Tuesday, August 23, 2016

GWPF Newsletter: Can Science Be Saved From Self-Destruction?








Editor Sounds Alarm Over Falling Public Trust In Science

In this newsletter:

1) Editor Sounds Alarm Over Falling Public Trust In Science
Times Higher Education, 18 August 2016

2) Can Science Be Saved From Self-Destruction?
The New Atlantis, Summer 2016

3) The Climate Prosecutors Can’t Dodge Congress Forever
The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2016
 
4) Radical Green Academics Call For Climate Tax On Having Children
The Washington Times, 19 August 2016

5) Johan Norberg: Why Can’t We See That We’re Living In A Golden Age?
The Spectator, 20 August 2016

Full details:

1) Editor Sounds Alarm Over Falling Public Trust In Science
Times Higher Education, 18 August 2016
David Matthews

Jeremy Berg, new editor-in-chief of Science Mag, warns scientists are straying into policy commentator roles.
 



Jeremy Berg is taking on one of the most influential jobs in science just as the scientific endeavour is facing a challenge of historic proportions.

As the new editor-in-chief of Science, a highly selective journal that still has the controversial power to make scientific careers, the biochemist and former University of Pittsburgh senior manager is worried about an apparent rejection of science by some parts of the public – and thinks that academics should look closely at how their own behaviour may have contributed.

“One of the things that drew me to this position…is there’s a crisis in public trust in science,” he tells Times Higher Education after starting in the Science post on 1 July. “I don’t pretend to have answers to that question but it is something that I care deeply about.”

Berg, who started his career in chemistry but then moved on to span a host of other disciplines including biochemistry and personalised medicine, acknowledges that society’s confidence in science does “wax and wane” over time but thinks that, this time, things are different.

In the US, “scientists have been labelled as another special interest group”, he says.

Part of this is down to the polarisation of American politics and the rise of an anti-intellectual spirit, Berg thinks. His fears echo Atul Gawande, an American health writer, who earlier this year told graduating students at the California Institute of Technology that “we are experiencing a significant decline in trust in scientific authorities”.

In his address, Gawande cited a study that showed a significant decline in trust in science among American conservatives. In 1974, conservatives had the most trust in science, but by 2010, they had the least, and substantially less than liberals in particular.

Donald Trump, who has erroneously linked vaccines to autism, blamed China for creating the concept of global warming to undermine US manufacturing and claimed that environmentally friendly light bulbs can cause cancer, can be seen as one manifestation of this long-term collapse in conservative trust in science in the US.

But researchers are not entirely blameless for this rising hostility, thinks Berg. “Scientists are guilty of behaving in some ways of making this stick more than it needs to,” he says.

Too often they have gone beyond explaining the scientific situation and ventured into policy prescriptions, notably in the case of climate change, he thinks. “The policy issues should be informed by science, but they are separate questions,” he says. “Scientists to some degree, intentionally or otherwise, have been mashing the two together,” he adds, and urges scientists to be more “transparent” about “where the firmness of your conclusions end”.

Full post

2) Can Science Be Saved From Self-Destruction?
The New Atlantis, Summer 2016
Dan Sarewitz

Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing. To save the enterprise, scientists must come out of the lab and into the real world.
 


Morgan Ray Schweitzer (morganrayschweitzer.com)

Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.

The story of how things got to this state is difficult to unravel, in no small part because the scientific enterprise is so well-defended by walls of hype, myth, and denial. But much of the problem can be traced back to a bald-faced but beautiful lie upon which rests the political and cultural power of science. This lie received its most compelling articulation just as America was about to embark on an extended period of extraordinary scientific, technological, and economic growth.

It goes like this:

Scientific progress on a broad front results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.

So deeply embedded in our cultural psyche that it seems like an echo of common sense, this powerful vision of science comes from Vannevar Bush, the M.I.T. engineer who had been the architect of the nation’s World War II research enterprise, which delivered the atomic bomb and helped to advance microwave radar, mass production of antibiotics, and other technologies crucial to the Allied victory. He became justly famous in the process. Featured on the cover of Time magazine, he was dubbed the “General of Physics.” As the war drew to a close, Bush envisioned transitioning American science to a new era of peace, where top academic scientists would continue to receive the robust government funding they had grown accustomed to since Pearl Harbor but would no longer be shackled to the narrow dictates of military need and application, not to mention discipline and secrecy. Instead, as he put it in his July 1945 report Science, The Endless Frontier, by pursuing “research in the purest realms of science” scientists would build the foundation for “new products and new processes” to deliver health, full employment, and military security to the nation.

