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Is Scientific Consensus a Threat to Democracy? 836

Posted by Zonk
from the what-isn't-nowadays dept.
chance_encounter writes "President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus has published an article in the Financial Times in which he seems to equate the current global warming debate with totalitarian thought control: 'The dictates of political correctness are strict and only one permitted truth, not for the first time in human history, is imposed on us. Everything else is denounced ... The scientists should help us and take into consideration the political effects of their scientific opinions. They have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions and how much they have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence.' At the end of the article he proposes several suggestions to improve the global climate debate, including this point: 'Let us resist the politicization of science and oppose the term "scientific consensus," which is always achieved only by a loud minority, never by a silent majority.'"
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Is Scientific Consensus a Threat to Democracy?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:42PM (#19525175)
    Threat to democracy? No.

    Threat to scientifically illiterate politicians? Maybe.
    • by anaesthetica (596507) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @12:37AM (#19529047) Homepage Journal

      Perhaps he is scientifically illiterate. But he's not illiterate in the language used by totalitarians. It seems that no one here is actually commenting on who Vaclav Klaus [wikipedia.org] is.

      Klaus was chairman of Civic Forum, the Czech anti-totalitarian movement that was one of two leading groups during the 1989 Velvet Revolution against the Soviet Union's dominance over Czechoslovakia. He's a free market politician (predictably after decades of ruinous Soviet economic predominance) and quite naturally suspicious of totalitarian influence.

      If Klaus sees a parallel between the way global warming alarmists and the Soviet totalitarians use language to browbeat their opponents, he at least merits a hearing-out rather than an out-of-hand dismissal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rastos1 (601318)

        He's a free market politician

        Let me extend that statement. A few weeks ago I saw him in news, where he basically expressed strong believe that "free market will solve it". He believes that environmentally unfriendly companies will not be successful in the market. And thus the problem will take care of itself.

        Perhaps he knows a lot about economy - I don't argue that. But there are various schools in economy - with rather opposite opinions on some matters. And thus I'll prefer to believe climatologists r

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Xyrus (755017)
        "If Klaus sees a parallel between the way global warming alarmists and the Soviet totalitarians use language to browbeat their opponents, he at least merits a hearing-out rather than an out-of-hand dismissal."

        So I guess I should listen to my auto-mechanic about heart problems because he happens to have 30 years of experience dealing with carbuerators?

        A scientific consesus is reached by peer-reviewed research, not because the scientist think "OOOO we have a new sugar daddy!".

        In the political forum, I'm sure
      • ... don't exist today. The reality of this is rather obvious, because if they did exist, the change required to stunt the progression of global warming would have already happened. The scientists are still trying to convince everyone, and they're just being ignored. I didn't know telling people THE TRUTH or at least - perceived truth - is totalitarian. It's our politicians, who are backed by giant industries that create this pollution, and consistently stop any project that would help individuals allevi
  • by prometheon123 (835586) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:43PM (#19525187) Journal
    Consensus science isn't science, it's politics, and that's exactly what the Global Warming debate is about: politics
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Yeah those pesky scientists with their "rules" and "laws" and "theories". I agree, I find that my own personal threat to democracy is the law of gravity. My innate right to remain upright is threatened by this so-called consensus about gravity. In fact, I find the whole thing completely politicized because who dissents against the idea that gravity exists is immediately labeled a wacko and there's no room for debate on the subject.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
        You ivory tower intellectuals must not lose touch with the world of industrial growth and hard currency. It is all well and good to pursue these high-minded scientific theories, but research grants are expensive. To justify your existence, you must provide not only knowledge, but concrete and profitable applications as well.

        --CEO Nwabudike Morgan,
        "The Ethics of Greed"
      • by yali (209015) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:08PM (#19525595)

        A physicist explains science to third graders [physicstoday.org]:

        We take a vote. I ask how we decide who is right, and then I do the experiment... I emphasize that science is not a democracy, it is not the majority but the experiment that decides what is correct.

