One piece even goes on about climate skeptics not being real skeptics for about three pages before noting in passing that, oh, by the way, if there were, y’know, improprieties in climate research hinted at by that recent e-mail controversy thing, don’t worry because they will of course be dealt with in the time-honored fashion of good science — but that incident is of course no excuse for those ghouls who hate reason to feel encouraged that their nonsense (about the climate situation not being a crisis) should be taken seriously, etc.
There’s a (dare I say it) faith-in-the-scientists problem with organized skepticism — a tendency to think that because the scientific method in its pure form over time gets the best results (which is true), we can already trust the current scientific establishment to have reached sound final conclusions, even on things that aren’t well studied or quite within the speakers’ ostensible areas of expertise. This problem is not an excuse to valorize non-scientific thought nor to throw out all science (any more than the existence of residual mysteries about the universe is a blank check to believe in ghosts and werewolves), but it’s a real problem — akin to making the logical leap from the long-term efficiency of market processes to saying that we can trust in the wisdom of all currently-existing businesses.
The problem is certainly one relevant to my real job, combating unscientific nonsense that is mostly created by real, credentialed (but nonetheless agenda-driven and context-dropping) scientists. I mentioned the problem to a nice skeptic couple I know, and the scientist wife assured me that if there are errors, science quickly weeds them out. I simply don’t believe that anymore (at least not the quickly part, which is key, and not in highly politicized topic areas) — especially once certain rhetorical forms of context-dropping (such as flatly calling things “carcinogens(!)” that are really only “possible carcinogens to some rodents if administered in astonishingly high doses of no relevance to ordinary human exposures”) become so institutionalized that no one feels guilty about using them anymore, be they scientists or university PR departments seeking attention for the latest (likely irrelevant) research, let alone ratings-seeking reporters, who I’m almost starting to feel sorry for, given how irresponsible some of the scientists are. In science as in business: love the process, hate many of the practitioners is increasingly my attitude.
And I must say, I sure felt like I was at work while recently re-reading that passage in Atlas Shrugged in which Dagny tries to get the head of the government science center to admit to the meaninglessness of the center’s vaguely-worded statement condemning Rearden Metal as maybe-possibly-potentially dangerous in some as yet unknown way (my boss has had similar experiences trying to get National Cancer Institute heads to admit that they know industrial chemicals are not a significant source of cancer). Check out the wording of the FDA’s recent worried-sounding yet non-banning announcement regarding the harmless but paranoia-attracting chemical BPA if you don’t think government-fueled weasel-science is slow-motion-eroding industrial civilization before our eyes in much the same way. I worry.