The Unextricable Incompleteness Of Nature

Unless and until the “Nature” editors will find the courage the publish correspondence such as the below, outside of the usual echo-chambers of close-minded, mantra-repeating, conformist half-thinkers, the most we can expect from the somewhat prestigious journal is incomplete columns: because in order to complete them, they need to involve the world they don’t want to listen to…

Dear Sir or Madam

I was somewhat surprised at the abrupt ending of Colin Macilwain’s latest Nature column (“World view: Disaster, unmitigated”, published online 19 May 2010 | Nature 465, 287 (2010) | doi:10.1038/465287a).

As a way for the environmental movement to re-engage the public, Mr. Macilwain suggests “those researchers who do feel comfortable with advocacy need to spend more time on the ground, talking to real people about why their work matters”. Scientists doubling up as street preachers? Unlikely. And yet, there could be a hint of a way out of the “disaster”.

How to talk “to real people”? Scientists that build for themselves a name as scientists, often misunderstand it as a free pass to provide the world with the “Given Truth”. But very few manage to be an Einstein or a Feynman: with no reputation in a social and/or political context, the most solid scientific ideas become only somebody’s opinion in an ocean of opinions. With a long history of misguided scientific claims in the media (as recently highlighted in The Guardian), emission trading and the plight of Mexican lizards achieve the same status of dieting fads and miracle cancer cures, just a notch above Nostradamus.

The result is the wholescale political hijacking of the climate debate (mainly in the USA), very little progress, noise all over the place: the “disaster” mentioned by Mr. Macilwain.

The obvious first step out of such a situation involves building social and political reputation, by reducing the cacophony: acquiring allies instead of enemies; making do without grandstanding claims about impending dooms; relying less on a change in human nature and the reinvention of civilisation; opening up to the society-wide consequences of each particular solution. And telling “climate change” like it is, a matter of risk management instead of hubris, projections not predictions, stewardship not dictatorship.

There are many out there like me, politically active, environmentally conscious, scientifically trained, ferociously on the side of Reason in the tradition of Carl Sagan and James Randi and on this basis aware of the potential dangers of climate change, unconvinced about the reality of upcoming catastrophes and worried about the future of society and of civil liberties. But as long as the prevailing attitude among climate scientists and especially activists-researchers will involve lèse majesté and ad-hominems against “deniers”, really, there will be nobody, least of all “real people”, for them to talk to.