So, if more environmental scientists are willing to spout off or sneak policy opinions into their research -- what of it?
First, a lot of people will become not just skeptical, but unreasonably so. People are always looking for ways to avoid challenging information -- Al Gore's movie is called "An Inconvenient Truth," after all. By being able to suspect the motives of the messenger, listeners can discard the whole unpleasant message.
Second, not only will individual scientists lose credibility, but the whole scientific endeavor will become just another story, a narrative concocted for dramatic effect or self-serving motives. Science will become just another advocacy group -- in a lab coat.
Third, a collapse in credibility means that science will play an even less constructive role in public-policy debates. And when "stealth advocacy" enters the debate dressed up as science, it will become a proxy for clearly expressed values so that the values themselves are never discussed. As Wilhere puts it, "Inadvertent policy advocacy undermines the rational political discourse necessary for the evolution of society's values."
Finally, while scientists have plenty to contribute to public debate as "honest brokers" of scientific knowledge, they are not particularly good at staking out policy. This is why we elect politicians and hire regulators.Read the whole essay, it is very well reasoned. Hat tip: Judy Curry.
During my global warming talks (where I attempt to explain the science in a clear manner), I pose a hypothetical: Suppose I am right that the predictions of catastrophic global warming are way overdone? If so, atmospheric science will become a laughingstock.
Then, what is there is a genuine threat that we can clearly anticipate? We will not have the credibility we need to give policyholders the information they need to make good decisions. That is why the overwrought warnings of catastrophic global warming are so potentially damaging to atmospheric science.