From this perspective, the lie as Bush told it was perhaps less a conscious effort to deceive than a seductive manipulation, for political aims, of widely held beliefs about the purity of science. Indeed, Bush’s efforts to establish the conditions for generous and long-term investments in science were extraordinarily successful, with U.S. federal funding for “basic research” rising from $265 million in 1953 to $38 billion in 2012, a twentyfold increase when adjusted for inflation. More impressive still was the increase for basic research at universities and colleges, which rose from $82 million to $24 billion, a more than fortyfold increase when adjusted for inflation. By contrast, government spending on more “applied research” at universities was much less generous, rising to just under $10 billion. The power of the lie was palpable: “the free play of free intellects” would provide the knowledge that the nation needed to confront the challenges of the future.
To go along with all that money, the beautiful lie provided a politically brilliant rationale for public spending with little public accountability. Politicians delivered taxpayer funding to scientists, but only scientists could evaluate the research they were doing. Outside efforts to guide the course of science would only interfere with its free and unpredictable advance.

The fruits of curiosity-driven scientific exploration into the unknown have often been magnificent. The recent discovery of gravitational waves — an experimental confirmation of Einstein’s theoretical work from a century earlier — provided a high-publicity culmination of billions of dollars of public spending and decades of research by large teams of scientists. Multi-billion dollar investments in space exploration have yielded similarly startling knowledge about our solar system, such as the recent evidence of flowing water on Mars. And, speaking of startling, anthropologists and geneticists have used genome-sequencing technologies to offer evidence that early humans interbred with two other hominin species, Neanderthals and Denisovans. Such discoveries heighten our sense of wonder about the universe and about ourselves.

And somehow, it would seem, even as scientific curiosity stokes ever-deepening insight about the fundamental workings of our world, science managed simultaneously to deliver a cornucopia of miracles on the practical side of the equation, just as Bush predicted: digital computers, jet aircraft, cell phones, the Internet, lasers, satellites, GPS, digital imagery, nuclear and solar power. When Bush wrote his report, nothing made by humans was orbiting the earth; software didn’t exist; smallpox still did.

So one might be forgiven for believing that this amazing effusion of technological change truly was the product of “the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.” But one would be mostly wrong.

Full essay

3) The Climate Prosecutors Can’t Dodge Congress Forever
The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2016
Elizabeth Price Foley

The state officials who subpoenaed Exxon face questions from the House—and they have to answer.
 

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announcing a state-based effort to combat climate change, March 29.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announcing a state-based effort to combat climate change, March 29. Photo: Reuters 

For a sense of how far the left will go to enforce climate-change orthodoxy, read the recently released “Common Interest Agreement” signed this spring by 17 Democratic state attorneys general. The officials pledged to investigate and take legal action against those committing climate wrongthink. Beginning late last year, the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all signatories to the agreement, issued broad-ranging subpoenas against Exxon Mobil and conservative think tanks. They sought documents and communications related to research and advocacy on climate change.

Concerned that these investigations were designed to chill First Amendment rights, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology issued its own subpoenas. In mid-July the committee, led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), asked the attorneys general to produce their communications with environmental groups and the Obama administration about their investigations.

They have indignantly refused to comply. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claimed, in a July 13 letter to Mr. Smith, that the committee was “courting constitutional conflict” by failing to show “a due respect for federalism.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in a similar letter dated July 26, asserted that the subpoenas are “unconstitutional” because they are “an affront to states’ rights.”

This view is utterly wrong. Federalism is a critical component of the constitutional architecture. The federal government exercises only limited and enumerated powers, and the states, under the Tenth Amendment, possess all other powers “not delegated to the United States.” But when the federal government acts within its delegated powers, it is entitled to supremacy over the states.

