Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Scientific Sleuthing

Ian Musgrave has a good post up at The Panda's Thumb on William Dembski's science envy. What caught my eye was Ian's responce to Dembski's claim that there is a "powerful new caste of scientists who have appointed themselves the guardians of humanity and the priests of a new social order," based on the scientific community's consensus about anthropogenic global warming. Ian replies:

Stand in awe at the power of us scientists, we only have to use big words, show lots of data, click our fingers and politicians will um, er, well .…. ignore us actually (see also here). Until real disaster actually does strike.

Take air pollution: Scientists had been pointing out the issues with air pollution for years, but nothing really started getting underway until the killer smogs hit London. With acid rain, it was only after large swaths of forests began dying and lakes became sterile did anybody actually take action on scientists warnings. Collapsing fisheries? Scientists keep on warning about the consequences of overfishing but people tend to take notice only after a fishery has collapsed, and then don’t even put in decent fishing controls. Ozone hole? Despite well researched chemistry no one really listened until the ozone hole appeared over the Antarctic, then they scurried moved sluggishly, until finally we have bans on most ozone destroying CFC’s.

The true pattern is that scientists find an important issue, back it up with careful research, and have to fight persistently to get governments, businesses and the general public to take notice. Global warming is a case in point.

Maybe we should call this dance of ignoring warnings given by scientists until it too late "The Musgrave Ritual."

What do I win for getting the reference?
A crumpled piece of paper, an old-fashioned brass key, a peg of wood with a ball of string attached to it, and three rusty old discs of metal. Enjoy!
You lucky bastard. There's times I've lain awake at night dreamin' of having a peg of wood with a ball of string attached to it.
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