        Sums it up pretty nicely.

    • by zCyl (14362) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:49PM (#19525327)

      Consensus science isn't science, it's politics, and that's exactly what the Global Warming debate is about: politics

      I despise how global warming discussions focus so much on whether or not someone "believes", and heralding or ridiculing people for being in the right or wrong camp, rather than simply being discussions about straightforward facts.
    • by spun (1352)
      No, it is about negative externalities. We don't want the rest of you fucking up a shared resource, projecting the cost of your actions onto us. Global warming is not about "consensus science," whatever the hell that is supposed to be. Is the theory of gravity "consensus science?" No. Will you be ridiculed for rejecting it? Probably, unless you come up with something better. The global warming deniers haven't come up with better science.

      I'm sorry if all that hurts your feelings. Science doesn't care about y
      • The Great Global Warming Swindle [google.com] is a BBC Documentary (notorious right wing Oil loving company there) featuring many people whom I consider credible people within the scientific community, including the Co-Founder of Greenepeace Patrick Moore who show that the Global Warming movement is primarily political in nature, and is more about being anti-corporate than pro-environment. This is largely the reason why Patric Moore resigned from the organization he confounded in disgust. Regarding the so called conse
  • does that mean.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MoFoQ (584566) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:45PM (#19525227)
    does that mean that there should be a democratic process to decide on what "1 + 1" is?

    First off, we have to realize that global warming is a problem. Next step, reduce, reduce, reduce while scientists, engineers, and inventors come up with a more permanent solution to help rid ourselves of well....not so eco-friendly "things" (everything from transportation, energy, manufacturing, etc.)

    and damn...it's hot today.
    • by JesseL (107722) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:53PM (#19525383) Homepage Journal

      First off, we have to realize that global warming is a problem
      Why? Because you heard someone say so? Because you feel it's true?

      First off, we have to allow scientists to determine whether global warming is a problem, without political interference.

      • by Mr2001 (90979) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:58PM (#19525477) Homepage Journal

        Why? Because you heard someone say so? Because you feel it's true?
        Because that's what all the serious scientific organizations have concluded after examining the data. Because that's where all the scientific evidence points, and no better theories have been put forth to explain it.

        First off, we have to allow scientists to determine whether global warming is a problem, without political interference.
        That's already been done. The only political interference now is coming from those who don't like the answer.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jwiegley (520444)

          All evidence?? No other theories?? Really...

          I have recently read a report that the energy output of the sun has risen recently and is the highest it has ever been. The source of that report is at least as credible to me as any that have put forth arguments for global warming. I have also ferreted out as many facts, numbers and theories denying global warming as I have seen thrust upon me by the media as are in favor of. Should I now just ignore the possibility that any delta in Earth's temperature is qui

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rossz (67331)

          Because that's what all the serious scientific organizations have concluded after examining the data.

          Notice how they always say "serious scientific organizations", then dismiss anyone who disagrees as being on the fringe. This is despite the fact that highly qualified scientists do disagree about the actual cause and level of global warming. The simple fact is, most of the hysteria is based on Gore's little movie, which is based on BAD science that can never pass peer review.

  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:46PM (#19525261)
    Scientists listen to data, not what politicians/economists etc want.
    • by Detritus (11846) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:53PM (#19525389) Homepage
      Yes, in Utopia. Back in the real world, scientists are human beings, and are vulnerable to fads, group-think, and politics.
    • by Trespass (225077) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:59PM (#19525487) Homepage
      Like most people, scientists listen to whoever is paying them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Goaway (82658)
        Who exactly do you think it is that is funding this global conspiracy of global warming supporters, then? The industry sure isn't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajs (35943)

      Scientists listen to data, not what politicians/economists etc want.

      Ideally, you are correct. In practice, I've yet to see a field of scientific pursuit that wasn't tainted by the expectations and desires of those doing the research.