The Supreme Court has long recognized Congress’s power to investigate any matter within its legislative or oversight competence. With that comes a corresponding power to enforce its inquiries. The justices wrote in Barenblatt v. U.S. (1959) that the scope of Congress’s power of inquiry “is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”

Similarly, in McGrain v. Daugherty (1927), the court held that “the power of inquiry—with the process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.” That’s why lawmakers passed a law to make contempt of a congressional subpoena a crime, punishing anyone who willfully refuses to answer “any question pertinent to the question under inquiry.”

The subpoenas to state attorneys general regarding their climate crusade easily fall within Congress’s legislative and oversight competence. The House Science Committee has jurisdiction over matters relating to scientific research. Its rules authorize the chairman to issue subpoenas on behalf of the committee.

Further, Congress has ample authority to investigate and sanction violations of First Amendment rights that are committed by state officials. For instance, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 includes a provision—lawyers often call it simply “section 1983,” referring to its place in Title 42 of the U.S. Code—authorizing monetary damages against state officials who infringe a constitutional right.

Congress’s broad investigatory power clearly extends to state officials. In February, the House Oversight Committee compelled Darnell Earley, the emergency manager of Flint, Mich., to testify on the contamination of that city’s drinking water. Mr. Earley initially refused to appear, but he quickly acceded to its subpoena after the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), threatened to call the U.S. Marshals to “hunt him down.”

Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, privileges grounded in state law—such as the attorney-client privilege or work-product privilege—are not binding on the federal government. The letter to Rep. Smith from the Massachusetts attorney general, for example, argued that the committee’s subpoena seeks documents that are “either attorney-client privileged” or “protected from disclosure as attorney work product.” Congress is obligated to honor neither of those state-law privileges.

When Congress subpoenas the White House or agencies in the executive branch, there is a delicate balancing of competing constitutional interests. This is because the executive often refuses to comply by invoking a presidential privilege grounded in Article II of the Constitution.

But there is no such difficult constitutional balancing required here. When Congress subpoenas state attorneys general in the rightful exercise of its legislative and investigative power, all assertions of state authority give way because of the Supremacy Clause. No state official—whether judicial, legislative or executive—may resist a legitimate federal command.

Full post

4) Radical Green Academics Call For Climate Tax On Having Children
The Washington Times, 19 August 2016
Valerie Richardson

Climate-change activists are mobilizing to cut the birthrate, arguing that richer nations should discourage people having children in order to protect them from the ravages of global warming and reduce emissions.




Travis Rieder, assistant director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR that bringing down global fertility by half a child per woman “could be the thing that saves us.”

“Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them,” said Mr. Rieder, who has one child.

He proposed procreation disincentives such as government tax breaks for poor people and tax penalties for rich people, a kind of “carbon tax on kids.”

Poor nations would be cut slack “because they’re still developing, and because their per capita emissions are a sliver of the developed world’s. Plus, it just doesn’t look good for rich, Western nations to tell people in poor ones not to have kids,” NPR said.

His paper, “Population Engineering and the Fight Against Climate Change,” written with two Georgetown University professors, is scheduled to be published in October.

Their work coincides with that of Conceivable Future, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit founded on the premise that “the climate crisis is a reproductive crisis.”

Full post

5) Johan Norberg: Why Can’t We See That We’re Living In A Golden Age?
The Spectator, 20 August 2016

If you look at all the data, it’s clear there’s never been a better time to be alive.


‘We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt and the social fabric is fraying.’ Who said that? Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders? Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen? It’s difficult to keep track. They sound so alike, the populists of the left and the right. Everything is awful, so bring on the scapegoats and the knights on white horses.

Pessimism resonates. A YouGov poll found that just 5 per cent of Britons think that the world, all things considered, is getting better. You would think that the chronically cheerful Americans might be more optimistic — well, yes, 6 per cent of them think that the world is improving. More Americans believe in astrology and reincarnation than in progress.

If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.

We’re hardwired not to believe this. We’ve evolved to be suspicious and fretful: fear and worry are tools for survival. The hunters and gatherers who survived sudden storms and predators were the ones who had a tendency to scan the horizon for new threats, rather than sit back and enjoy the view. They passed their stress genes on to us. That is why we find stories about things going wrong far more interesting than stories about things going right.

