December 9, 2009
Climategate and Government-Driven Science
By Bruce Walker
There are many lessons we can learn from Climategate. Environmentalism has become an intolerant religion rather than a rational movement seeking limited goals; the unsavory priests of environmentalism have no qualms about tricking people; and these fanatical clerics also preside over an inquisition of those who profess a different sort of climate study from the one which has become the formal dogma of the faith.
One of the costs of freedom is tolerance of foolishness and even of malice. If individuals privately want to worship pagan religions and embrace a sort of silly Gnosticism, they may do so without government stopping them. Likewise, if individuals want to proclaim a "new science" or a "new religion" -- the two are almost identical -- and then seek acolytes from among the general population, that too is tolerated by governments that cherish freedom.
Because both science and religion are ongoing explorations for truth, no one has the right to declare a particular frontier of either true. We grasp this easily enough with religion, but the same goes for science. The history of science is largely one of blunder to blunder to grain of truth. Cosmologists have no perfect theory for how the universe was born or how it will end, and physicists have no absolute theory to explain how relativity and quantum mechanics operate together at the subatomic level. No one even has a real explanation for such odd ideas as the uncertainty principle.
Does this mean that science is simply opinion and that there is no mechanism to separate good science from junk science? No; science, like business and like every other type of human interaction, has an inherent safeguard. Liberty, which is another way of saying the market of free, individual interactions, naturally lifts what is true and honest and sinks what is false and deceptive.
Credibility is often the most valuable asset of any successful enterprise. What does credibility mean? It's when no matter the intentions of the managers, their business behavior comprises honest internal operations and open, truthful communication with those outside the enterprise. Large corporations are extremely sensitive to their public image and grasp just how much their success in a free market depends upon their credibility.
Scientists were once the ultimate "free marketers." When Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity, he was a clerk in a Swiss patent office. Einstein won international acclaim -- not because he was an insider in any academic bureaucracy, but because his theory actually described the world better than existing theories. Science which prescribes results beforehand is not really science at all. It is simply government bureaucracy masquerading as independent thought.
These pseudo-scientists need not seek success in the free market of ideas. They crush competition and subsist on the taxpayer's coerced nickel rather than produce something which can withstand the pressures and challenges of opposing forces. Put another way, it does not matter to them if their science is true or their methods honest. All that concerns them is the coercive power of government and its largess of tax dollars.
Government is always the antithesis of free competition, which is why we need so little of government in our lives and so much of market forces. Science behaves almost exactly like Walmart or General Foods or McDonalds. When challenged every day by competitors, these enterprises must ruthlessly expunge wishful thinking, white lies, and the power of brute size. These businesses are, in fact, mirror images of good science. Each bad idea is exposed as a fraud; each more efficient answer is soon rewarded; and the "peer review" process of each business operation comes from many millions of independent analysts, each passing judgment on the different aspects of the business.
We have been told that good science requires vast government support. Actually, only bad science requires vast government support. Good science can get by very well in the marketplace. As much as anything else, Climategate is a textbook example of the dangers of having government prop up those people who ought to make their case successfully without our public dollars.
Science works this way. Aside from giants like Einstein or Newton -- men who had no public help at all -- private organizations like Bell Laboratories made many breakthroughs with not a single tax dollar. More importantly, Einstein, Newton, and Bell Laboratories had to make a compelling case for the integrity of their research. Bad science almost never gains much traction without government help.
End public support for climate research, and what happens? Scientists who believe that the data indicates man-made global warming would have to leave their ivy-walled bunkers and engage in robust, very public debate. That does not mean that these scientists would lose their arguments. It means that they would lose their arguments if they tried to smother opposition, hide research data, and pretend that everyone agreed with them.
Government-supported global warming research does what government always does: it discourages any true independent thought, and because political muscle rather than scientific truth decides all issues, it encourages everyone to climb on board the same bandwagon without much discussion or dissent. It may be that there is man-made global warming, but the malign influence of uncompetitive government treasure and power corrupts the whole area of study. Science rests upon independence and integrity or it rests upon nothing at all. As the sewage seeping out of East Anglia shows, right now we have no real "study" of global warming at all. What we have instead resembles more the dreary memos of dull bureaucrats: just what one would expect from government-driven science.