29 November 2009

Climate Gate does not hurt science

Some HancAquam readers are asking if the Climate Gate scandal undermines the authority of science in general. . .the implication being that science--often the arch-nemesis of religion in the public square, particularly Christianity--has been somehow fundamentally damaged and can now be safely ignored or ridiculed into silence.  Visions of booing the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens off the world-stage dance in our heads. . .

Generally, the question goes something like this:  "Doesn't this scandal prove that science is just another game played by elitists who want fortune and fame?" 

My unequivocal answer:  "Absolutely.  Not." 

The Climate Gate scandal reaffirms the truth of what every Christian ought to know from personal experience:  we live in a fallen world run by fallen men and women who do and says things that all too often prove to be sinful.   Scientists may be under a cloud of suspicion at the moment, but science as a means of investigating the natural world is as trustworthy has it ever been.  In the same way that the abuse scandals put the clergy under suspicion without touching the essential core of the faith, scientists themselves will have to endure heightened scrutiny while defending the basic integrity of their profession.  And defend it they must; first, by unambiguously condemning the CRU and those who deceived the public.  And second, by starting over with a new investigation into the basic assumptions of global warming.

Scientists, like theologians, freely admit that their knowledge is ultimately tacit, firmly held but subject to refinement upon further study.  Our knowledge of the world (or God) in no way alters the reality of that world (or God).  As John Polkinghorne argues, our sciences (whether it is natural or divine) are always a matter of verisimilitude, "truth-likeness."  For scientists, the truth-likeness of science empowers the discovery of new facts and the invention of new technology.  The bumper-sticker on the Good Scientist's car might be:  "Science.  It Works." 

What must be combated during this scandal is the rise of scientific equivalent of the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF).  This group was founded in 2002 as a lay-led reaction to the scandals.  Taking advantage of the chaos after the scandal broke, VOTF argued that the abuse of minors by priests and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops exposed the weaknesses of the Church's hierarchical structure and the need for radical reform.  VOTF pushed for changes in this structure that fit their dissident, Protestantizing agenda for the Church:  women's ordination, married clergy, more hierarchical power to the laity, etc.  Their push for these specific reforms ignores the fact that women, married people, and lay folks in other churches and even in non-religious professions sexually abuse children as well. 

Unfortunately, for the VOTF, they can not demonstrate how the hierarchical structure itself was responsible for the sexual abuse of minors.  No Church document approves child molestation.  Nothing in the tradition of the Church encourages it.  Canon law does not sanction it.  No Catholic conscience properly formed can tolerate it.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  Everything the Church holds to be true and faithfully teaches explicitly condemns the sexual abuse of minors.  The abuse happened precisely because the men who populate the hierarchy failed to be diligent in their sacred responsibilities.  Had they followed Church teaching faithfully, the abuse would have never happened.  The teachers are at fault, not the teachings.

This goes for the Climate Gate scientists as well.  The Climate Research Unit scandal happened because the scientists involved did not faithfully carry out the basic procedures of the scientific method.  By destroying inconvenient data, lying to colleagues and gov't oversight bodies, by suppressing oppositional voices in the journals, and manipulating methods to reach pre-determined outcomes, these guys behaved more like religious zealots defending a ridiculous occult dogma than as scientists searching for the truth. 

Just as the sex scandals exposed a perversion of the Church's teachings and structures by fallen men, Climate Gate exposes a perversion of the scientific method by those bent on having their way in spite of the truth. 

Science is worthy of our trust.  Those abusive climate-scientists are not.

10 comments:

  1. Flambeaux6:14 AM

    Father,

    While it doesn't undermine science qua science, or the scientific method, it does undermine the peer review process as the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on the validity of independent research.

    No sane person can now trust that "peer review" means anything more than "some guys I know, who happen to agree with me looked this over to make sure my lies weren't too egregious".

    And that, in the long run, will prove fatal to science as an academic discipline and the academies now dependent on research grants.

    IIRC, Dr. Donald Cowan wrote in the late 1980s something about the likelihood of this kind of thing happening (he was a physicist by training) to the sciences as part of the inevitable collapse of Modernity. His collection of essays, Unbinding Prometheus, contains several salutary and prescient reflections on the matter.

