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posted by n1 on Thursday October 30 2014, @04:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the taking-personal-responsibility-for-humanities-failings dept.

The NYT reports that Naomi Oreskes, an historian of science at Harvard University, is attracting wide notice these days for a work of science fiction called “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future,” that takes the point of view of an historian in 2393 explaining how “the Great Collapse of 2093” occurred. “Without spoiling the story,” Oreskes said in an interview, “I can tell you that a lot of what happens — floods, droughts, mass migrations, the end of humanity in Africa and Australia — is the result of inaction to very clear warnings” about climate change caused by humans." Dramatizing the science in ways traditional nonfiction cannot, the book reasserts the importance of scientists and the work they do and reveals the self-serving interests of the so called “carbon combustion complex” that have turned the practice of science into political fodder.

Oreskes argues that scientists failed us, and in a very particular way: They failed us by being too conservative. Scientists today know full well that the "95 percent confidence limit" is merely a convention, not a law of the universe. Nonetheless, this convention, the historian suggests, leads scientists to be far too cautious, far too easily disrupted by the doubt-mongering of denialists, and far too unwilling to shout from the rooftops what they all knew was happening. "Western scientists built an intellectual culture based on the premise that it was worse to fool oneself into believing in something that did not exist than not to believe in something that did."

Why target scientists in particular in this book? Simply because a distant future historian would target scientists too, says Oreskes. "If you think about historians who write about the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the collapse of the Mayans or the Incans, it's always about trying to understand all of the factors that contributed," Oreskes says. "So we felt that we had to say something about scientists."

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30 2014, @06:24PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30 2014, @06:24PM (#111621)

    Err ... maybe you should re-read the summary. She doesn't blame the messenger for delivering the message. She blames the messenger (whether correctly or incorrectly) for bringing the message not clearly enough.

    So, to make an analogy:

    The messenger, as she would wish for: The enemy will attack in a week! We must be prepared!
    The messenger, as she claims the scientists do: The enemy might attack, possibly in a week, but we can't say for sure. But we better are prepared.

    Of course, I'd say if the king dismisses the second message because, after all, it isn't absolutely sure that the enemy will attack, it's still the king's fault if the enemy attacks and the country isn't prepared.

    And anyway, the truth is that the real messengers all say that the enemy will attack (they slightly disagree on how the strength of the enemy's army, though), but the enemy has sent out his own false messengers telling that there will be no attack, and that all the messengers saying otherwise are wrong. And the king believes the false messengers because preparing for an attack would be expensive.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Grishnakh on Thursday October 30 2014, @09:24PM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Thursday October 30 2014, @09:24PM (#111677)

    She's an idiot. Scientists have already made quite clear their predictions, it's up to the rest of us and our leaders to take the proper actions. Scientists aren't PR people, their job is to do science, not be great arguers. If you want that, go find some trial lawyers. There's a reason scientists went into science instead of courtroom law or politics.