Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Now, Shut Up!

An excellent opinion piece in today's New York Times.  In it, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Gutting explains why you and me and all the other little people have no place challenging the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists about anthropogenic global warming.

...Nonexpert opponents of A.G.W. usually base their case on various criticisms that a small minority of climate scientists have raised against the consensus view.   But nonexperts are in no position to argue against the consensus of scientific experts.   As long as they accept the expert authority of the discipline of climate science, they have no basis for supporting the minority position.  Critics within the community of climate scientists may have a cogent case against A.G.W., but, given the overall consensus of that community, we nonexperts have no basis for concluding that this is so.  It does no good to say that we find the consensus conclusions poorly supported.  Since we are not experts on the subject, our judgment  has no standing.

...I am not arguing the absolute authority of scientific conclusions in democratic debates.  It is not a matter of replacing Plato’s philosopher-kings with scientist-kings in our polis. We the people still need to decide (perhaps through our elected representatives) which groups we accept as having cognitive authority in our policy deliberations. Nor am I denying that there may be a logical gap between established scientific results and specific policy decisions.  The fact that there is significant global warming due to human activity does not of itself imply any particular response to this fact.  There remain pressing questions, for example, about the likely long-term effects of various plans for limiting CO2 emissions, the more immediate economic effects of such plans, and, especially, the proper balance between actual present sacrifices and probable long-term gains.  Here we still require the input of experts, but we must also make fundamental value judgments, a task that, pace Plato, we cannot turn over to experts.

The essential point, however, is that once we have accepted the authority of a particular scientific discipline, we cannot consistently reject its conclusions.  To adapt Schopenhauer’s famous remark about causality, science is not a taxi-cab that we can get in and out of whenever we like.  Once we board the train of climate science, there is no alternative to taking it wherever it may go.

Professor Gutting makes a truly compelling argument.  I'd strongly urge you follow the link above and read his entire opinion piece.

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