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  2. Peer review in the humanities is notoriously corrupted with politics. Scientific PR is saved, I think, by making the data and methods available for review. The CRU refused to do this and undermined the process. One big problem in all of this is the tendency of some in the science community to make claims about the science that cannot be supported by the data. Not lies per se but exaggerated predictions that look good on the cover of Newsweek.

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  3. Fr. P,

    I wonder, however, if this is yet another consequence of the divorce of religions and life, at least in many people's lives.

    The problem with those crooks in white-coats is that they don't love truth. They displayed it not only by falsifying data for political and proud reasons, but went on to refuse to have others bring about the truth. Further, they collaborated with the imposition of tremendous burdens on societies at large based on their lies.

    That goes to show that the scientific community needs to be evangelized badly. Actual Catholic universities could be a good solution to teach love for the Truth, Christ Jesus.

    May St. Andrew pray for us.

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  4. Vis a vis this thread - see the latest on the overreaction of the media to cancer research findings here.

    It will take a while for this all to shake down (is all the data faked? unlikely - but one must wait upon the data on the data; what does "trick" mean to a scientist? not what it means to most people...) Good scientists will withhold a rush to judgement in either direction.

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  5. Very interesting post, but I don't think C. Hitchens esq. ought to be classified as a scientist.

    Re. peer review in the natural sciences, I think there is a problem with getting work published which challenges the concensus amongst those on whom one's reputation and career prospects are dependent. There may also be a degree of self-censorship, which, if practised by enough people, will distort or hinder the development of scientific knowledge. But in the end the truth will out.

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  6. Matt L.9:58 PM

    A prevailing theme in this blog is the MSM's participation in engineering corruption. I see this here, too. One thing that aggravates me to no end is how the media portrays scientific endeavors. My own field is medicine, not climate, but it horrifies me when the science media jumps on a journal article and blithely reports a fantastical variant of the author's conclusions with no context and a ton of hype. How many times have you seen an article reporting a new possible "cure" for cancer? They rarely pan out--but if you actually went to the journal article the reporter jumped on, you'd see a ton of methodological information, along with relevant source data that place the wuenderdrug in its appropriate experimental context.

    Unfortunately, scientists and frequently drug companies sponsoring them, are all too keen to get the mindlessly enthusiastic press to pimp their findings to the public, who are all to content to consume the apparently "true facts" of the science journalists without question and without resorting to the source material.

    I think the same is true, in large part, with ClimateGate. These researchers probably began well intentioned and had the occasional bit of data which led them to a possibly intriguing conclusion--global warming might exist. This got play in the MSM science reporter corps, and they became a class of scientific rock-star class. This fed into them pushing their research and created a feedback loop. Their their careers, their beliefs, their stardom eventually depended on global climate change's existence, and the media didn't care where or how the data came from so long as it had a nice pulpy story.

    Poof, you have some very human scientists caught up in the vanity of their cause celebre, and a media that will push their story, so long as the story exists, and a public who is too gullible, lazy, or stupid to bother looking at the actual papers to make an educated decision.

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  7. Matt, I couldn't agree more! Science illiteracy is a disease in our culture. Unfortunately, public education is becoming more and more about political indoctrination and PC cultural brainwashing. At a time when we need our people to be scientific literate, we are paying teachers to play at being Multicultural Facilitators. It is truly anti-humanism at it worst.

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  8. Ian, you are right. Hitchens is not a scientist, but he is one of the many popular prophets of scientism. He beats Christianity with his own brand of fundamentalist "science."

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  9. Flambeaux9:33 PM

    Scientific literacy should not be necessary for men to live virtuously. Given the choice, I'll take a society that can produce virtue at the expense of one full of technological whizz-bang.

    Hrmph! And get off my lawn, you crazy kids!

    ;)

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  10. Flambeaux9:36 PM

    Scientific literacy should not be necessary for men to live virtuously. Given the choice, I'll take a society that can produce virtue at the expense of one full of technological whizz-bang.

    Hrmph! And get off my lawn, you crazy kids!

    ;)

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