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The Politics of Science: It’s Not What You Think

Days of videos and millions of words on the internet have been dedicated to conspiracies of all types. Some have even made entire careers out of it. Those who do it the best are able to draw in the casually curious, by basing their theories on cherry-picked truths and natural suspicions towards those in power. In a sense, it is a kind of backward praise to think that a government that can barely handle passing a budget could be involved in such intricate and elaborate schemes. It also provides a kind of order to the random scariness of the world. They need a villain and by God they’ll find one.

The conspiracy theories surrounding global warming are like any other, except rather than being aimed at just those in the seat of power it also points its cheese powder-stained finger at the science community. Since the themes endemic in their ethos focus on seizing power and distinction, that they believe the scientific community would be complicit in a hoax of this magnitude shows they fundamentally misunderstand how that community operates.

Sure, the scientific community is not without the influence of public and private politics, but scientists are only as really good as their data. When someone publishes a paper making a claim that humans caused climate change, the race is on to disprove that person.

There is neither power nor distinction in simply confirming the work of a (from their community’s POV) a more revolutionary scientist. In fact, a 2012 study published in Organization Studies examined not the results of their experiments, but how they presented those results and what effect it has on their careers.

Another reason for areas of dispute involve the computer models scientists use to take what they’ve observed from the past and use it to predict what will happen in the future. These models can be vastly different based upon any number of variables. Just because there is consensus about what is happening, it doesn’t mean that they have all the answers.

There remains debate about what sort of role deforestation might play in rising carbon dioxide levels. It’s not known exactly how and why the ocean sometimes absorbs heat and CO2 and why other times it radiates them. There is also a legitimate scientific concern about cow farts, which may contribute more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than every plane, train, and automobile in America.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said on a number of occasions that once consensus is reached “on an emergent scientific truth,” the science community goes onto “the next thing.” Yet, at least with respect to climate change, this is an oversimplification uncharacteristic of science’s best communicator.

They do move onto “the next thing” but it is far less singular than the phrase suggests. Scientists in dozens of disciplines will delve deeper into the mysteries that linger after previous experiments. They do not all, together study one thing, but everything altogether.

Many scientists don’t care about all this, but are simply interested in the work. In the study which gave us the “97 percent” consensus figure, the majority of abstracts surveyed did not “take a position” on whether or not climate change was man-made. For them, there were more important questions to ask.

Image via Wikicommons

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.