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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Use and Misuse of Science -- Global Warming

In my last blog, I talked about a particular misuse of language/linguistics by Work and Pensions in the UK, that is, by a government ministry. In this case it was the use of Voice Stress Analysis devices to ferret out fraudulent benefits claims. The problem is that Voice Stress Analysis devices have been proved in at least one study to be slightly less than 2/3rds accurate In this blog I want to turn to another story in the Guardian Unlimited that describes a misuse of science that is even more pernicious..

The headline of the story of interest is "Scientists issue bleak forecast for warming world." In this case a panel of scientists put together a report on climate change for the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change though only one author, Neil Adger, a scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, is identified, but others appear to have been involved.

The misuse of science that this article describes consists off governments revising the results of scientific research and thinking for purely political reasons. The article says,
"release was delayed by arguments between the scientists, who wrote a draft based on published evidence, and some government representatives present, who must agree the final text and insisted some of its conclusions were watered down."
This is a misuse of science that is very, very troubling. For some time, the Bush Administration routinely issued papers downplaying the dangers of global warming and the role of humans in generating greenhouse gases. In one notorious case, a scientific report on global warming was edited by a Bush Administration official who had no scientific training. When this fact was made known, he was forced to leave the government but immediately got a job with an oil company, as the article just referenced and Gore's movie/speech both mentioned. We expect the minions of George Bush to do this sort of thing because the truth is always subordinated to the interests of business in his administration. But it is especially disturbing to discover that the UN is not above issuing reports edited to suit the interests of specific governments. The UN does not have a lot of credibility as it is. Thanks to this action, it has less.

There is an inevitable conflict between science and government. Scientists need the funds governments can provide to do their research. Unfortunately, these scientists must often kowtow to the governments that support them when they deliver up the products of their research. The Soviet Union practiced this sort of thing on a daily basis. But it is one thing for scientists working on contracts to develop weapons funded by the defense department to stick to the specifications the defense department gives them but quite another when scientists funded to do research that assesses dangers to the human race, to say nothing of the planet as a whole, are forced to revise their work to satisfy political concerns before publication. It is especially disturbing when it happens at the international level.

The most telling feature of Gore's movie/speech is that a study of randomly selected articles on climate change showed that every single one of them were of the opinion that global warming is a reality and that we humans are contributing to it but a study of the news media shows that half or more (can't remember exactly) of the stories on global warming represented scientists as split on the issue. This is a rather frightening prospect when you think of it. The oil companies and others with an interest in maintaining the status quo in regard to the production of energy for transportation, industry, and the heating and cooling of buildings and our homes seem to have had more influence in determining public opinion on climate change than have scientists. I urge everyone who has not seen Gore's movie to do so. It is surprisingly entertaining considering Gore's reputation for being as charming as your average statue.

Let me remind you all of one thing. The human race has just one option as a home. Though I love to watch Battlestar Gallactica and selected other scifi shows, it is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light or to "jump" from one place in the universe to another. Therefore it is impossible for us to pick up and move to another planet. In fact, right now, we know of no other planet that we can move to. So, for two reasons, if not more, we are stuck on Earth. It would be the height of folly for humans to make Earth inhospitable for human life.

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1 Comments:

Blogger SusieQ said...

LG, if you did not get a chance to watch the global climate change debate on C-Span 2 today between Gingrich and Kerry, you can watch the video replay which you can get at the C-Span website.

I was very impressed with the caliber of the debate and the bipartisanship of both men. I now know much more about the global warming problem and the possible solutions than I did before.

12:21 AM

 

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