In his recent article “The Threat to the Scientific Method,” Dr. Patrick Michaels, a climatologist who for 30 years was Research Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and now directs the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, pointed to a serious problem: the corruption of science through government (and sometimes industry) funding, which has led to rapidly and alarmingly increasing numbers of retracted journal articles. In light of that trend, he asks, “If we can no longer trust science, what do we have as the basis for knowledge?”
Pat is a friend of mine, and I respect him tremendously for the quality of his scientific work as well as for his courage as a critic of global warming panic. But I think the problem behind the spate of retracted articles runs much deeper than his article suggests.
The problem is in thinking that science is “the basis for knowledge.” It isn’t. It never has been. It never can be.
That is because science—in terms of scientific method, testing hypotheses by real-world observation—cannot justify any truth judgments based solely on empirical observation.
Empirical observation alone doesn’t tell us how to sort the many different stimuli our senses receive at any given moment. It doesn’t tell me why I should collect the stimuli of patterns of light and darkness on my computer screen and identify them as coherent, meaningful text and pictures while ignoring the stimuli of sound (our air conditioning system and my keystrokes and the vibration of my cell phone and kids shouting in the community pool across the street) touch (the coolness and hardness of the floor under my feet, the texture of my cotton shirt), smell (the soap residue on my just-washed hands), taste (the lingering flavor of my raisin bran with the more recent flavor of my green tea), and sight (the dark corners of my desk, the brightness of my windows, the many colors of the books on my bookcases, and the cloudy sky and green trees out my window) all into one thing and call it a schmooglewop.
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