Friday, November 27, 2009

Global Warming and Scientific Corruption

I would hope that by now even the most withdrawn from reality will have heard of an instance (or instances, or a culture of) of what can only be called 'corruption' at the highest levels of the GLOBAL WARMING debate.

I really don't give a sparrow's flatulent greenhouse emissions about the reasons for such deliberate dishonesty. Said reasons may range from genuine Save-The-Planet zealotry to genuine self-serving research-fund grabbing. It is possible that those who would withhold scientific information supporting the 'warming doubter' position—or who would at least cast into doubt the influence of the human element, such as those expressed by David Bellamy—do so in a spirit that, in their own minds at least, makes them into great human beings, who are in some way actively saving the world. Like haven't we heard that before...

The point is that it still amounts to corruption. And every instance of such a thing, no matter how justified, will serve to enhance the credibility of other attempts to withhold data, falsify them or simply make them up. All it will require are reasons qualifying as 'beneficent'.

Of course, someone can challenge my argument by, for example, suggesting scenarios where the corruption becomes so grey-in-grey that one gets stuck in an argumentative mire. Like, how should one view this scenario, which may be more familiar to readers of sci-fi:

There's this scientist—or person with a scientific background, though he may or may not be employed as a 'scientist' per se—who discovers or invents something that might change the world. Some of my favorites are:
  • A way to generate unlimited electrical energy (even if it doesn't involve potentially world-destroying sources, such as balack holes etc).
  • A method to take mankind to the stars at minimal effort and cost (my favorite here is the 'phase ship' approach explored by Gordon R Dickson in Mission to Universe, because that's got such obvious flip-side implications).
  • A way to create something like real 'force fields' that can act as physical protection.
  • 'Real' honest-to-goodness 'teleportation' (see Stephen Gould's Jumper).
You get the idea, I'm sure. All of these things have potentially huge benefits and also serious word-destruction potential. So, what is the ethical situation here if someone, for example, finds a way to create unlimited electrical energy without pollution, but he or she also realizes that it doesn't take a lot to use the same technology to create weapons that are seriously world-destroying? Or, maybe even if there aren't dangerous consequences to the world, revealing such a discovery could definitely pose serious threats to the welfare of the person involved, or his family or friends. Yoy can surely work that one out, too.

So, what does he do? Conceal it and let the world continue to pollute itself? Reveal it and try to do it in such a way as to retain some control? Just publish it on the internet and let the world run with it?

Remember the law of unintended consequences: there are always many more of those than intended ones and most of them fall in to the Rumsfeld category of "things we don't know we don't know".

Should he choose to conceal his discovery/invention, would that make him 'scientifially corrupt'?

Well, no. It would make him corrupt if he published information in a scientific context—peer-reviewed journals, for example—in which he deliberately falsified or withheld information relating directly to his discovery/invention, thus leading to a conclusion by the 'scientific community' that whatever he discovered/invented could not be discovered/invented. By such communication of misleading information—even if it is in the way of withholding it; i.e. lying by omission—he could commit an act of scientific corruption, because 'corruption' is a social concept, whereby someone agrees to abide by certain social standards, but in truth acts contrary to them, for whatever reasons. One who has not made such an agreement, either explicitly or implicitly, cannot acts corruptly, because the term just doesn't apply. If Joe Blogg, in his workshop, invents a machine that can provide the world with unlimited power, but chooses to conceal it, because he judges the unintended consequences to be so dire that they outweigh any potential benefits, then Joe Blogg makes a personal decision—but it isn't one to which one can apply a standard that one pin the label 'corruption' on.

But scientists living and working within the framework of 'the scientific community' deliberately withholding information about something that may influence the lives of billions...that's something else completely. It is akin to the citizen of a country placing his religion above the social contract he was with his fellow citizen. It's the real reason why a soldier went out on an army base in Texas, shouted "God is Great" and killed people who implicitly trusted him not to do such a thing. He is the ethical equivalent of these scientists; as they are of him.

The damage these morons inflicted on the case for GLOBAL WARMING—and continue to do, because some are are actually defending their perfidy!—is incalculable. This is quite independent of whatever the merits of that case happens to be, which isn't something I'm discussing here. In other words, they, too, have just become the victims of the Law of Unintended Consequences of their own stupidity and zealotry. Whatever that means for the planet and the issues under dispute remains to be seen.

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