Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Global Warming Science & Policy

Dr. Roy Spencer:
"I have some familiarity with these restrictions on government employees, as they were a major reason I resigned from NASA over four years ago. But back then, the shoe was on the other foot. NASA knew I was not supportive of the popular gloom-and-doom theory of global warming, and before any congressional testimony of mine on the subject, I was 'reminded' that I could speak on the science, but not on policy matters. Well, it turns out that expert witnesses on this contentious subject are almost always asked by a senator or congressman, 'What would you do about policy if you were me?' When the question came, I dutifully dodged it.

I am not sure, but disobeying my superiors would probably have been grounds for dismissal, if they wanted to press the point. In Jim Hansen's case, even if this was theoretically possible, I suspect the political fallout would be enormous, as he as done more than any scientist in the world to impress upon the public's consciousness the potential dangers of global warming.

Hansen is a smart, productive public servant that is on a crusade for what he believes in. I understand why he believes as he does -- but I still disagree with his conclusions, both scientific and policy wise.

For example, Hansen has been able to devise a scientific scenario whereby all warming in recent decades can be attributed to mankind. I believe, however, he has ignored possible natural mechanisms, for instance a change in cloudiness during the same period of time."
Dr. Spencer's commentary speaks to the interplay between science and politics. What I would like for you to consider is that science alone cannot make public policy choices. Value judgments are required. I have been very explicit about the value judgments used by economics to choose between alternative public policies. Consider also, that in our system of political economy, there is a group of people who get to make public policy choices, and they are the people elected to Congress and to be President.

Note that Dr. Spencer refers to the policy issues involved with global warming as being contentious. There is an old adage in politics that goes something like this: In politics rhetoric is reality. Consider what happens when science becomes part of the politics of a public policy issue. Rhetoric can become reality, and then it seems pretty hard to sort out the rhetoric from an objective evaluation of "just the facts." How can you judge what "science knows" about something like global warming when knowledge seems to be presented through the prism of politics?

2 comments:

Meg Chavez said...

Actually, I've taken two classes in the geology department at UCCS and niether of my professors agree with the political statements about global warming. They both stated that science has shown cycles of warming and cooling throughout the geological history of our planet. As far as I can tell, they do not think that the changes in the temperature and climate on the earth are anything that is the sole responsibility of mankind or can really be changed to the whim of mankind.
I was happy to read something where someone in NASA disagreed with popular politics, even if that may not have been your purpose for posting this.

Larry Eubanks said...

My purpose, eh? Well, one purpose was to note that there seems to be controversy among scientists with respect to the global warming policy issue. Hence my question: "How can you judge what "science knows" about something like global warming when knowledge seems to be presented through the prism of politics?"

Or, put it this way: Once science enters politics, how can a person know what science "says" is true?

And, add this: If there seems to be controversy in the "science of global warming," how should we approach choosing public policy with respect to global warming?