I have a really tough time knowing what to think about Jim Manzi’s piece. In one sense, I strongly agree that I find it really frustrating when I hear science being politicized. But on the other hand, I believe the key sentence he writes is:
Conservatives have been suckered on these issues because they have not been willing to police the boundary between scientific findings and unsupported conclusions drawn from such findings.
In order to police this boundary, it is necessary to distinguish between “scientific findings” and “unsupported conclusions.” Unfortunately, this is by its very nature “arguing the science.” If Manzi and I debate a course of action, and anything that I declare to be scientifically true he must concede, then I guarantee that he will lose. All I have to do is baldly assert that “science has shown” that if we do not take the course of action I suggest, we face apocalyptic globodoom. If he disagrees, then he is the one “politicizing science” and he loses. So your choices are: do whatever I want, deny science, or support apocalyptic globodoom. Sound like a debate you can win?
I hope Manzi will not argue that this example is irrelevant since this is exactly what Al Gore does. He asserts that “science has shown” that Florida will be underwater if we do not radically restrict CO2 emissions. He asserts that this is a “scientific finding,” and that if you disagree you are “assaulting reason.” Manzi says this is an “unsupported conclusion.” If the public believes that Manzi is the one politicizing science when he says this — if the public is convinced that CO2 is evil, as a matter of “scientific” fact — then we either argue the science, or we may as well give up now.
Personally, I don’t believe that the human race will still be using fossil fuels in 100 years, globodoom regulation or no. That’s why I’m inclined to dismiss the whole scenario, even if I were convinced that fossil-fuel emissions were a threat in the very long term. At the rate innovation goes these days, why should we expect the human race to be using primarily the same fuel for 200 years in a row? To do the kinds of things we’ll be doing in 2100, we’re going to want more energy than fossil fuels could ever produce. The market will provide it, one way or another. Unless, of course, the market has been wrecked by the envirodoom bureaucracy.
And to keep the envirodoom bureaucracy from crippling the economy, it may be necessary to argue the science occasionally. Sometimes the guy arguing that X is a scientific fact is trying to pass off Y as X, no? Hopefully, we’ll hear from Jim a bit later today.