Climate-change gurus and heads of state will be gathering in Copenhagen this week - wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen - to work on damage control. The revelations of data-monkeying by members of the IPCC (International Panel for Climate Control) make climate-change treaties a little iffy these days.
Or maybe not. The scientific community has gained such a near-divine status in the eyes of most people that if they simply decide to shrug off the evidence of data suppression and data manipulation by IPCC scientists, it will probably all blow over in a short while. But, as I said last week, we must not miss the significance of these revelations.
What they show us is that science is not the values-free, all-objective enterprise it touts itself as being. Scientific work is shot through with presuppostions, faith commitments, and personal agendas, and what we see with the IPCC emails is probably not too dissimilar from what happens in many disciplines, albeit not so intentionally deceitful.
"The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be," quoth Carl Sagan back in the '70s, and all his colleagues nodded in smug agreement. But science is not capable of making that judgment. Science deals in material realities and, so, by definition cannot pronounce on the existence or not of immaterial - spiritual - realities. Except, of course, with the authority of science back of it. Sagan also wrote that "arguments from authority are worthless." Presumably he didn't mean those made by scientists.
Science is a way of knowing, but only one way. Moreover, science is limited in what it can to what it can see, feel, hear, taste, touch, and manipulate (oops) in the lab. The scientific enterprise - like all human enterprises - is grounded in faith - in certain convictions and working assumptions that must be taken by faith - and that faith is based in human reason alone. So the conference in Copenhagen will be a gathering of faith-folk, a cult of religious priests and their state sponsors, wondering and full of wonder about the world we live in, but unwilling to consider that anything other than their own chosen epistemology can lead to real truth.
Meanwhile, school children will continue to be nurtured on the faith of science as though the IPCC scandal never occurred at all.