Saturday, 31 October 2015

Science is doomed

Science is a cost. It is also a career, but careers are costs and costs have to be justified. Therein lie the subtle political levers which may yet bring science and even objectivity itself under political control. A welcome development for the establishment which has never taken kindly to the idea that anyone is allowed to discover anything whatever their social status. 

If political policies were evidence-driven, then political behaviour would be essentially scientific. Some scientists may think it is part of their job to point this out, but it isn’t going to happen. Doesn’t leave enough elbow room, enough flexibility for the right sort of people to have their say. Something has to give and the runes suggest it won’t be political behaviour. Science has that oh so fatal weakness – science is a cost.

Powerful people have always used evidence to promote their own interests but not if it isn’t convenient. They never have. If necessary they prefer to invent their evidence or dust off an old standby. Science as the prime exemplar of objective analysis has to be contained.

A powerful clue is provided by the catastrophe climate narrative. Science goes on behind the official narrative, but the catastrophe narrative is what matters not the science. This narrative is mostly what we see, what we are intended to see, the product paid for and delivered. It is no more scientific than a toothpaste ad. Probably less so.

Catastrophe climatology is merely one of the costs of promoting global policies aimed at levelling the energy playing field between rich and poor nations. These policies are obviously considered to be more important than scientific integrity so their promoters do not intend to allow it to dictate the narrative. 

This appear to be the key motive driving it all, a genuine belief that fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the developing world is ever to achieve equality with the developed world. Energy inequality is seen as a globally significant political risk. Global warming probably isn’t. The BBC may think otherwise but the BBC mostly caters for dimwits. We know that but don’t always follow it through.

Yet science is a niggling political problem anyway. It tends to undermine unscientific narratives and for that reason it often gets in the way of political projects or points the finger at political failures. Not only that, but when everyone from monarchs to popes, from presidents to chief executives are seen as merely human and subject to the same natural laws as the entire universe then the mystique of authority is called into question. In which case, perhaps we should expect a response from the emerging global establishment. Action and reaction.

So maybe we should expect to see significant global resources directed at bringing many sciences under global political control. Global policy cannot be evidence-driven as a matter of policy, it would give far too much power to useful but socially inferior groups such as engineers and scientists.

The establishment has struggled with this issue since at least Darwin’s time, but as a global establishment finds its feet and fills its pockets it also seems to be aware of the need to make enduring cultural changes. The cultural role of science may well be over. Icarus has flown too high, the wax is melting.
The key political point about catastrophe climatology is that its sponsors have clearly decided that it cannot be allowed to fail. It doesn’t matter if we end up with global warming or not because more important global policies are at stake. Clean energy technologies and a level playing field for the developed and developing world. The climatologists can be as mad as a box of frogs so long as they stay on-message. Many are.

Stupid perhaps, but only from the old scientific standpoint. In a world where catastrophe climatology counts as a science, it is not so stupid.

It is not a question of money but of power, who gets to determine policy and on what basis. Old style science doesn’t do deals, scratch backs or take bribes. It gets in the way. As for the future, we should expect old style science and even objectivity to be driven out of anything in which governments might take an interest.

Ultimately that’s everything.


Sackerson said...

I suspect energy equality is a blind. It's really about Western capital using free trade to increase financial inequality at home.

But yes, if we really did want to "save the planet", we wouldn't agree to the Chinese building coal-fired power stations far faster than (crazily) we're demolishing our own. The rich will have us in the dark and cold before they're finished.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I think political stupidity is in there too.

Anonymous said...

IMHO there are those who own the world, those who run bits of the world, we who watch it happening and those who never realised anything was going on. Science is useful to those who own the world whilst religion and spin are of more immediate use to those who run bits of the world. All three have their place in the toolbox, the art is to keep in mind all three are just tools, some of which bend more than others.

Demetrius said...

"The BBC caters mostly for dimwits" is, I think, rather unfair to dimwits. It could be argued that it is run by people too clever by half who cater for their own kind. What is forgotten by us is that the science of the now may tell us one thing but the science of the future may correct, clarify or even refute this. The trouble with states where so much of science is dependent on either government funding or support by major corporations then the science of the now is imposed in a way that the science of the future might never happen. When looking at the alignment of Jupiter and Venus, with Mars lurking nearby, was that a black hold I noticed out there somewhere?

A K Haart said...

Roger - good model. Science is certainly bendy in many areas but the bendy aspect is often the press releases which often seem to be divorced from the science.

Demetrius - to me, BBC people don't seem particularly clever. With a bit of thought and flexibility, BBC programming could be attractive even to internet folk but isn't anywhere near that. It seems to stay at the same level and never evolves apart from being a little slicker visually.