The Real Danger of Confusing Consensus With Science

Most of us enjoy a spirited debate on the various topics discussed on Writer Beat, knowing that human lives don't actually hang in the balance.  However, when the debate centers around a topic with as far reaching implications as Global Warming/Climate Change, I feel obligated to make as compelling a case as possible for real Science uninfluenced by political or other forces.  Perhaps a historical review can provide a proper perspective.

At the beginning of the 20th Century a new "scientific" theory was proposed that quickly drew attention and support from leaders in all walks of life, including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Luther Burbank, Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University), HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and many others.  It had the institutional support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association and the National Research Council.  Extensive research on this topic was done by Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Stanford.

The research on this topic went on for over half a century.  Anyone who questioned the topic's scientific validity was shouted down and villified - careers were destroyed.  Not surprisingly, after a short while very few questioned the topic for fear of retribution.  If you wanted your research funded, it had better be in line with "consensus". Yet despite its overwhelming "consensus", you won't find anyone today who subscribes to the theory or admits they ever did.

Today, we know that this famous theory that gained so much support was actually pseudoscience. The crisis it claimed was nonexistent. And the actions taken in the name of theory were morally and criminally wrong. Ultimately, they led to the deaths of millions of people.

The theory was eugenics, and its history is so dreadful --- and, to those who were caught up in it, so embarrassing --- that it is now rarely discussed.  I'm not trying to make the argument that eugenics and global warming/climate change are equivalent.  But the path taken and blind, almost religious acceptance without rigorous application of Scientific Method led to horrible consequences, especially when applied by the Nazis during World War II.

As a global society we are facing immediate life and death problems affecting millions of innocent people around the world.  We know that starvation and disease are staring us in the face today.- to hell with maybe in a hundred years.  With finite resources at our disposal can we look a starving child in the eye and say "sorry, we can't save you because theoretically in a hundred years there may be other people starving?"  I think the only rational action a compassionate person can make is to save who we can in our lifetimes. 


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