Perhaps the greatest single threat facing mankind today is our failure to apply reason to effect solutions. In fact, we appear to openly defy and ridicule the findings of our scientific community, writing them off as so many lairs and frauds. At least here in the United States, a significant segment of our population has bought into the idea that science has conspired to fabricate the notion of global climate change, fudging the figures so as to create the appearance of a problem, in order to generate ongoing funding for additional research.
In essence, we now have an arena, i.e., politics, that trumps science. And, which the example above may be the most obvious example, it’s certainly not the only one.
Wally Rippel, an extremely senior physicist from Cal Tech, points out that top scientists are ostracized constantly for not conforming to the mainstream viewpoints on the subject. In a recent conversation, he gave me a couple of examples associated with cold fusion. Dr. Peter Hagelstein at MIT, best known for his X-ray laser, is a strong proponent, but he’s been isolated from the entire scientific community because of that belief.
Wally also tells this story:
Fred Hartley was on the board of directors at Caltech in 1989 when the results of the initial cold fusion experiments were released. He was also CEO of Union Oil. It was explained that all of this was a problem for Caltech. The vice provost who had been provost at Caltech 12 or 15 years ago, very capable physicist, left Caltech to work for British Petroleum, then left British Petroleum to become the head of the Department of Energy Science. This was the person who convinced the world that cold fusion was junk science. He directly stated that Fleishman and Pons were fraudulent—and he had the credibility to make that statement. I’ve been very troubled by that, because just seeing the scientific data, it doesn’t correspond to that. I see a reality there.
I felt a great deal of unfairness was done. I did not see a professionalism. I spoke to some of the Caltech faculty who were part of the debunking process and I did not feel it was a professional response; there was something else involved.
More recently, I was able to do this: I offered to make a significant donation to Caltech for their doing research in the cold fusion area even if that research would continue to debunk it. The offer was over $100,000.
The development association of Caltech went to the physics department—I wanted it to be through the physics department—and the physics department said, “We will not do this. We will never do it. It will not be done here at Caltech.” And the development person said, “Well, do you believe cold fusion to be fraudulent? Invalid?” And the person said, “That is not the issue. The issue is: the fact that we debunked it means we can’t go back and revisit it. It will not be done here.”
I asked, “But what about if this is scientifically valid?” The person said, “It doesn’t matter. We will not do it. Period.”
Clearly, mankind is never well-served to put its scientists in a position of subservience to big money/power, where they feel they must toe the line on any issue, whether it’s global warming, cold fusion, “clean coal,” etc.
I would further argue that we face an even bigger problem when religion and science cross paths. A few years ago, Illinois Congressman John Shimkus, who aspired to be chairman of the super-powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, quoted the bible (the books of Genesis and Matthew) as reason not to act on climate change, reading:
And He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other. The Earth will end only when God declares it is time for it to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth.
Shimkus continued, asserting,
There is a theological debate that this is in fact a carbon-starved planet, not that we have too much carbon.
Please do not ask me to explain what Shimkus could possibly mean by “There is a theological debate that this is in fact a carbon-starved planet.” But that’s not the point. While I hesitate to challenge anyone’s faith, I don’t hesitate for a second in recommending against electing lawmakers whose policy decision-making process so clearly and aggressively fly in the teeth of critically relevant scientific discoveries. I urge our civilization to come up with a better way in dealing with the lethally important challenges we face.
More broadly, we need to remove all influences of religion and politics from the realm of science. To the degree that we’re incapable of doing this, i.e., freeing science from the yoke of corruption and stupidity, we will richly deserve the disasters that are headed our way.