'Trust Science'

John Derbyshire rains on the Climategate parade

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Conservative skeptics of global warming, emboldened by the Climategate leaks, may not like John Derbyshire's scolding tone. Amid celebration, he urges readers not to use the scandal as an excuse to reject science completely. The jury may still be out on whether global warming is man-made, he writes, but science is still a beacon of truth--its statutes compose a "core magisterium, which we can and do trust."

Derbyshire admits this may ruffle some conservatives, noting that "some high proportion of readers" likely "bristled" at the article's title: "Trust Science." While he hedges his bets on climate science, he gives a stern warning to crowing colleagues:

In any region of science there is usually, at any given time, a consensus position and a contrarian position. For theories solid enough to be part of the magisterium, contrarianism is out at the social fringes, as noted. In less settled areas, the contrarians themselves are working scientists, with data they can bring forward to challenge the consensus data. This is certainly the case with climate science ... The temptation for outsiders is to side with the underdogs, the contrarians. The temptation is especially strong for conservatives, who are suspicious of bossy technocratic elites possessed of esoteric knowledge. We are inclined to think that the shape of our light bulbs, the capacity of our toilet cisterns, and the axle weight of our automobiles should be decided between ourselves and the relevant vendors, on market principles, not dictated to us by bureaucrats.

The temptation should be resisted. Contrarians do indeed sometimes turn out to be right, but that's not the way to bet. Consensus exists for a reason, and a consensus should put up some spirited resistance to being overthrown.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.