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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: 2) by pnkwarhall on Thursday October 30 2014, @07:14PM

    by pnkwarhall (4558) on Thursday October 30 2014, @07:14PM (#111639)

    You lost me at "Scientists are supposed to...."

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  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by jmorris on Thursday October 30 2014, @08:18PM

    by jmorris (4844) on Thursday October 30 2014, @08:18PM (#111655)

    Read it as 'science, as defined' in that anyone who tries to practice politics wearing a labcoat and trying to appropriate the goodwill of Science into the service of a political movement should be called out, condemned and otherwise shunned by actual scientists to avoid the loss of respect for their own work.

    If you are researching how the world works and publishing reviewed and repeatable research you get to call yourself a scientist. But you don't get to offer up your opinions as to what the policy implications are of that research while wearing the labcoat. Perfectly OK to take it off and enter the arena of ideas over in the political world, but you don't get to call your opinions objective science.

    To illustrate, for the sake of argument we will handwave away all of the objections to AGW and take as a given that it is real, it is manmade, etc. Ok, Climate Science has delivered the facts. Now the other sciences, economics and politics all get a say on what we should do about it. Is it easier to mitigate the effects than eliminate CO2 emissions? Is a crash program to put fusion into production the best answer? Or how about the Greenpeace founder's assertion that the situation is dire enough to justify a massive fission investment. Do we just kill 90% of the human population and eliminate the problem at the source? And so on. Mann is in fact less qualified to hold forth in the public square on those issues than Al Gore. Mann isn't trained in any of the fields required to assess those options, at least Mr. Gore IS a politician and politics and public policy are most certainly on topic in the debate. Mann is about as qualified as us here on public fora debating the issues.

    And because he IS accepted, both by the policy makers and the other scientists, we get a problem of the public losing the ability to see a difference between a scientist and a politician.

    Another example. Ebola. The head of the CDC looks more like a politician than a Dr. Of course a quick review shows he IS a politician wearing a labcoat. He isn't even convincing, creating mistrust in the public and a creeping suspicion he cares more about Africa than keeping it out of the US. His JOB is keeping it out of the US. The WHO would be right to speak up about policy implications, not our own CDC. Watched Franklin Graham last night and he had no opinion on a quarantine in itself but did have an opinion on the impact on his work. He said what he would like is a direct air bridge to the US, give him a military transport weekly to ferry supplies and people and it would be an instant improvement and would make the quarantine question moot as far as his work goes. So the preacher is more rational, knowledgeable and generally helpful than the scientist? When did we slip into bizarro world?