Scientific Skepticism and Asimov's Corollary to Clarke's First Law: Or, The Dearth of Scientific Skepticism in the Global Warming Debate

If you’re not familiar with Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws of Prediction, it won’t affect my point here (but please do enlighten yourself by following the link).

Clarke’s First Law: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

I have heard that Isaac Asimov wrote a corollary to Clarke’s First Law: “When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervour and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.”

That’s all very well and good. Both laws are sensible and true. But what happens when the scientists themselves rally around an idea with great fervor and emotion? When they seem to lose sight of that essential characteristic of scientific inquiry: rational skepticism? When it comes to questions of an empirical nature especially, is it not unscientific not to temper with at least a shadow of doubt the acceptance and advocacy of one’s findings?

Thus, Plauche’s Corollary to the Corollary: “When scientists, no matter how distinguished or elderly, rally around an idea with great fervor and emotion, announce a crisis of potentially catastrophic proportions is imminent, call for drastic and coercive action now, and denounce skeptics as ignorant laymen, partisan hacks, or enemies of science – they probably haven’t looked in the mirror in a long time.”

Alternate ending: “something fishy is probably going on.”

Geoffrey is an Aristotelian-Libertarian political philosopher, writer, editor, and web designer. He is the founder of the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association. His academic work has appeared in Libertarian Papers, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the Journal of Value Inquiry, and Transformers and Philosophy. He lives in Greenville, NC.

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  • sadunkal Feb 7, 2009 @ 0:55

    Hi there. This stuff also applies to many other scientific fields of course. Ever heard of “AIDS denialism”? If you examine the history of the HIV/AIDS theory you’d probably be surprised by what you’ll find… just saying.

    I got some useful related stuff on my blog(s), take a look if you’re interested. Watching documentaries like “AIDS Inc.” and “The Other Side of AIDS” would be probably be the best start.