- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

Scientists and engineers can be just as irrational as anyone else. A doctorate in chemistry does not guarantee objective thinking.

When it comes to making public policy regarding technical matters, such as global warming, the point is worth remembering.

Once I was on an Internet list dealing with evolution. The members were specialists.. Being an inveterate troublemaker, I asked them several questions.

• Do we know, as distinct from suspect, the chemical composition of the primeval seas?

• Has the chance occurrence of life been replicated in the lab?

• Can the evolution of life be mathematically shown to be statistically possible, given any seas whatever, in the time available?

The response from the list was furious. The members accused me of being anti-science, charged me with creationism, and eventually bumped me from the list.

Of course, the answer to all of these is “no” — which does not disprove anything about evolution. An inability to demonstrate that something did happen is different from establishing that it didn’t happen.

The fascinating thing, though, was that they refused to answer the questions. Every one of them knew that chance evolution of life had not been replicated. This isn’t in dispute. (Functioning viruses have been assembled in the lab, but this is hardly chance.) But, despite my repeated attempts to pin them down, they wouldn’t say it.

I think the reason was that they were so emotionally involved in disputes with creationists that they couldn’t bring themselves to admit anything that might even seem to cast doubt on the theory. This is political, not scientific behavior.

Now consider global warming. The two important questions are whether it is happening and, if so, to what extent human production of greenhouse gases are responsible. These, particularly the second, are technical questions. Given that major consequences depend on the answers, objectivity is a good idea.

Yet, note that thinking on the subject is along political party lines. Libertarians and conservatives say that global warming isn’t occurring, or isn’t caused by man, and that anyone who disagrees is a nut case Green and anti-business. Liberals say that conservatives are causing irreparable harm to the planet to make money. All of this is political boilerplate.

In general, none of these people know what they are talking about. To have a shot at answering the questions, you would need to be a highly trained climatologist. Few of us are.

I don’t take a position on global warming because I’m not competent to do so. I note, however, after many years of covering such things, that those who are, or should be, competent in technical matters tend to be influenced by extraneous considerations, such as politics.

Academia runs strongly to liberalism, and its scientific people lean toward conclusions acceptable on campus. Studies funded by industry almost invariably conclude what the industry wants to hear.

This same problem plagues other vital inquiries. Is the world running out of oil, or not? You can cherry-pick petrologists to find any answer you want.

Evolution doesn’t matter. Oil and global warming do.

If the problems exist, we need to do something about them, starting now. Yet what I see is endless partisan wrangling. Sure, many of the technical people are objective, but politics determines who will be listened to. Not good.

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