April 21, 2004

Cargo Cult Science: Bjorn Lomberg

Bjorn Lomberg, the much maligned author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, apparently is being compared to Hitler by Rajendra Pachauri the head of the UN's IPCC. For any who have forgotten, the IPCC is the UN's premier body for dealing with climate change. Instead of fighting Lomberg's observations with scientific evidence the riposte from the IPCC attacks the person and uses the reputation of the post occupied by the attacker to increase the credibility of the charge. While the reaction so far seems to be about the moral issues of unfairly tarring somebody with a Hitler label I'd take a different tack. This is engaging in cargo cult science.

Scientists have an obligation to actually use the scientific method in scientific disputes. By not actually addressing the charges but just hurling invective you not only are not doing science but you are misleading the less informed as to what science is. Scientists need to be especially on guard against this because it is such an easy bad habit to fall into. Call your opponent an idiot, discredit him in the eyes of all so nobody listens, who cares if the point he's trying to make isn't actually disproven, you've accomplished your political goal and destroyed any threat that your scientific position will be successfully dethroned from that quarter.

But you really don't have a scientific position at that point. What you have is a religious statement of faith dressed in the robes of science. How do scientists tolerate this corruption in their midst?

HT: Andrew Sullivan

Posted by TMLutas at April 21, 2004 03:45 PM