Guest Submission by Susan Salisbury
Liberal writers, bloggers and Democratic politicians and Bill Clinton all seem to agree this election season that you can’t be nominated for President in the Republican party unless you “deny science”. The latest uproar is about Rick Perry, but Governor Palin has been subject to such caricatures as well. The problem in debating these issues is that many liberals seem to have no understanding of science. That is, they know about titles and universities and studies but they don’t understand what the practice of science is all about.
But people who really understand science know that Republicans are the true pro-science people because they understand that science is about evidence and theories that try to explain the evidence. Further, Republicans understand that when theories don’t account for all of the evidence, more work needs to be done before any drastic actions are taken. Republicans are comfortable living in the tension of acknowledging that they don’t know everything and that experts can be wrong, while some of the liberal commentariat seems to have a need to pretend to know everything there is to know and need to believe that modern scientific knowledge is static and doesn’t change.
Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize winner and a great physicist whose work in quantum mechanics is credited with creating that field of study had a gift for explaining complex scientific concepts in words that lay people could understand. He was an irreverent pioneer who believed that irreverence was a basic requirement for being a real scientist.
In addressing a convention of science teachers in 1966, Feynman said that “I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”
In another series of lectures Feynman described what science is at greater length when he talked about the process of how physical laws are discovered in The Character of Physical Law (published in 1965)
“In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is.”
Again and again, Feynman emphasized that there is no true science by consensus and there are always questions that remain to be asked. Science is not about how many votes your theory gets, it is about what explanation best fits all the data that we have.
And that is the rub when it comes to climate science. The people who want to impose billions of dollars of burden on the world’s economies in order to limit carbon dioxide, a gas which is essential to all life on earth, seem not to understand that the fact that the inability of the global warming scaremongers to accurately predict future events means their theories are wrong. The scaremongers said that sea levels would continue rising until whole islands were inundated. We now know that sea levels have been falling since 2009. Global emissions of CO2 have gone up, but atmospheric temperatures have not. And volunteers armed with cameras and tape measures have proved that most of the surface station measurements in the United States, at least, are probabably inaccurate because the measuring stations are placed too close to heat sources.
What apparently the majority of Americans understand, but the elitist press does not, is that, as time goes on, more and more legitimate questions have been raised about the scientific validity of the work done by scientists who claim that man made global warming is a problem.
Another gotcha game being played by liberal journalists is the “evolution” question. Liberal commenters ask questions as if evolutionary theory has not changed from the time of Charles Darwin and as if there is really nothing more to learn about it. That could not be further from the truth.
When Rick Perry says that evolution is a theory that has a lot of gaps in it, he is making a fairly accurate statement about the present state of evolutionary theory. Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary paleobiology at the University of Cambridge, in a short essay describes the biggest gap– the inability of evolutionary theory to adequately explain the development of human consciousness, of altruism, of imagination and creativity. He is not alone. Many scientists, both Christian and non-Christian have questioned what Morris calls ultra-Darwinists. This is, in truth, a complex subject that many real scientists have grappled with. Underlying much of the liberal criticism of this departure from the ultra Darwinist, cultic belief that evolutionary theory explains everything, is a belief that evolutionary theory somehow proves that God doesn’t exist. Yet as Francis Collins, the director of the human genome project and a devout Christian often says, there is no conflict between Christian belief and evolutionary theory. The liberals who hurl these anti-science accusations based on evolutionary theory know very little about evolutionary theory and even less about Christian theology. While they claim that conservatives are injecting religion into scientific and political issues, it is the liberals who are doing so by asking Republicans, but not Democrats about their beliefs.
The belief of some liberals that “smart” people don’t believe in God is disproved by, among other things, the Society of Ordained Scientists, an organization for practicing and accomplished scientists who are also ordained clergy. When I first learned about this group, by reading about John Polkinghorne a professor of elementary particle physics at Cambridge who became an Anglican Priest, I thought there could not be more than a handful of members in a society with such high membership standards, but I was wrong. It has dozens of members all over the world. There are many more scientists, not ordained, who are believers in God also. So, how does belief in God somehow mean one is anti-science?
As Richard Feynman said in many lectures, keeping an open mind is one of the most important characteristics of a real scientist. There is no settled science of anything. In just the last few weeks, some scientists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland announced that they may have discovered particles that travel faster than the speed of light. If there was ever a consensus of scientists on an issue, the inability of anything to travel faster than the speed of light was it. Even these scientists don’t believe what they are seeing. But they are scientists, so they are reporting it as Feynman would have them do and are asking for comments, insights and contrary data.
In contrast to conservatives who are able to live in the tension of not knowing everything in the world, the liberal attitude toward science is too often what Feynman described as Cargo Cult science in a 1974 commencement address. If Feynman hadn’t given the speech in 1974, long before the global warming controversy ever arose, a reader might be forgiven for thinking that Feynman was obliquely referring to the current controversy about climate science when he gave it. Feynman describes where the term “Cargo Cult Science” came from:
“In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo-cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.”
This commencement address by Feynman is well worth reading today. Even 35 years ago, Feynman was criticizing pseudo-scientists who were refusing to publish results that didn’t match what they had hoped to find, who were running experiments which were not set up properly and were more interested in obtaining government funding than advancing scientific inquiry and learning. Sounds a lot like Climate-gate. Too many of those who criticize Republicans for their alleged “anti-science” attitude know nothing about how science works and are unwilling to recognize the corrupting effect that billions of dollars in government funding for research may have had and may still be having on the scientific endeavor. People who refuse to see the reality of what happened with regard to the science of climate change have closed minds and pay more attention to the white coats and the important titles than to the evidence. Even some liberal scientists have strongly criticized the manmade global warming believers.
Because of the ability of the LSM to ignore tons of evidence, it will be up to us, to question, challenge and refudiate the charge that we are anti-science. In addition to pointing out that consensus is not science, we can point out that many thousands of credentialed scientists have dissented from the man made global warming theory and that we have to guard against scaremongers who don’t have a sound scientific basis for their far-reaching policy prescriptions.
Susan Salisbury: Republicans Support Real Science Not Snake Oil
Written on:September 30, 2011
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