The late philosopher Paul Feyerabend once said that the United States should separate science and state (and the rest of society) just as the U. S. (so he claims) separates church and state. He argues that scientists have become the new priesthood, analogous to religious priesthood, who establish orthodoxy and punish heresy. To Feyerabend, this setting of boundaries marks not only censorship of controversial ideas, but also persecution of those who deviate from established scientific “orthodoxy.” He calls for a pluralism in education that allows all points of view, “scientific” and nonscientific, to be taught so that individuals can make up their own minds about the nature of reality.
Most scientists who study climate believe that the current upward trend in average global temperature is due to human pollution of the atmosphere with gases that promote the “greenhouse effect.” This effect, which has made the planet Venus a hellhole with a constant temperature of around 800 degrees F., traps heat inside the atmosphere so that it cannot radiate into space. These scientists claim that unless limitations are placed on the emission of greenhouse gases, the climate will continue to warm, raising water levels worldwide and having perhaps devastating effects on weather patterns.
There are a minority of scientists who oppose this theory. While few would deny global warming all together, some believe such warming is due to normal climate variation rather than due to human activity. This issue, of course, has become a political hot potato, with supporters of man-made global warming accusing opponents of ignoring science and supporting policies that damage the environment and opponents claiming that supporters of man-made global warming are socialists who use it as an excuse for greater government intervention in business.
Americans themselves are divided over man-made global warming. Why? Why would many Americans ignore the majority of scientists and not accept man-made global warming as a fact.
One reason is the moralistic tone of scientists. Scientists have placed themselves in the role of the “new priesthood” who set standards of how humans ought to behave. So scientists appear in interviews telling people what to eat, which light bulbs to use, which spray cans to avoid, how much water to use, and they imply that those who do not go along with their recommendations are either unintelligent or morally suspect. Americans who still have a libertarian streak resent this moralism. It reminds some Americans of the Fundamentalist preachers in their childhood churches.
Plus, the new priesthood has misled the public in the past. The eugenics movement of the first three decades of the 20th century was supported by many of the most esteemed scientists in the U. S. Thousands of mentally handicapped and mentally ill individuals were sterilized. Racist scientists supported the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which black males with syphilis were observed, but not treated, for their disease. This program was only halted in 1972. Thus, scientists are no more infallible than a religious priest or minister.
Scientists often whine about Americans who are hostile to their claims. They ought to look at themselves in the mirror, tone down their arrogance, moralism, and preachiness, and use an evidence-based approach in making a case to the public. Instead of excommunicating dissident scientists, they should openly debate them in the “public square” so that people can hear both sides of an issue. Let’s have supporters and opponents of man-made global warming have public debates. Bring both sides to conferences and have them engage in scholarly debate in those settings. If the scientific establishment continues to be arrogant, it will continue to be ignored by a good number of the American people, including on the issue of man-made global warming. And the scientific establishment will be getting exactly what it deserves.