      Right now, in the United States, if you publish a paper that is referenced in support of an anti-global-warming political statement (doesn't matter if your data was neutral), you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, and might want to consider a career change. That's unacceptable encroachment of politics on science. Worse, sc

      • > Why is it that we support people who try to disprove our most well established theories in physics?

        Because whether or not a cherished theory in physics gets confirmed or flames out doesn't involve trillions of dollars, the rise and fall of political dynasties and the great political question of our times. Yes physics depts have politics too, but in the end they are all physics geeks. Global warming got caught up in so much larger political movements that it is no longer possible to say ANYTHING on th
    • Yes, because we all know that scientists are above the petty musings of mankind, like political ideologies and personal agendas. They would NEVER stoop to slant their research with preconceived notions, or tailor their reports to maximize future research grants. How DARE us plebeians question their superiority and accuse them of being mere mortals!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by posterlogo (943853)
        Yes, because we all know that scientists are above the petty musings of mankind, like political ideologies and personal agendas. They would NEVER stoop to slant their research with preconceived notions, or tailor their reports to maximize future research grants. How DARE us plebeians question their superiority and accuse them of being mere mortals!

        You know, some times I just have to say the hell with the mods. FUCK YOU. I don't go out and fucking belittle something you've dedicated your life to just beca

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wdr1 (31310) *
      At the end of the day, Scientists are just like every other human. They can make mistakes, have pre-conceived bias, etc.

      I was tempted to copy/paste the whole of Fenyman's Cargo Cult Science essay, but I'll stick to the most relevant pieces:

      We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit of

  • by jfengel (409917) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:46PM (#19525263) Homepage Journal
    "They have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions and how much they have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence."

    That is:

    "You need to tell me if you have any political thoughts that I can turn into an ad hominem argument rather than discuss your data or your methods because I'm not a physicist and I can't follow the math."
    • by Gorshkov (932507) <admgorshkov&yahoo,com> on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:02PM (#19525529)

      "You need to tell me if you have any political thoughts that I can turn into an ad hominem argument rather than discuss your data or your methods because I'm not a physicist and I can't follow the math."
      No - he's saying that if you have an AGENDA, be open and up front about it so that people can determine for themselves if it's the data or the political beliefs speaking.

      Most people - including the vast majority on slashdot, who tend to be much better educated and intelligent than "the great unwashed" (myself included), don't have the specific knowledge or background to be able to properly weigh the data presented in the debate.

      Knowing people's biases will make it easier for them - US - to properly weigh what they've said.

      When an Oil company exec says something about global warming, you're going to take that into account when you look at any data he presents. Likewise, when the president of "People for the Full Eradication of Technology and Man" gives HIS views on the subject, you should also take THAT into account when looking at data he presents.

      It's got exactly ZERO to do with ad hominem arguments, and everything to do with wanting full disclosure so that biases can be weeded out - on BOTH sides.

      Sounds perfectly sensible to me.

      Bottom line: Global warming is *intensely* political. And before we can make any rational decisions about what to do about it, we need to separate the politics from the science. Disclosing biases - on BOTH sides - will at least give us a CHANCE to do so.
      • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:24PM (#19525831)

        No - he's saying that if you have an AGENDA, be open and up front about it so that people can determine for themselves if it's the data or the political beliefs speaking.


        If people are competent to understand the data, they can review the data and determine what is speaking. The objectivity of empirical facts and the repeatably of systematic testing of empirical hypotheses is rather the point of science.

        Most people - including the vast majority on slashdot, who tend to be much better educated and intelligent than "the great unwashed" (myself included), don't have the specific knowledge or background to be able to properly weigh the data presented in the debate.


