“The science is settled.”
~Al Gore, creator of the internet
It’s becoming an incessant catchphrase. More and more frequently, this simple statement is used as conversational pepper-spray to discourage contention and dissuade any who would continue to press their objection to the status quo. Those foolhardy enough to persist in their dissent are often labeled science-deniers; which in today’s culture of scientism, is tantamount to being branded with the Scarlet Periodic Symbol and cast from the village.
We’re told that the science is settled on a myriad of issues. Settled science has definitively shown that sexuality is genetic and immutable…except when it isn’t. Closely related is the settled scientific fact that gender is a social construct and open for molding, changing, redefining, or even ignoring. The science around evolutionary theory and its ability to demonstrate that all living beings are descended from a common ancestor was settled long ago, so we’re told. Not yet settled is what this common ancestor might have been, where all of its fossils are located (also missing are the fossils of any of its tens of thousands of mutant descendants), or how genetic mistakes could proceed toward greater complexity when we observe the exact opposite progression in our day.
We’ve been assured that the science is quite settled regarding a fetus being merely a blob of cells, devoid of any nerve endings, personality, or consciousness; unless the pregnancy is desired, at which point the blob of cells somehow becomes a pre-born human, able to be named and celebrated. And of course, the science was long ago settled on the actuality of climate change (formerly global warming) being REAL, brought about by evil mankind and the flatulence of cows.
So we’ve heard that all of this science is settled and no longer open for discussion or scientific inquiry, but how exactly did this come to be? How does science become settled, after all? In a fascinating clip, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently engaged with the head of one of the largest and most influential environmentalist organizations during a hearing on Capitol Hill. If you haven’t watched the exchange, it’s well worth your time.
Aaron Mair, Sierra Club President, does a wonderful job of exposing precisely how bare the intellectual cupboards of settled Science really are. If the Science is definitively settled, it should be able to hold up under scrutiny and examination, yes? When Sen. Cruz brings up the fact that data transmitted via satellite shows that we are in a sustained period of no warming activity on Earth, Mr. Mair is so reluctant to countenance this fact that he refuses to even acknowledge the existence of the data, which has been widely-accepted by people on both sides of the issue.
Instead, Mair retreats behind a bulwark of scientific consensus, as if communal agreement could replace the veracity of empirical observation. Mair trots out a shop-worn mantra in which he affirms his solidarity with “97% of scientists” who agree that global warming is in fact occurring. He repeats it robotically for the rest of the dialogue, doing substantial damage to his position in his intransigence, but it does raise some interesting questions. Is he referring to 97% of all the scientists in the world? Turns out, he is not. The consensus to which he is referring was drawn from a 2-question online survey answered by slightly more than 3,000 scientists. That’s still a somewhat substantial group though, right? I mean, it’s nowhere near 97% of all the scientists in existence, as he tries to infer, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, as long as all of these scientists are climatologists or have some climate-related specialty. But unfortunately, only 5% of these respondents are actual climate scientists, or so they self-report. Okay, not as impressive, but if 97% of all of the climate experts agree, that’s still something! Buuuuuut, the 97% number was taken from a subset of the subset who were (again self-reportedly) climate scientists and who had 50% of their work on climate change peer-reviewed….
So this subset of the subset ends up being a group of just 79 scientists.
The head of the Sierra Club rests his case for anthropogenic global warming on the online response of 79 (self-reporting) climate scientists.
Sounds preposterous, but this is apparently more than enough for the settlement of a scientific issue in our day. What typically happens is that a political agenda emerges which has to be foisted on the populace. It has to be foisted because it is usually against the best interests of the citizenry and serves to benefit a) the politicians foisting the issue, b) some special interest group who funded the politician’s campaign, or c) both. The politicians find a cause which will provide adequate emotional cover for their unpopular agenda and they ask the sheep to begin their incessant bleating: “4 miles-per-gallon GOOOD, 2 miles-per-gallon BAAAAAD.” The sheep commence immediately because, well they’re sheep and they do what they’re told. The emotional cause, and the political agenda which it conceals, are never logical or helpful, so any honest inquiry will be viewed as a threat. The easiest way to forestall investigation is to go on the offense, ergo if you question the settled science you are a modern-day Luddite who denies science itself.
As Saul Alinski once wrote, “Ridicule is man’s greatest weapon.”
One wonders what the infamous David Hume would’ve thought of this political strategy. According to the 18th century philosopher from Scotland, not even empirical knowledge and inductive reasoning are “settled,” so how much less settled is scientific observation based on this knowledge and reasoning? He argued that one could drop an apple from your hand 500 times, watching it fall and hit the ground each time, yet remain unable to definitively assert that it will not fall up the 501st time you drop it. His theory suggests that because we don’t completely understand the dynamics at work in the world around us, we cannot simply assume that because something has always done X that it will continue to do so tomorrow. If I see a fruit I’ve never tasted before, the only way I could know what it tastes like is to compare it to fruit which is similar in appearance and I’ve eaten. However, this assumes a correlation between fruit of similar appearance and this is not a definitive assumption. Short of being all-knowing, I have no way to know or predict anything with any certainty, Hume reasoned. To introduce Hume to the question at hand, actually settling the science would be predicated on Mr. Mair having acquired omniscience (something only our President would have the chutzpah to lay claim to).
Hume’s skepticism effectively crippled philosophy for quite a while and is just not actionable, so I don’t want to seem as if I agree with him or support his conclusions. But I do appreciate the question which he raises: upon what right can we claim to have arrived at a definitive scientific understanding? How have we gained an omniscient understanding of our planet and the climate, which would be necessary to suggest that any further inquiry is opposed to science itself? What key breakthrough or revolutionary research have we uncovered to justify the conviction that human sexuality is genetic and immutable? Ironically, an accidental repercussion of this position is that by ignoring the stringency of Hume and stating that the natural laws are immutable enough to end all further investigation, these ascientists are tacitly acknowledging an absolute order to the universe. In a sense, they are disavowing the spontaneous and capricious Mother Nature, who supposedly brought us the Universe, deviant sexuality, genetic mutation, et al, by random variation and chance.
Like most of the rhetorical positions taken by modern liberalism, anyone who holds the view that science is settled will soon find that he’s painted himself into a corner and the only method of extrication is a trail of gaudy footprints left behind as he is forced to trample over the intellectual paintjob which he gurgitated previously. In other words, a belief that the science has been settled on global warming, or any other issue, also requires belief in an absolute order in the universe which could underpin the immutable natural laws necessary to justify the end of further scientific inquiry. However much of modern liberal thought is founded on relativism and subjective morality, both of which are incompatible with a universe sustained by absolute forces.
So it turns out that the only thing settled is the fact that the hacks who peddle this catchphrase are charlatans running a shell game with our money. Call me a science-denier all you please, but I remain convinced that any legitimate, worthwhile science will stand up under scrutiny and that those who discourage honest inquiry are dealing from the bottom of the deck.
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