Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Scientific Ideas Meet Public Policy

Scientific ideas have societal consequences.

AIDS Denialism

A paper entitled "Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa" published in a recent issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS) conservatively estimated the number of HIV-related deaths in South Africa from 2000-2005 due to the Mbeki Administration's policy of AIDS denialism at over 330,000.

The illustrates just how dangerous it can be for governments to base their policies on unsound scientific ideas.

Which brings us to the issue of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change.

A Convenient Falsehood?

In October 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and Al Gore "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

A word that crops up again and again in the climate change debate is "consensus": it is frequently stated that there is consensus among scientists about the validity of man-made climate change and what to do about it. We should note here that some synonyms of "consensus" are "agreement, accord, harmony, compromise, consent, unanimity;" an antonym is "disagreement." The first thing to note is that the scientific validity of any scientific fact or theory is NOT established by consensus. Nor is it undermined by its opposite, "disagreement." Consensus and disagreement are not scientific terms, they are political terms (which is why perhaps the IPCC and Mr. Gore won the Nobel Prize for Peace and not for one of the scientific disciplines). On the contrary, virtually all scientific discoveries are born in the minds of one individual or one small collaborating group of individuals. They are not arrived at or established by consensus. Scientific facts and theories are established by appropriate scientific evidence, the validity of which is completely independent of any attendant consensus or lack thereof.

In any case, the simple truth is that there is no consensus about the validity of man-made climate change as this letter signed by more than 100 eminent scientists, including some leading climatologists, clearly demonstrates.

Some of the scientists who have questioned the "consensus" science and public policy around man-made climate change include:
The danger for the developing world like Sub-Saharan Africa adopting public policy based on man-made climate change is that development will be severely hampered which will result in less prosperity and more poverty, hunger, disease and conflict (over limited and dwindling economic resources).

1 comment:

ambersun said...

An interesting reflection.

I know very little about science so I can't really agree or disagree.

I think there was, in some of the political talk, some talk of making some exceptions for third world countries who need to develop. Is that true?

If it's not I can see that it would be a problem.