09 February 2010

Jerry Ravetz on Climategate

Jerry Ravetz, a giant among scholars in the history and philosophy of science and someone who I am happy to call a friend and colleague, has written a thoughtful essay on the remarkable events that have unfolded in climate science of recent months. Here is an excerpt:

The total assurance of the mainstream scientists in their own correctness and in the intellectual and moral defects of their critics, is now in retrospect perceived as arrogance. For their spokespersons to continue to make light of the damage to the scientific case, and to ignore the ethical dimension of Climategate, is to risk public outrage at a perceived unreformed arrogance. If there is a continuing stream of ever more detailed revelations, originating in the blogosphere but now being brought to a broader public, then the credibility of the established scientific authorities will continue to erode. Do we face the prospect of the IPCC reports being totally dismissed as just more dodgy dossiers, and of hitherto trusted scientists being accused of negligence or worse? There will be those who with their own motives will be promoting such a picture. How can it be refuted?

And what about the issue itself? Are we really experiencing Anthropogenic Carbon-based Global Warming? If the public loses faith in that claim, then the situation of science in our society will be altered for the worse. There is very unlikely to be a crucial experience that either confirms or refutes the claim; the post-normal situation is just too complex. The consensus is likely to depend on how much trust can still be put in science. The whole vast edifice of policy commitments for Carbon reduction, with their many policy prescriptions and quite totalitarian moral exhortations, will be at risk of public rejection. What sort of chaos would then result? The consequences for science in our civilisation would be extraordinary.

Jerry's article is thoughtful and worth your time. Jerry sends another strong message as well with his choice of venues where he chose to publish the essay.