Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Childcare and global warning - scientific fads

Here's an excellent article from the London Times printed last week. It's about why it is unwise to follow the pronouncements of scientists on childcare (or indeed anything else). A fine quotation from the article:

The problem with childcare is that it is too often entrusted to mothers who have
not read Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific
. In that book Kuhn explained that all influential scientists,
which includes social and political scientists, are liars. He put it more
politely than that, yet that was his message. Most people are unconscious
followers of Karl Popper, and they suppose that scientists welcome the testing
of their hypotheses by others attempts to disprove them. So people believe that,
when scientists encounter a fact that clashes with their theories, the
scientists discard the theories.

Alright, he's not 100% accurate about Kuhn (but nothing beats a pithy aphorism). What he is accurate about is the public perception of scientists as somehow beyond reproach. In fact, they have their own interests and represent the interests of the people who pay their research bills. To be even more controversial, I am beginning to think of the whole gobal warming movement as a classic Kuhnian paradigm. This does not mean that global warming isn't happening, merely that all data on climate are showhorned into this paradigm. A typical example is the way that we English have been promised both higher and much lower temperatures in the near future, with both phenomena attributed to global warming. Another example is coastal erosion and subsidence. This has been happening since the beginning of time but now global warming and rising sea levels are usually blamed.

As the article linked above says, old fashioned childcare advice, like all old science, is quietly forgotten. If global warming turns out to be a passing phase, expect it to go the way of the last mega-scare story that never happened. Anyone remember the millennium bug? Be honest, you fell for it, didn't you?

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