believes, figuring that if he gets the money he can do good things with it. The scientist becomes the politician: his words accord with desire and not reality.
Leviathan doesn’t particularly care if the theory is true but it knows that claiming it is allows Leviathan to do the only thing it has ever wanted to do: which is grow. Thus it will wag its thick finger at the populace and say the theory implies a “significant health threat”, even though the health of the populace has been improving. Point this out and Leviathan replies, “I didn’t say now. I meant health will deteriorate in the future. Unless I may grow.”
Few question how feeding the beast will kill the theory. It doesn’t matter, because many clever people see the opportunity for what it is and seek to join forces with the beast. They figure that once they gain the money and power which this alliance entails they will do real science with it. These folks underestimate the rapacity, the unlimited appetite of Leviathan.
They also don’t recognize what this compromise does to their souls. Whereas before they would have roundly and rightly and scientifically denounced the theory—and not the man holding it—as being false because it does not accord with observations, they now seek for any scrap of evidence no matter how thin or meager which implies the theory might be true. Alternate evidence which casts grave doubts on, or even damns, the theory is ignored. These politicians with scientific credentials will say, “It is not that the theory might be false, but that it might be true which is important,” a statement nearly empty of content.
This isn’t devious behavior; indeed, it comes from kindness. It is the natural result of one friend helping another. These supporters are friends with Leviathan, which has clothed and fed him and flown them to exotic locations to speak in front of flattering crowds who write down their words. Saying that the theory which Leviathan loves might be true is the least they can do. Besides, they reason, good science is still being done. No harm has been done.
But these folks have forgotten the True Believers, the ones who are so convinced in the truth and beauty of the theory that no amount of evidence will ever convince them to abandon it. The True Believers take the lukewarm statements of the politician-scientists as wholehearted support. There are never many True Believers, but their ardency, encouraged by lack of criticism, makes up for their lack of numbers.
They go after dissent and punish it. Take the typical case of Chris de Freitas who “dared to publish a peer-reviewed article” which suggested the theory might not be true. True Believers “mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas…fired from his university position.”
In no possible way or interpretation is this the behavior of scientists acting for truth. It is pure politics. This tells us the only possible way to kill a false theory is to wound or distract Leviathan, the beast which feeds belief. Only nobody knows how to do this.