When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope


An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

  • Monique Chartier

    It’s remarkable. There has never been such a potentially impactful theory (manmade global warming) that is apparently so fragile that it cannot stand up to an examination of even the most basic facts/data points.

    Perhaps the most significant data point is that man only generates 6% (six percent) of greenhouse gases, with the planet generating the other 94%. Yet this is NEVER mentioned by AGW advocates or their compliant friends in the media, in part, because it would prompt a logical corollary thought: 6% is a very low percentage. Accordingly, your evidence that it is the cause of global warming needs to be damn strong.

    As we all know, the evidence for AGW is not strong at all (though their frantic efforts to manipulate the temperature record into a smooth upward curve confirms they understand the need for such evidence), which is why the theory continues to rely heavily, as Justin points out, on belief rather than science.

    • BasicCaruso

      “Perhaps the most significant data point is that man only generates 6% (six percent) of greenhouse gases, with the planet generating the other 94%.”

      And of course, a malfunctioning furnace generates a tiny fraction of the gases in the air of your home. Local science expert says nothing to worry about… case closed!

      Compared to other carbon sources, carbon from fossil fuels has a distinctly different “signature,” essentially the relative amount of heavier or lighter atoms of carbon (technically δ13C). The more negative the δ13C, the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels.

      Over the years, δ13C has decreased while the overall amount of CO2 has increased. This information tells scientists that fossil fuel emissions are the largest contributor of CO2 concentrations since the pre-industrial era.

  • ShannonEntropy

    Everything you need to know about AGW you can read about at a site called Climate Depot


    • Merle The Monster

      Good idea. Use just one source to educate yourself on an important topic. You must have a very clean brain.
      Monique just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to climate change denial. You need to rely on those paid deniers that Exxon and Donors Trust employ.

  • BasicCaruso

    Ka-ching! How’d I know that was gonna be the case…

    OREN CASS — Oren Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of the forthcoming book The Once and Future Worker.

    Meet The Climate Denial Machine
    The Manhattan Institute has received funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch Family Foundations over the last decade. It previously questioned the science on the health effects of tobacco after receiving funding from the tobacco industry.


  • BasicCaruso

    Yes, not about science but belief. Would that there were more scientists with the courage to speak out against perversion of their research.

    “I am bringing the warning pronounced by the signatories to the notice of all the powerful Governments of the world in the earnest hope that they may agree to allow their citizens to survive.” — Bertrand Russell

    The Russell-Einstein Manifesto

    • BasicCaruso

      “Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.”