Why Has Politics Got In The Way Of Science?


Politicians tend to prefer things staying the same as regards the balance between those in power and the rest of us. Developments in Science unpredictably throw everything out of balance.

The political ideal, for some, is to keep the people as ignorant as possible whilst reserving all ‘knowledge’ for themselves. The great advantage of the Scientific Method (upon which the whole of the modern world apart from a few minor exceptions is based) combined with a Representative Democracy is that such ambitions are usually frustrated.

When it comes to the current Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) scare it seems that an attack has been launched both on the Scientific Method and on western Representative Democracy.

The Scientific Method involves, amongst other things, the analysis of facts derived from observations, the creation of a hypothesis accounting for them and then the testing of the hypothesis to destruction if need be.

The testing to destruction is integral to the process so any discouragement of those who try to effect such testing is an abuse of the Scientific Method.

There can be no acceptance of any pronouncement that any science is ‘settled’. Even if only one cantankerous and unreasonable individual tries to challenge the received wisdom he or she should be celebrated and respected as a person of integrity with an unshakeable belief in the Scientific Method. Being potentially wrong or misguided must never be a disqualification in the scientific arena.

There can be no abuse of those wishing to test propositions by characterising them as ‘deniers’ or by impugning their motives, disparaging their status (a certain patent clerk called Albert comes to mind) or by depriving them of funds because they do not comply with a predetermined overview. Funds spent just to shore up a preferred conclusion are wasted funds. Privately owned businesses are entitled to waste funds that way but political bodies are not. Use of funds in such a way is a breach of the taxpayer’s trust. They might just as well be spent on advertising or some other form of propaganda. Research funds are only properly directed if they are used to try and overturn an existing scientific proposition. That is how science progresses and the only way it can progress.

Representative Democracy involves the elected representatives doing their best to carry out their responsibilities to the electorate, not going off on ‘frolics’ of their own and especially not giving away their powers to anyone else. The European Union springs to mind but this is not the place to go into that.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is not an elected body. There are many others like it. They straddle the boundary between scientists and policy makers and so are comprised of both. They are not good bedfellows when it comes to representing the interests of an electorate.

The scientist members suffer an illusion that they are better at understanding policy issues than other scientists and the policy maker members suffer an illusion that they understand scientific issues better than other policy makers. Both are seriously deluded but that does not stop them from massaging each other’s egos . Consequently they come to regard themselves as supra governmental rather than inter governmental entities.

Over time, others, especially the media, have come to believe that such people are indeed more knowledgeable and more representative than those who remain as more humble scientists or elected representatives. The media are at fault here in failing to properly understand the structure of their own society. The tempting prospect of increased sales from alarmist statements is too much for them to resist and bodies such as the IPCC are further encouraged by the attention they can get.

The views of organisations such as the IPCC come to be given undue weight and in the particular case of AGW their false status is a godsend to anyone with a suitable agenda who desires to overcome the constraints of normal democratic procedures.

Duly elected politicians, doing their best for their constituents, and more knowledgeable scientists than those who have the time to become political creatures can be readily vilified and discredited for failing to support the third party agenda.

At this point I should make it clear that I do not believe in conspiracy theories so I do not see all this as a malign conspiracy.

History more often follows the rule of unintended consequences. I like the idea of a ‘cockup’ theory of historical change. Most events are not planned or well managed, they just happen.

The AGW scenario is an excellent example of an unintended consequence of setting up intergovernmental bodies outside the political checks and balances of the system of Representative Democracy that has served western civilisation and most other civilisations (if indirectly) very well over the past 500 years.

Bodies such as the IPCC should be consultative only. They are not qualified to make accurate scientific judgements without independent overview and are not qualified to make policy decisions without deferring to proper elected authority yet they are trying to do both.

The IPCC could be said to be in breach of it’s own obligations in taking an inappropriate view of it’s own power and significance and to have acted irresponsibly by accepting the encouragement and support of third party interests seeking to gain from that breach of duty.

The same could and should be said of any other group of individuals with similar dual scientific and political characteristics. I leave it to others to identify the potential breadth of that classification.

Human society is an arena of constant struggle not between workers and owners of capital for the means of production but rather between the masses and authoritarians of every kind.

Marx failed to adequately appreciate the value of the human capital possessed by ordinary people individually. His error was a result of his times when new industrialised means of production appeared to treat workers as just cogs in a machine owned by others. He failed to see that it was merely a temporary situation needed to enable rapid creation of the wealth required to make the whole society rich enough for the value and talent of individuals to become liberated. During the 20th Century western democratic capitalist nations moved on despite Marx and his incomplete ideas and only now in the 21st Century can we see that China, India and other nations are repeating the process.

The planet and human civilisation will only reach sustainability and balance when all nations are rich enough for their populations to voluntarily restrain population growth and individual consumption. As the West has shown, only wealthy nations have ever voluntarily reduced birth rates below replacement level.

Once population growth ceases it becomes easier to restrain per capita consumption and total consumption.

The West has shown that the Scientific Method and Representative Democracy in a Capitalist environment is the only way to achieve that which is required with a minimum of famine or warfare. Such wars and famines as have occurred have always been a result of the activities of authoritarians with the same mindset as those who try to strike fear into us today. In the meantime we will just have to accept a degree of deterioration in the planetary environment because the alternative is far worse, being more likely to defer indefinitely the eventual ideal of worldwide sustainability.

I am not convinced that the environmental issues are as dire as some would have us believe. Someone alive in 1900 would not have believed the populations that the planet could support by the year 2000 with the aid of technology and most in the developed world are now living in much better local environments than their predecessors of 100 years before.

I believe it is a natural process which, in due course, will arrive at a consensual long term worldwide sustainability and I fear that abandonment of the methods used in the West for the past several hundred years will cause the process to stall with dire long term consequences. A series of resource wars and famines combined with many nations condemned to permanent poverty is more likely than anything else to ruin the whole planet.

Those who wish to use the threat of anthropogenic global warming to achieve enhanced political control over the whole planet by hijacking the energy supply are no more likely to be successful than were the founders of the Soviet Union. It seems that many have failed to learn the lessons of history.

Published by Stephen Wilde May 14, 2008

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