EDITORIAL: Unsettled science

Free scientific inquiry shouldn’t be squelched by political correctness

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The need for scientific inquiry is over, according to those who insist matters that are “settled” aren’t worthy of exploration. This is what passes for thoughtfulness in higher education today.

At Ball State University in Indiana, for example, anti-religion activists are irritated that physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin presented intelligent design in his classroom as a plausible theory of origins. The basic gist was that mankind and the universe did not spring forth out of a series of wholly random events and that some higher power guided the process.

Sociologist-turned-college president Jo Ann Gora doesn’t want such a possibility ever discussed in a Ball State classroom. “Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom,” she wrote in a July 31 letter to faculty. “It is an issue of academic integrity. As I noted, the scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected intelligent design as a scientific theory.”

Progress depends on challenging the conventional wisdom. Most of the ancient world looked at the sky and assumed it was obvious that the universe revolved around the Earth. In the 16th century, Copernicus said, no, the common belief was wrong and the planets, including Earth, revolve around the sun. A century later, Newton explained how gravity made it all work, which was accepted until Einstein came along with his breakthrough theory of relativity. Science never rests.

A superior court judge in the District of Columbia thinks she knows better, last month using the “settled science” principle to side with Penn State University Professor Michael E. Mann in his defamation lawsuit against pundit Mark Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Each had published material critical of Mr. Mann’s famous “hockey stick” graph that has been used to peddle global warming while hiding the recent decline in global temperatures. The criticism was the sort of speech that ought to be protected under the First Amendment, but Judge Natalia M. Greene doesn’t care, and the case continues next month.

Her interim ruling points out that a Penn State committee of global warming advocates agreed with Mr. Mann, and so did the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s settled, then. “Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud,” writes Judge Greene, “and none of those investigations having found [Mr. Mann’s] work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false.” Judge Greene’s chilling conclusion is that it can be a crime to label purveyors of global warming alarmism as charlatans.

Undermining speech in the public square or the public classroom in this way is a mistake. Science isn’t settled on a lot of points, and society’s advance requires more speech, inquiry and debate, not less.

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