Doomed Planet

One view science policy

Respect for science and Julia Gillard   

I have seen Julia Gillard on TV at least twice demanding that people respect science. I see many problems with this. Firstly, respect is like love, it is freely given or not given at all. As an Anglican you might be expected to give respect to the archbishop of Canterbury, but no call for doing so will change your mind, if you intensely dislike what the bishop is doing. Secondly, Gillard ‘s demand presumes that people do not respect science any more. This is not clear. May I say with sinful pride that mathematics did not seem to have lost any respect in the layman’s eye or in the eye of any educated man, it is as much admired now, as it was in times of Archimedes and Eratosthenes. Eratosthenes was the first man to measure the length of the Earth meridian. The simplicity, ingenuity and beauty of his argument is still admired now about two thousand years later, and other sciences, like medicine or space engineering, shine as much as ever. 

Gillard’s view of science is dogmatically narrow, typically for a left wing politician, she sees science as a leading light for her administration of the society. Then, naturally, she regards as science only those parts of human knowledge which suit her purposes. Exactly as in the failed Soviet Union. 

In particular, for her, science equates with climate change science. Her call for respect will be in vain. A natural question arises, why the climate change practitioners do not command respect and why this lack of respect rubs onto other sciences. 

I believe the main reason is that real science is marked by an unquenchable thirst for objective scientific truth, regardless of consequences. Many scientists suffered for their beliefs, Galileo comes to mind as a striking example. There was no material gain for Copernicus or Einstein for their epoch making discoveries. In contrast, the public now sees many scientists engaging in political debate in pursuit of huge research grants. 

My view is that the money is wasted. It is obvious that your research will be more likely supported, if your project is about extinction of a never heard of a frog in a forgotten valley rather than the beneficial influence of carbon dioxide on the harvest of wheat in a cold climate. 

Traditional science was not subservient to the rulers, on the contrary, the governments were interested in scientific truth, at least until the emergence of totalitarian regimes. 

There are, of course, other more practical reasons too. The power of scientific prediction has been impressive in astronomy, physics, chemistry and medicine. In contrast, the so called climate change science is marked by spectacular failures in prediction, be it actual earth temperature, sea level rises, catastrophic shortages of drinking water, snow falls in Britain or the melting of Himalayan glaciers. 

Without being cynical, with such failures of prediction, people might prefer to use a clairvoyant rather than a climate change professor. Respect is now hopelessly lost.

For me the most disappointing aspect of the global warming issue has been the actions of a large number, and majority, of scientific societies and organisations in supporting the alarmism. 

It is my belief that scientific bodies should not speak on political or policy issues because of the inevitably wide variety of political views that are held by their members. Nonetheless many organisations have supported the warming scare, with some of the views being anathemas to scientific liberty and ethics, for example the Royal Society’s attempts to prevent funding of climate change sceptics. Another recent example is the Nobel prize winner who resigned his membership of the American Physics Society in protest against the public stand taken by it on climate change. 

To me it sounds unbelievable, but the leading Australian scientific organisation CSIRO expected one of its staff to submit a paper for management approval before publication. When he did not oblige, he was forced to resign (despite the fact the paper was peer reviewed and thus approved as sound by professional peers). 

Science in totalitarian states that exercise control like this is not widely respected, but rather despised as an arm of oppressive government.

It is very sad but it seems that totalitarian attitudes towards the use (or rather misuse) of science on behalf of the state are on an unstoppable rise in Australia, as reflected in PM Gillard’s comment on the matter. Let us hope that the Coalition, should they get a chance, will restore a measure of balance and common sense to the way that the government funds scientific research and solicits science policy advice.



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