Scientific disciplines are filled with internal disputes–few of which matter to outsiders, until governments use the authority of science as a justification for taking away individual liberty and expanding official power.
The most obvious example is “climate change.” Is the earth on a secular warming trend or is it just another phase in a cycle? What factors cause the climate to change? Does the relative importance of each factor, however many there are, change over time?
I would prefer to not care. It’s not that I’m unaffected by the weather, but education, tax policy, health care, and a few other items have already claimed my time and intellectual interest. So if I had my way, I would think about the questions touching on the sciences relating to climate as often as I think about debates within, say, polymer chemistry. Which is to say, not at all. Let scientists debate each other at their professional conferences and in their journals, and I’ll stay blissfully ignorant of the controversies.
Unfortunately, life–for me, for scientists, for citizens generally–isn’t working out that way. That’s because some scientists with knowledge related to climate have gathered power to themselves, and some politicians have used them as a cloak for expanding their own power. Think of Al Gore, a BTU tax, cap-and-trade, and any number of regulations and taxes proposed or even enacted in the name of “fighting climate change.”
Any number of organizations–public schools, churches, private companies, government agencies of all stripes–have gotten on the “climate change bandwagon,” seeking to hector us into changing the kinds of light bulbs we use, vacations we take, food we buy, and so forth. They seek to benefit from gaining disciples of their vision, customers of their products, and subjects for their new rules. And while business and non-profit associations can hector me on what I’m going to do about climate change, their power would be minimal without the backing of the only agency within our society that can lawfully force me to do something, government.
So we have people picketing outside the Minneapolis Convention Center this week, the site of a scientific convention. It didn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, the scope of both federal and state governments has expended (renewable portfolio standards, etc.) such that scientific questions have taken on political dimensions. In short, improperly large government poisons science.