The state of the scientists: tension. uncertainty

The National Science Teacher’s Association declined an offer of free DVD’s of Al Gore’s movie. So the organization making the offer decided that the NSTA is in Mobile (evil corp’s) pocket and is offering the DVD to other teachers. Meanwhile, the AGU, a association of scientists working in the fields related to climate change had their national meeting in San Francisco. The meeting of thousands of scientists was an opportunity to feel out background currents of ideas and thoughts about the state of those scientists.

Kate, at Small Dead Animals, made note of Kevin Vrane’s take on American Geophysical Union at Prometheus which in turn referred to the original posting at So what happened at AGU last week?. The reason for links to these three blogs is that it is not only the post that is of interest but the comments from three different blog audiences.

The core of the issue is that of appropriate skepticism and the claims of government censorship versus where the real influence on free expression and debate of important scientific concepts lies.

None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it’s not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we’ve created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say “climate change is right here!” It is to say that a number of climsci people I heard from are not comfortable enough with the science to want our community to push to outsiders an idea that we have fully or even adequately bounded the risk. I heard from a few people a sentiment that we need to stop making assumptions and decisions for decision-makers; that we need to give decision-makers only the unvarnished truth with realistic bounds on our uncertainty, and trust that the decision-makers will know what to do with it. These feelings came of frustration that many of us are downplaying uncertainties for fear of not being listened to.

Some of the comments:

bigTom: “we still have a large fraction of deniers” – note the ad hominem, the rest of his comment goes down the same path of false logic. Contrast to the next …

PhysioProf: “I agree completely with you that our job as scientists is to educate policymakers and the public about (1) what we do is important, (2) nothing we conclude is certain, (3) the degree of certainty that we have concerning particular conclusions. In other words, “honesty is the best policy” for scientists, and let policymakers do what they are good at.”

In other words, there is tension and uncertainty. Scientists need to focus on science but that gets political when it comes to finding funds for their research. Then, when there is high uncertainty on issues of significant importance, the tempations of idealism leads away from the proper intellectual integrity of a scientist.

Comments are closed.