Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Red Light District in Science

Tomorrow's issue of Nature talks about a need for strategic communication about global warming: how to address "gaps" without undermining the understanding.
Climate science, like any active field of research, has some major gaps in understanding (see page 284). Yet the political stakes have grown so high in this field, and the public discourse has become so heated, that climate researchers find it hard to talk openly about those gaps.
There you have it: political stakes. When did science start having political stakes? Show me a science with political stakes, and I'll show you the world's oldest profession in a lab coat.

You know, I have heard this sort of question before. How do we debate honestly without giving the "other side" ammunition for attack? I've heard this in both religious communities and political parties, even in medical circles. But I have never heard this kind of question in a science.

Science is about the search for objective, empirical evidence. It's about letting the facts fall where they may. It's about the search for truth, not the careful and strategic protection of a belief. There is no "other side" in science; there is only an "other side" in politics, ego, careers, money, and legislation. Scientists are not afraid of attacks. It is understood that if a scientific perspective or conclusion is not defensible, it deserves to fall. Only scientists who are more invested in a political ideology than they are in the scientific method are afraid of attacks.

Shame on Nature for not knowing that. Or forgetting it.