        Asking that scientists disclose their biases and a litany of how they affected their results isn't going to acheive that, for several reasons. First, people aren't going to claim they are biased, either because they don't believe they are biased, or if they are biased and working deliberately from that bias, because they won't want to reveal it. Second, any publication of scientific results is a claim that the scientific method was applied, i.e., that agenda did not influence the results. So that's exactly what anyone currently publishing would claim if they followed the prescription offered.

        Of course, the politician making the recommendation knows this isn't going anywhere, he is just trying to sell the idea that the scientific consensus is both not real and entirely the product of bias by acting as if that is an established conclusion from the outset and railing for a correction.

        When an Oil company exec says something about global warming, you're going to take that into account when you look at any data he presents.


        I've never seen an Oil company exec present data about global warming. I've seen oil company execs make bald, conclusory statements without presenting the supporting data. There is an important difference between the two things.

        Likewise, when the president of "People for the Full Eradication of Technology and Man" gives HIS views on the subject, you should also take THAT into account when looking at data he presents.


        Sure, if someone is presenting their views. Data != views.

        It's got exactly ZERO to do with ad hominem arguments


        Yes, arguing that someone's arguments should be evaluated based on personal affiliation is ad hominem argument, except where the argument is supported only by personal authority of the source and the challenge is to bias or credibility of that source. Where the argument is presented based on verifiable evidence, challenges of bias of the source remain ad hominem.

  • No! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:46PM (#19525271) Journal
    Scientists say global warming is real and countries have to mandate reductions in CO2 emission because that's where the science points! If you have a better theory, submit it to a journal, but all other explanations have LOST in the market place of ideas, and only through willful ignorance do people continue to ignore the rigorous scientific methodology.

    Oh, sorry, I was just channeling Chris Burke's bias-pandering populism for a second there.
    • Not exactly (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TodMinuit (1026042)
      Actually, science currently points that the world is getting (slightly) warmer, and that CO2 levels have risen. These are not necessarily related. We have models and whatnot that show the world will continue to warm, but these are not evidence.

      The point the writer of the article was trying to make is that environmentalists want us to spend billions of dollars doing things which may or may not have any impact on something which may or may not exist.
  • by wpegden (931091) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:47PM (#19525285)
    He is clearly delusional: he has said "Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so." (http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?idCate gory=33&idsub=128&id=8342&t=Czech+president%3A+Env ironmentalism+is+a+religion [speroforum.com])
  • Politics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MontyApollo (849862) on Friday June 15, 2007 @05:53PM (#19525395)
    I think the bigger threat to science and democracy is when the government re-writes scientific reports to say whatever they want like the Bush administration has. I think "scientific consensus" is important to policy decisions. The science itself will work itself out in the long run (and maybe the current consensus will be proven wrong), and politicians should stay out of the scientific debate. The only the reason the author is commenting on this is because he has a policy agenda and wants to try and undermine the other side.
  • Of course science is under strict control. Of course it's undemocratic.

    In a democratic society you are free to state that the world is flat. The people are free to elect someone who says the world is flat. In science you've actually got to prove that the world is flat. Does that mean you're "not free" in science to assert whatever you want as reality. Sure. Personally I like those restrictions. Without them we'd be back in the middle ages.

    We don't elect reality. We discover it. Discovery requires that one thing is paramount: observation, and the unbiased interpretation of that observation. So, in essence you are restricted by reality because you want you perception (your model of reality) to conform with reality as much as possible. So you lose the freedom to say that reality is anything you damn well please.

    I for one welcome our reality overlords.
  • by Bongo (13261) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:05PM (#19525567)

    I was very worried about AGW, but statements like, "neuremberg style trials for denialists" made me think something's not right. Add in character assasination, the way any "contrarian evidence" is assumed to be funded by oil companies, and debating tactics that throw the principle of falsifiability out of the window, made me distrust the whole damnded thing.

    The science needs to be free to operate carefully and efficiently, regardless of whether it's finding evidence for or against AGW. The business of science is to discover the truth of the matter, regardless of whether that truth happens to agree with our beliefs and values.

