In his painfully boring State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama did deliver at least one raucously hilarious laugh line.
"The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact."
Never mind the president's threats to get his way "with or without congress," and "without legislation." These merely indicated Obama's arrogant, oppressive, unconstitutional and monarchical conception of the executive's office.
But declaring that an ongoing debate is over and that politicized speculation is scientific certainty...Why, I begin to fear he sees himself as something like a god!
If we were to take the president's statement literally, it would simply be another of Obama's windy nothings, like "we are the ones we've been waiting for," or "the audacity of hope." Of course "climate change" is a fact. We live on a piece of rock spiraling through nothingness towards a gigantic nuclear explosion — it's not a stable situation! Among the outgrowths of this slow-motion disaster are the advent of human consciousness, the plays of William Shakespeare and the songs of Miley Cyrus, in that order. So if you want to worry about a catastrophic downward trend, worry about that one.
But climate change in the sense the president meant — the sense, that is, of an onrushing man-made calamity that can be stayed by massive increases in government expenditure, bureaucratic power and general legislative meddlesomeness? Not so much.
The state of the science is this. The best measurements indicate there has been some overall increase in land surface temperatures in the last fifty years (about .9 degrees Centigrade), though temperatures have remained steady for the last seventeen years or so. The latest warming trend — though by no means the greatest in earth's history — has obviously occurred during the period of greatest industrialization, but whether industry's by-products caused the warming is unknown. This is because we have no point of comparison: we have no earth on which industrialization hasn't occurred. Computer models designed to create such a comparison have been shown to be flawed. And dishonest data-jiggering and hysterical predictions by climatologists have made the entire enterprise suspect.
Why then all these bullying declarations that debate has come to an end? Why defame calmer and more rational minds with the emotionally loaded epithet "deniers?" Why limit freedom and further bankrupt the already bankrupt state by over-reacting to a crisis that has so far occurred only in the imagination?
I believe it's because, to leftists like the president, "science" is not science, not in the dictionary sense of a "systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation." To leftists, "science" is merely a word that conjures something good that people respect. It is therefore to be used as a populist bludgeon against those who disagree with the left's agenda.
When science — actual science — stands athwart that agenda — when gender differences are found to be wired into the brain or fracking is proved to be safe and effective or intact families are shown to increase the success and happiness of offspring — then, oh then, a hellfire of censorious, censoring, blacklisting and career-threatening rage is unloosed on the poor scientist bearing the bad news. When the offending scientist is marginalized or battered into timidity, his silence is cited as further proof of the leftist position.
Now it's true, I know, that some on the right can be unscientific too. Christian right creationists are the prime example (although 41 percent of Democrats are creationists as well), clinging to Biblical literalism despite overwhelming evidence of evolution.
But where do you see creationists assaulting and picketing and hounding scientists who disagree with them, as leftists did to sociologist E. O. Wilson? Where do you see conservatives silencing scientific speculation, as when leftists forced Harvard President Lawrence Summers to resign? What respected right wing outlet has boot-stomped scientific disagreement, as the Los Angeles Times did when it banned climate change skeptics from its letters column?
Such intellectual thuggery — like presidential proclamations that debate has ended or media declarations of scientific consensus or insults hurled at those who disagree — may be many things, most of them unprintable, but it is not science.
The debate has ended? In a pig's eye.