Letter: Time to change the subject
October 13, 2014
Time to change the subject
This is a postscript to Melanie Sturm's response to Auden Schendler, titled "The Archie Bunkers of settled science" (Aspen Times, Commentary, Oct. 9).
The thing I find so irksome about the claim that theories of climate change constitute "settled science" is that anyone who has read Thomas S. Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" knows that there is no such thing — that there is no body of scientific knowledge that has had a useful life of more than a few centuries.
Ptolemaic astronomy, to be sure, lasted long before Copernicus and Galileo came along. But Newton's physics was settled science for barely two centuries before Einstein and others showed how unreliable it was once you left Earth. The same was true of the phlogiston theory of combustion before Antoine Lavoisier offered his new paradigm of the atmosphere as a blend of distinct gases, one of which, called oxygen, is the central component of combustion.
The latter example brings us to the crux of what's suspect about Schendler's rebuttal of Sturm. Kuhn details how scientists such as Joseph Priestly, whose life's work was invested in the phlogiston explanation, fought Lavoisier's new science tooth and nail the way religious orthodoxy attacks perceived heresy.
A look at Auden Schendler's website and resume reveals that his entire professional career — indeed, his very identity — is bound up in the crusade against manmade global warming and climate change. If you shake up the paradigm that he shares with Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as the last 15 years have done, and as Sturm has done, you can expect to be treated as a heretic. After all, you are threatening to take away the thing that gives his life meaning and a sense of self-worth. No one can be expected to take kindly to that.
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Still, he might be expected to exercise a little humility and not brand his critics as the new Holocaust deniers and flat-Earthers who are "willfully blind or statistically illiterate." His own house may prove to be made of glass.
Of course, now that Ebola can be added to the list of diseases streaming across our porous borders, a year from now we may wonder how people could worry about the climate. Perhaps both Schendler and Sturm need to "Think Again" — perhaps it's time to change the subject.
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