Science, protest and meaning

In a further twist to Tolstoy’s famous quotation that ‘Science is meaningless because it gives us no answer to our question, the only question important to us: “what shall we do and how shall we live?'” the climate scientist Mike Hulme has recently been commenting on the hacking of e-mails at the climate research unit, University of East Anglia. He argues that : ‘Science offers unique insights into how the physical world works and the potential consequences of different policy choices. But scientific enquiry is no substitute for political argument.’ In an article that echoes some of the postings on this site (see below: ‘Being evidence based’) about politics and evidence he goes on to argue that just as politics clouds scientific disciplines, so science can appear to subvert politics. ‘Producing the trump card of science to settle a dispute is not healthy for democracy,’ he says. ‘ We owe it to our fellow citizens to listen and understand the reasons for their scepticism over man-made cliamte change. It is not all irrational fundementalism.’ Hume calls for both good quality scientific practice as well as robust political debate. Making a claim that political action need only be armed with peer reviewed science, as the protesters at the Heathrow climate change protest in 2007 did, undervalues the strength of their moral argument, Hume argues.

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