Later …. Wait, I think I'm being too hard on Schneider who later qualified the quote below to apply only to soundbite decisions when getting interviewed… ]
He apparently did not mean it to be as broad and sweeping as it sounds below]. However, I do think the quote reflects the current behavior of many scientists who are choosing to accept alarmism because it suits their needs.
My initial post:
A great intellectual frustration for me is trying to understand why super bright, well informed people who all subscribe to the idea of rational, scientific inquiry often disagree – sometimes violently – about the interpretation of well studied phenomena. I now think the answer can be found by noting how our pesky human intellectual inadequacies combine with our "tribal" tendency to agree with our friends and challenge our enemies, especially when we are under personal attack. This in turn focuses attention on a "too narrow" spectrum of information and people, which in turn leads to faulty analysis or suspect statements – even by very competent intellects.
Stephen Schnieder is an internationally respected Stanford climatologist and biologist and a key author of the IPCC report which is the key Global Warming reference work. He's also one of the harshest critics of Bjorn Lomborg and his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist". Back in 1996 Schnieder got to the heart of the challenge of mixing science and politics in the statement below and his answer to critics who often accuse him of alarmism based on the following statement he made in an interview:
"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both. [bolding added]
Yikes Dr. Schneider – please JUST SAY NO to effectiveness if it is going to compromise your honesty – that should not be an ethical bind for a scientists who should be held to a higher standard of honesty.
I sure don't like his idea that "offering up scary scenarios" somehow serves the long term best interests of the public. It sure looks like Schneider would support Al Gore's alarmism as an important part of getting the public to act on an issue many hold very dear (reduction of greenhouse gases in the hopes of stopping global warming), but I think a more functional view is that the role of science should be to offer the unvarnished truth, and to *challenge* alarmists and political or economic vested interests when they report facts selectively or inaccurately. Only with accurate analyses can we allocated resources most effectively to the myriad problems of earth.
The irony of it all is that global warming alarmists cite potential human death catastrophes from global warming, yet simply ignore the *fact* that there are many human catastrophes going on *right now* in many parts of the globe. Before you ask me to focus my attention and hundreds of billions of dollars of tax money on the (slight) possibility that global warming will rise sea levels 20 feet, I ask you to focus your precious attention, and a few dozen billion, on the easy to solve problems of the world like clean water, intestinal disease, and malaria. Deal?