John Shade, who is semi-retired from this blog, has an excellent article at
about what happens when a group of scientists see themselves as a monolithic élite with a strong sense of consensus and a “disregard for and disinterest in the ideas, opinions, and work of experts who are not part of the group.” He’s talking about proponents of string theory, citing a paper by Smolin from 2006.
As John notes, there’s a big difference between the quality of those working in the field of theoretical physics and climate scientists. Christopher Booker has recently noted the dangers of groupthink, which can affect any group sufficiently removed from reality, apparently independently of IQ. The difference between the physicists and the climate scientists lies not in their psychology, but in the nature of their links with the outside world. No-one’s going to make headlines with dire warnings of the implications of string theory, and no government is going to pass a law aimed at limiting its effects.
The key problem is not in the science, however crappy it may be, but in the links between it and the media and the wider world. In fact, maybe the problem isn’t in the science at all. Perhaps the science is entirely irrelevant.
I’ve just been watching an item on CNN in which Hala Gorani interviews Dr Michael Byrne or Imperial College, London about the current wave of hot weather. She knows less than nothing of course, except that she knows what the deniers are saying, and she knows that they’re wrong. She was also entirely uninterested in anything Dr Byrne had to say until he mentioned the heatwave of 2003 and its 20,000 early deaths, at which she expressed surprise. “These figures aren’t widely known,” she said. Of course they aren’t. They’re made up. The French Wiki page gives 47,000 deaths for Western Europe, the English page 22,000, while the Chinese version gives 35,000 deaths. Since a premature death is one that wouldn’t have happened so fast if it wasn’t for something or other, and since whatever you’re doing is probably taking a month or two or two off your life (so, whatever it is, please stop it) all deaths are premature. Deaths in Italy shot up when someone at the Ministry of Health realised this was a good way of getting an increased budget. It’s not what you count that counts, it’s the way that you count it. And why.
String theory began to unravel for me when they came up with this infinite number of universes thing. If there’s so many of them, let the poor suckers in some other universe finance this CERN stuff. I’ve got enough to be sceptical about, thank you very much.