UN officials say we should listen to science. Don’t be fooled. It’s a rhetorical ploy, a cover for their own agenda.
It’s rather shocking to realize that some people regard science as nothing more than a rhetorical device. It’s just another tool in the toolbox, to be pulled out whenever they think it might advance their agenda.
How can we tell when someone is playing that game? Pay attention to their language.
The Guardian yesterday contained an article about a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) climate change report. The article refers to Achim Steiner, the UN bureaucrat who heads UNEP, and says:
Despite the slow pace of progress, Steiner said there was still a chance for the world to obey scientific advice. [bold added; backed up here]
On the other side of the Atlantic yesterday, a Yale University magazine published an interview with a second UN bureaucrat, Christiana Figueres. She believes the world is undergoing a UN-orchestrated transformation that, in her words, is “going to make the life of everyone on the planet very different.” Notice she doesn’t say our lives are going to get better. Just different.
But the more important point is her remark that:
governments have decided that they need to listen to science. [bold added; backed up here]
And then there’s the article authored by a third UN bureaucrat over at the activistResponding to Climate Change website, headlined:
Pachauri: Science must drive ambition in Doha [backed up here]
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wants us to believe that UN emissions reductions negotiations are about nothing more than pure science.
In the world inhabited by such bureaucrats, science is something humans are supposed to obey. Something we’re supposed to listen to. Something that shoulddrive our behaviour.
In other words, science is the new God, the new authority figure whose mere presence is supposed to mesmerize us. Listen, we are told, and obey. Follow meekly wherever science leads.
But science itself leads us everywhere and nowhere. Only childish or exploitative people think that science lays out a single path for us to follow. In a brilliant pieceearlier this week, journalist Andrew Orlowski includes this sub-heading: “Scientists are clever, they should tell us what to do – right?” followed by these lines:
A thought exercise. Imagine, if you will, that an astronomer discovered a large space rock hurtling to Earth. The precise time and date of impact were then calculated. This would leave us with a wide range of moral and economic choices. It would be very strange, in fact inconceivable, if someone handed all these decisions to the astronomer to make.
“Here you go, Man with the Telescope – tell us what to do!” [backed up here]
A chapter in my book is titled Science is Not a Tyrant. It makes an argument similar to Orlowski’s. I say that while journalists and activists love to play the ‘science says’ game, the job of science is to provide us with data. How we choose to respond to that data is an entirely separate discussion.
There is always more than one possible course of action. There are always tradeoffs to be weighed. No individual scientist – and no group of scientists – has the right to make those decisions on everyone else’s behalf.
Anyone who argues that ‘science has spoken’ and that we must therefore listen and obey is being profoundly undemocratic. They are denying the wider community – you and me – a voice.