Some of the brouhaha recently with Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize got me thinking. Scientists recently have taken to raising alarms in political circles and the public arena, no longer content to simply publish their findings in a journal and let our elected officials do the right thing with the results. There’s one main reason for this: the politicos (especially the morally bankrupt sophists in the Bush administration) refuse to acknowledge the science, let alone do the right thing.
Monied special interests – lobbying for oil companies, timber companies, power plants, coal miners, plastics manufacturers, and so on – are manipulating science to try and discredit the evidence of global heating (I borrowed that one, at his urging, from Bill Nye the Science Guy (Bill! Bill! Bill!)). In doing so, they create just enough FUD to turn the debate into something else entirely – a debate on the economic costs of reducing our emissions and clear-cutting, when the real debate should be on the human costs of not taking drastic action now. So why shouldn’t the respected scientists doing actual, peer-reviewed work in the field, come out from behind their lab equipment and bring the debate to the public?
There’s a similar problem happening with scientists in every field trying to battle back against the junk science of “Intelligent Design.” People misunderstand why scientists rush so quickly to defend the theory of evolution. It’s not because evolution is the Most Wonderful Scientific Theory Ever Deduced, with no flaws or gaps – obviously, it isn’t. Just as with any scientific theory, however, it is a very good model of observed reality, and it does make testable predictions. The real problem lies with pro-Creationists’ (whatever fancy name they give themselves) central argument that evolution is “just a theory.” That sort of absurdity threatens to undermine the very core of scientific study and understanding. The fact of the matter is, some theories are demonstrably better than others. “Intelligent Design” doesn’t provide a good theoretical model that makes testable predictions the way evolution does. The real problem is that when you get people to buy into that nonsense of “just a theory,” then you can convince them to ignore any scientific evidence whatsoever, no matter how compelling. It is this erosion of the basic principles of what we call science which is the most damaging effect of this battle, and the reason scientists are so worried.