Monday, August 13, 2007

Freeman Dyson on scientific attitudes toward "global warming"

We keep hearing the warmingists talk about consensus, and how everybody they know agrees with their position, and that this proves that it must be so. That's not science. Jerry Pournelle would like to draw your attention to this essay in which the noted physicist and astronomer Freeman Dyson discusses consensus and heresy in science, using the current controversy over AGW as an armature to hold the argument.

1. The Need for Heretics

In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know”. The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.

As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen. I will be telling stories that challenge the prevailing dogmas of today. The prevailing dogmas may be right, but they still need to be challenged. I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies. Since I am heretic, I am accustomed to being in the minority. If I could persuade everyone to agree with me, I would not be a heretic.
Read the whole thing. Photos by George Dyson and others from the recent SciFoo convention following the essay.

Update: A discussion is developing at Dr. Pournelle's place, here, here, and here. He uses the word "scam." [The August 14th page includes a link to an article on paper batteries.]

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