"Post-Normal" Science As Proof of Global Warming:
Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, argues in the Guardian that while scientific evidence may cast doubt on Global Warming why believe science? When a larger truth must be expressed, then "post-normal" science must be employed. (Hat tip: Melanie Philips and a Belmont Club reader)
Hulme argues that Global Warming is so important that everyone must act to stop it, whether or not it is scientifically known to exist.
Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken. It has been labelled "post-normal" science. ... The danger of a "normal" reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. ... If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. ... What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered. All of us alive today have a stake in the future, and so we should all play a role in generating sufficient, inclusive and imposing knowledge about the future. Climate change is too important to be left to scientists - least of all the normal ones.
It is an argument superficially similar in structure to Pascal's Wager, which is an expected value argument for the existence of God.
Pascal argued that it is a better "bet" to believe that God exists, because the expected value of believing that God exists is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. Indeed, he claimed that the expected value is infinite. Pascal believed that it was inexcusable not to investigate this question: "Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly." Pascal's Wager is an argument for belief in God that he made and used because he hoped it would convert those to Christianity, who were ignorant, uninterested, or unconvinced by the arguments for the existence of God.
But any resemblance between Pascal and Hulme ends there. While Pascal's Wager describes an approach to problems which are in principle unknowable to science because they are unobservable, at least with present methods, Hulme on the other hand, exiles phenomena which are entirely observable and which ought to be primarily in the domain of science to the realm of political activism. While in Pascal's Wager a personal bet on the existence of God can never alter the fact of His actual existence or non-existence and is therefore entirely private, Hulme's exhortation to base a global program of social and climate engineering on "post-normal" political science amounts to a kind of self-appointed and potentially catastrophic tyranny.
In declaring himself free of the traditional scientific burden of proof Hulme finally abandons any pretense to authority. He has no rigorous way to tell us what is going to happen next. Nor is he willing to discuss it with those who do. There are two ways to predict the future. Statistics can help us predict the future based on trends which arise from the past, like driving a car with a blacked-out windshield by extrapolating from the scene in the rearview mirror. The stronger way is to possess an analytic model of the phenomenon such that we can "see" the future in the way that we can predict the future position of Mars by celestial mechanics in order to meet it with a space probe. Of the two ways Hulme has neither, nor did the Global Warming crowd ever even pretend to have the second; but now there is no requirement to even have the first. Presumably Hulme would object to being labeled a jackass using the "post-normal" methods he advocates. It might be a false accusation, but then we're not talking about proof, are we?
Here's a YouTube clip from a Harvard astrosphysicist on the subject of "precautionary principle" as applied to weather engineering and the punishment its critics faced half a millenium ago. She has another word from the "post-normal" method of thinking: superstition.