Stop muz­zling cli­mate dis­senters

The Washington Times Weekly - - Letters To The Editor - TOM HAR­RIS

Over­looked in the controversy about the Cal­i­for­nia Cli­mate Sci­ence Truth and Ac­count­abil­ity Act of 2016 is the fact that truth is not pos­si­ble in sci­ence (“Cal­i­for­nia Sen­ate side­lines bill to pros­e­cute cli­mate change skep­tics,” Web, June 2). Sci­en­tific hy­pothe­ses, and even sci­en­tific the­o­ries, are not knowl­edge — they are ed­u­cated opin­ions based on in­ter­pre­ta­tions of ob­ser­va­tions. Thus they can be, and of­ten are, wrong.

This mis­un­der­stand­ing is en­cour­aged by the United Na­tions, which of­ten la­bels its sci­ence con­clu­sions un­equiv­o­cal. As ev­i­dence for this position, it presents em­pir­i­cal data. But ob­ser­va­tions are par­tic­u­lar, con­tin­gent and prob­a­ble, and there­fore can­not be used to prove truth. Tra­di­tion­ally lib­er­als have prided them­selves on be­ing tol­er­ant of al­ter­na­tive points of view, sup­port­ing skep­ti­cism and rel­a­tivism. In­deed, it was the Ger­man left that sup­ported Al­bert Ein­stein’s the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity and the right that op­posed it, be­liev­ing (in ret­ro­spect, cor­rectly) that it threat­ened their world view.

But this ap­proach has been turned up­side down in the global-warm­ing de­bate. While many con­ser­va­tives pro­mote con­struc­tive de­bate about cli­mate change, most of the left con­sid­ers such de­bate un­ac­cept­able. Like some­thing di­rectly out of Ge­orge Or­well’s “1984,” spon­sors of Cal­i­for­nia’s dra­co­nian ‘sci­ence truth’ leg­is­la­tion and AGs United for Clean Power, a coali­tion of 16 Demo­cratic state at­tor­neys gen­eral, even want skep­ti­cism about the causes of cli­mate change made into a crim­i­nal of­fense.

History demon­strates that it is far eas­ier to lose free­dom of speech than to reac­quire it once it has been lost. This is why peo­ple from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum must ob­ject loudly when eco-ex­trem­ists try to con­vince our elected of­fi­cials to sup­press de­bate about cli­mate change.

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