What drives Science?

UBC environmental sciences professor is skeptical about climate change. He agrees that humans have had the effect of raising Co2 levels, but that it is not yet possible to state that weather events are “caused by climate change”, rather that the weather events we have experienced lately fall well within normal variation. The fact that his views are not shared by most of his colleagues is not a problem to him, because as he states, “Science is not driven by the majority, it’s driven by what can be proven.”

Now, while proof is certainly a benchmark in science, he is profoundly wrong that science is not “driven by the majority”. What is accepted by the majority of scientists become the confines within which future research can be done, because funding for research that is based on assumptions that contradict the concensus positions is only available from special interest groups (i.e. ciggarett companies are willing to fund research questioning whether smoking causes cancer well after the American Science Foundation is willing to fund such a study).

Science is an exercise in concensus building. Scientists that opposed the major revolutions in Chemistry, physics and biology continued to publish work for the remainder of their careers, but were mostly ignored because they were working effectivly outside the field. I am not certain if recognizing climate change is a major paradigmatic shift (this will be up to Milan to decide), but it is at least a minor and important one – because it establishes new limits on what research can be done and funded. Proof is indeed crucial, but only inasmuch as it succeeds in building concensus.

In other words, science is driven by what can be proven, but only inasmuch as the proof is compelling to the majority. Fundamentally, absolute proof is absolutely impossible, so all proof is only ever an exercise in elucidation and persuasion for your cause anyway!


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