    I suspect that the notion of what "good science" is has changed subtly. Good science is science that finds the truth. But scientists who want to be good people, may come to believe that being a good person means creating science that "does good things", such as save the planet. If you want to save the planet because saving the planet is a good thing to do, then there may be a bias towards only studying subjects that offer an opportunity to become an important scientist who makes discoveries about dangers and remedies for the planet.

    Good science is purely about the truth. What you do with that knowledge is a different affair altogether. Good science is simply being dispassionately interested in facts. It's not the scientist's job to be a good person. Just give us the facts. We, the people, will worry about the rest.

  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:08PM (#19525605)
    Politics and science are, so it seems, bumping considerably of late.

    I'm speaking here as a scientist of several years experience (most of which I should state has been in the 'oh fuck I am never going to prove my hypothesis' catagory).

    Scientists and politicians caan never see eye to eye. The simple reason for this, which I will explain over a couple of sentances, is that science requires evidence with is proveable by the current state of the art, in the full and contented knowledge that the state of the art can be disproved/advanced at any point. Politians do not live in the same world. Their opinions can and must change to reflect the mean (or is it modal?) view of that sector of the population which is most likely to votw for them.

    This may sound as if I think they are not as good as scientists, but this is an erronious view. The role of the politician has evolved for over 2000 yeras, starting when the citizens of Athens firs decided that a singler point of faliure what a bit shit, and moving forward to the most mobile of all democracies, that of the United States. In all that time (in my opinion) the scientist has been following a different path to that of the scientist.

    A scientist, with what may perhaps be superior knowledge in his domain may cry foul regarding some aspect of current policy. In response, the politician, who lacks the domain knowledge, but has superior knowledge of the political climate, and, one assumes in the general case, is subject to an external optimisation system (voting) that removes the candidates which differ by too much from the required state, either agrees or seeks to discredit the findings of the scientist.

    This does, on the face of it, seem to be an insane system, but it has advantages.

    Could scientists run the world? Fuck no, I know many, am one myself, and frankly I would run screaming from any mob that claimed this.

    Fancy a ruler that would happily spend years persuing a single aspect of a problem? Cos I don't

    The principle point is that the world can only work if the extremists, be they political, religious or scientific are not allowed to be in charge. I'm biased, I think that scientific extremism (which is more or less the default state, since specialisation is required), is not that bad, but my own logic requirs that I exclude myself from the set of people allowed to rule.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday June 15, 2007 @06:29PM (#19525911)

    That's the postmodernist claim anyway - science is just another narrative that is the result of it's context (male, western, capitalist, etc.) and it is no more valid than any other such narrative. Science is just an expression of the culture that spawned it.

    Other belief systems (alternative medicine, for example) embrace this viewpoint. Science after all is based on inductive reasoning rather than rigorous proof of truth.

    The concept of this article is that science must be relative to political necessity. This is in line with the view of science as just another narrative. The problem is that this has been a miserable failure whenever attempted - Lysenkoism, Creationism, etc. are sad examples of this, and it is fair to say that the correctness of a scientific theory can only be influenced by politics for a short period of time before the error is revealed.

    Global warming seems to be a fact out to a ridiculous level of statistical certainty. Some effects are predictable to a high degree of certainty. The impact of human endeavors is less ceertain, BUT the potential consequences of ignoring that impact are astronomical. Any prudent person would act to avoid of those consequences.

    When government leaders are resisting that action you know that these leaders are not serving their people, but rather other interests.

  • Hrm, similarity? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JoshJ (1009085) on Friday June 15, 2007 @07:33PM (#19526741) Journal
    You know what this guy sounds like? "Science is a threat"?

