Uncertainty

If deniers are not accusing the Reds or Greens of attempting to topple capitalism, or pointing the finger at the U.N. for planning to surreptitiously bring about ‘world government’, they are reminding us that even scientists admit there is some ‘uncertainty’ in their findings that the earth is in fact warming and that human behaviour is significantly responsible for this process. Therefore, they conclude, we must not get sucked into extravagant, needless and dangerous schemes to reduce such ‘warming’.

The first two accusations are so fanciful we should treat them with ridicule. The third, the apparently rational attack, is a different matter. In a way it is true – there is uncertainty. In a more rigorous way, it is untrue because the users of this argument don’t appreciate what they are saying when they are wording such an accusation; they do not understand the nature of science. All science exists permanently with uncertainty.

I suspect ninety percent of the world doesn’t realize this because education fails to explain to each generation the nature of natural and social reality, and the notion of knowledge with its inevitable limitations. They also ignore, albeit unwittingly, how all human beings live every moment of their lives with uncertainty, and that every time they make decisions, small or large, they act on gross uncertainty, and even were  people aware of that restriction, they can do nothing about it.

Certain scientists unfortunately do themselves a disservice by misrepresenting what science in practice is. A pity. Scientific practice is not entirely radically different from non-scientific practice.

The sooner we eradicate the dominant influence of two thousand old myths about what reality, life and knowledge are, with all their limitations and imperfections and changeability necessarily entailed, the sooner we can understand and help curb the more foolish and dangerous statements and policies individuals, corporations and governments regularly propose.

As far as I can see, the only certainty is uncertainty. It is structural and pervasive; it is not simply the occasional product of deceit or incompetence. The deniers’ use of the argument has no serious value; it can however mislead many sincere people who are consciously ‘uncertain’ about this critical issue.

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