Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Science Bluff

Fox News reports that President Obama is a bit of a science buff who "shows a fascination with science, an all-too deliberate decision-making demeanor, [and a unique] adherence to logic" in his approach to the issues of the day. Even the ultimate stone-faced logician, Mr. Spock, has weighed in on the subject:
"I guess it's somewhat unusual for a politician to be so precise, logical, in his thought process," actor Leonard Nimoy, who has portrayed Spock for more than 40 years, told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview. "The comparison to Spock is, in my opinion, a compliment to him and to the character."
This "Spock-like" trait of the President's is portrayed as setting him apart from his predecessors (most notably the mindless cowboy who immediately preceded him) even though it is causing "him political problems in real world Washington. Critics see him as too technocratic, too deliberative, too lacking in emotion." Those critics apparently do not appreciate the beauty in Mr. Obama's cerebral approach to the complicated issues he is tackling with the undeniable precision of the scientific method.

Interesting ... unless you happen to notice some other prominent news stories that meet at the intersection of politics and science. One of them was in the news on the same day as the story proclaiming our science buff President's Spock-like character -- it's been dubbed "Climate-gate."

USA Today columnist Jonah Goldberg has done an excellent job of outlining the travesty of the so-called "Climate-gate" controversy. You can read it here, but to summarize: Thousands of leaked emails reveal a deliberate attempt by scientists of the Climatic Research Unit to cover over, hide, obfuscate, and otherwise deny that there is any legitimate data that goes against the global warming crisis we have all been bludgeoned with over the last several years. In these emails, "scientists" discuss ways to deliberately manipulate data or impugn the motives and character of anyone who disagrees with them. Their goal is to present a unified front and trash the reputation of other scientists whose data analysis, by virtue of its simple failure to toe the party line, qualifies them as "deniers." The leaked emails leave no doubt about the political goals of these shameless manipulators.

So, in the wake of these "Climate-gate" revelations, and ahead of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the president has offered his "Spock-like" analysis of the situation. CNS News reports that:
"As President Barack Obama prepares to travel to a global climate summit next week in Copenhagen, the White House is dismissing the “climategate” controversy that has arisen over the leak of email communications between top climate-change scientists that some skeptics say cast doubt on the legitimacy of the science behind the theory that human activity is causing global warming ... because most people don’t dispute global warming."
In other words, the president believes that we arrive at scientific truths by achieving consensus, even if we do so by ignoring and/or lying about a perfectly legitimate interpretation of data that completely undermines the foundation of that consensus.

Very scientific.

As a side note: history shows that, prior to Copernicus, the scientific "consensus" was with Ptolemy's geocentric universe. Likewise, the consensus of small children is that Santa Claus will descend through their chimneys in 23 days.

Along those lines, I distinctly remember the president's response to a question posed him by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church during the run-up to the 2008 election. When asked, on August 16, 2008, to state when he considered that a baby gets human rights, he responded:
“Well, uh, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or, uh, a scientific perspective, uh, answering that question with specificity, uh, you know, is, is, uh, above my pay grade.”
For starters, the context of this conversation was a discussion of the president's views on abortion that directly involves the question of when life actually begins. This is not a "theological" question about ensoulment or any of the other convenient dodges used by abortion rights advocates. It is a purely scientific question and it is this: When is it that a unique, independent, whole, human being comes into existence?

The answer to this question can be found in any scientific textbook on embryology -- and the answer is: at conception. I offer several examples of this point here but there are many more where those came from. It is not that hard to answer -- at least it shouldn't be for one who thinks with "Spock-like" scientific clarity. So, the "scientific perspective" to which the scientifically-minded Mr. Obama refers is really very obvious to those who care to acknowledge it.

To be clear, Mr. Obama did not claim the mantle of scientific expertise for himself. Others have done that for him. But he has not downplayed it either. To perpetuate the notion that our president approaches every issue with the detached and unbiased demeanor of a "science buff" is absurd on its face. If anything, his approach is that of a science bluff.

When seen with respect to the importance of the issues for which he completely ignores the scientific evidence, this tendency is not just silly -- it is dangerous and destructive.

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