Should Scientists Take a Political Position?

I think the sense of the third floor (the air, ocean and ice groups) at AGU has shifted dramatically since the CRU hackings. Most people understand that conventional scientific comity in the face of impending disaster at some point becomes counterproductive. In any case it seems unlikely to protect you from unfair attacks anyway. So, yeah.

Slate has an excellent piece by Jonathan Mingle reporting from AGU on this subject.

That’s the sound of serious-minded scientists fretting out loud to the rest of us that the earth is indeed f**ked, unless we get our s**t together. More and more are willing to risk professional opprobrium to drive that message home.


  1. How to drive home the societal implications of the science while still retaining the public's trust in the objectivity of the science, that's the dilemma.

    I think distinguishing between the role of scientist and activist is important (as eg Hansen usually does very well) and not being policy prescriptive.

    Science makes the diagnosis, but the treatment is decided upon by the society as a whole (ideally).

    An "if-then" statement may be fitting, eg if we want to retain a relatively stable climate, one that we and our infrastructure is adapted to, we should strongly curb our GHG emissions". The "if" is important here, lest one be accused of having a secret agenda (communist world government, anyone?).

    More thoughts on this:

  2. This BBC series on the climate wars (20 January 2012) is doing a good job. At minute 52.10 a picture of a much younger Hansen precedes his 1980s testimony in Congress, and puts the context well. Then there's Margaret Thatcher about minute 56. Their pearls of wisdom seem to have been consumed by swine:

    "real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices so that we do not live at the expense of future generations. ... No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy with a full repairing lease."

    It helps that the presenter (Iain Stewart) is easy on the ears with a healthy dollop of charm.
    (an hour, first of three episodes)

    The video

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