It’s why bad news sells, and newspapers are full of it.

Books that say the world is doomed sell rather well, too. I have just attempted the opposite. I’ve written a book called Progress, about humanity’s triumphs. It is written partly as a warning: when we don’t see the progress we have made, we begin to search for scapegoats for the problems that remain. Sometimes, in the past and perhaps today, we have been too quick to try our luck with demagogues who offer simple solutions to make our nations great again — whether by nationalising the economy, blocking imports or throwing out immigrants. If we think we don’t have anything to lose in doing so, it’s because our memories are faulty.

Look at 1828, when The Spectator was first published. Most people in Britain then lived in what is now regarded as extreme poverty. Life was nasty (people still threw their waste out of the window), brutish (corpses were still displayed on gibbets) and short (30 years on average). But even then things had been improving. The first iteration of The Spectator, in 1711, was published in a Britain whose people subsisted on average on fewer calories than the average child gets today in sub-Saharan Africa.

Karl Marx thought that capitalism inevitably made the rich richer and the poor poorer. By the time Marx died, however, the average Englishman was three times richer than at the time of his birth 65 years earlier — never before had the population experienced anything like it.

Fast forward to 1981. Then, almost nine in ten Chinese lived in extreme poverty; now just one in ten do. Then, just half of the world’s population had access to safe water. Now, 91 per cent do. On average, that means that 285,000 more people have gained access to safe water every day for the past 25 years.

Global trade has led to an expansion of wealth on a magnitude which is hard to comprehend. During the 25 years since the end of the Cold War, global economic wealth — or GDP per capita — has increased almost as much as it did during the preceding 25,000 years. It’s no coincidence that such growth has occurred alongside a massive expansion of rule by the people for the people. A quarter of a century ago, barely half the world’s countries were democracies. Now, almost two thirds are. To say that freedom is still on the march is an understatement.

Part of our problem is one of success. As we get richer, our tolerance for global poverty diminishes. So we get angrier about injustices. Charities quite rightly wish to raise funds, so they draw our attention to the plight of the world’s poorest. But since the Cold War ended, extreme poverty has decreased from 37 per cent to 9.6 per cent — in single digits for the first time in history.

This has not happened through the destruction of the western middle class. Times have been rough since the financial crisis, yet for all the talk of Americans ‘left behind by globalisation’, median income for low- and middle-income US households has increased by more than 30 per cent since 1970. And this excludes all the things you can’t put a price on, such as advances in medicine, an extra ten years of life expectancy, the internet, mass entertainment, and cleaner air and water.

Speaking of water, Disraeli described the Thames as ‘a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors’. As late as 1957, the river was declared biologically dead. Today it is in rude health, with scores of different species of fish. The idea of the environment as a clean canvas being steadily spoilt by humanity is simplistic and wrong. As we become richer, we have become cleaner and greener. The quantity of oil spilt in our oceans has decreased by 99 per cent since 1970. Forests are reappearing, even in emerging countries like India and China. And technology is helping to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Parts of the world are falling to pieces but fewer parts than before. Conflicts always make the headlines, so we assume that our age is plagued by violence. We obsess over new or ongoing fights, such as the horrifying civil war in Syria — but we forget the conflicts that have ended in countries such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Angola and Chad. We remember recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have killed around 650,000. But we struggle to recall that two million died in conflicts in those countries in the 1980s. The jihadi terrorist threat is new and frightening — but Islamists kill comparatively few. Europeans run a 30 times bigger risk of being killed by a ‘normal’ murderer — and the European murder rate has halved in just two decades. […]

The cultural historian Arthur Freeman observed that ‘virtually every culture, past or present, has believed that men and women are not up to the standards of their parents and forebears’. Is it a coincidence that the western world is experiencing this great wave of pessimism at the moment that the baby-boom generation is retiring?

So who did say those words at the start of this article, about how we have ‘fallen upon evil times’? It wasn’t Trump. It wasn’t Farage. A century ago, an American professor found them inscribed on a stone in a museum in Constantinople. He dated them from ancient Chaldea, 3,800 BC.

Johan Norberg’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future is published next week. He also appears on this week’s Spectator podcast: spectator.co.uk/podcast

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The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at www.thegwpf.com.


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