    Sounds like a religious crusader to me. It's the exact same thing: "the majority must be right, nevermind that the experts who have spent years studying the subject specifically say the majority is wrong!"
  • by RomulusNR (29439) on Friday June 15, 2007 @07:51PM (#19526981) Homepage
    The largest threat to democracy is the promulgation of lies and falsehoods.
  • by freezingweasel (1049610) on Friday June 15, 2007 @11:54PM (#19528737)
    Scientific consensus means that several scientists working on the same problem agree with each other. If there's no reasonable majority behind any one theory, you can safely consider the theory to be mostly conjecture.

    The kicker on global warming is that we seem to have the majority of scientists saying one thing, while the majority of politicians say something else.

    The scientists have nothing to gain/lose other than their reputations / employability. It won't look good to doggedly predict the climate will change year after year as it doesn't, or predict it won't as it does. Scientists don't work in a vacuum though. The researchers for tobacco repeatedly found no serious problems from smoking, so merely being a scientist doesn't give you a halo.

    Politicians don't need to be right to keep being employed. Oftentimes, being on the right team is enough. (Republican vs Democrat, while the country swings, many regions do not.) All a politician needs to do is to keep their bosses happy. The bosses are the people who pay the politician on a per issue basis.

    Scientists and politicians can both be bought. It could be argued that many scientists are willing to be bought because of trouble finding employment. It could be argued that politicians solicit being bought. That said, why would you buy a scientist or a politician for this issue?

    First, if you were an individual, you wouldn't. You could try, but you (unless you were quite rich) wouldn't have the money to throw at buying a large number of people.

    Buy a scientist / politician to tell the world global warming is real:

    You would do this if your company would profit from increased environmental regulations. Companies that produce alternative fuels might do this. Also, if your business is inherently polluting, but you have much better emissions control than your competition, this would be a short-term advantage over them. How many companies are in one of these two positions? Did I miss situations here? How many startup alternative fuel companies can out lobby established fuel companies raking in obscene profits? Perhaps there's a secret lobby of corn farmers... even if so I doubt they could compete with oil's lobbying power.

    Buy a scientist / politician to tell the world global warming is wrong:

    Your business is inherently polluting, cleaning equipment and changing production methods is expensive. If you convince people there is no problem, there's no need to change.

    Why would you buy a scientist?

    If unbiased scientific data pointed one way, you almost have to buy a handful of scientists to disagree so you can claim that you didn't "know" the truth. Think cigarette companies. Once you have a handful of reports, you're good.

    Why would you buy a politician?

    Politicians make laws, which could force expensive changes. Paying off a few scientists isn't going to change the views of many people, especially if most scientists disagree. Buying a politician guarentees favorable results no matter what the public thinks. Consider how many people hate out-sourcing. Consider that both parties support it, despite the public's obvious hatred of the idea. (Also consider how few people actually make the effort to buy American)

    An additional benefit to buying politicians. People are pack animals with a gang mentality. Once you choose your gangs (Yankees / Braves! Democrats / Republicans! Toilet seat up / down!) you tend to blindly follow them, no matter how divorced from reality they may get. (Will the Cubs do well? They finally did, but the loyalty well before that point was amazing) No matter how many scientists say X is bad, if Bush says X is good a disturbing number of people will follow Bush because they take politics as us vs them. If Bush is on one side, the other side is wrong. The same was true with Clinton. People selectively (and I'm convinced, unconciously) filter their perceptions to fit the view of the world they want to have. Political lines are sad
  • by rs232 (849320) on Saturday June 16, 2007 @04:49AM (#19530345)
    It's ironic that he want to resist the politicization of science as meanwhile his good buddy George W. is doing everything he can to suppress debate on the issue. The Us 'invests' in the Czech Republic, moves missiles in and now Vaclav Klaus is rubbishing Global Warming. Nothing to see here, move along. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070604/ap_on_go_pr_wh /global_warming_satellites [yahoo.com] http://thinkprogress.org/2007/03/20/cheney%E2%80%9 9s-office-involved-in-global-warming-manipulation/ [thinkprogress.org]

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."

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