I have been rethinking my previous post “Use and Abuse of Science” in terms of my more recent post “We Are Losing the War of Words”. I find that I missed the main point in the ‘Abuse” post. Here’s how.
There are several different meanings of the word “science” in common use.
- Science consists of a set of statements – verbal, mathematical, aural, graphical etc. – that describe natural phenomena observable by humans. For the balance of this discussion I will call this “e- science,” for “experimental science.”
- These is another definition of science that includes not only e-science but also all of the societal and bureaucratic apparatus that surrounds e-science: funding, research institutes, for-profit entities, universities, government organizations, and the peer review system for vetting and disseminating the results of the scientific research which is the business of e- science. I will use the term “s-science” (for “support-science”) to denote these support activities.
- I’ll use the term “t-science” to include both e-science and s-science.
In my critique in the earlier post, I was talking about e-science, while the people I was criticizing were talking about t-science. The discrepancy between our points of view comes about because of my insistence that for any t-science to be valid it must have the support of both valid e-science and valid s-science, and their failure to recognize this requirement. In simpler terms, science must have both something worthwhile to assert (valid e-science) as well as a mechanism to to support creation and dissemination of it (s-science.)
Sweeping the hyperbole away, the status of the science surrounding the study of global warming seems to be this: The most that e-science can responsibly assert at this time is that human activity has affected our climate, but the effects so far have been small. There is a potential problem here worth monitoring, but nothing that demands immediate drastic action. [The best recent summary of what we know about climate change is in Cato working paper No. 35: Climate Models and Climate Reality: A Closer Look at a Lukewarming World By Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger
December 15, 2015.]
Some people are using s-science to mis-represent the state of the e-science of climate change. Don’t let them get away with it.