On the Differences Between Climate Science and Biotechnology and Nuclear Power
By Carolyn Raffensperger There’s a paradox in environmental policy around the role of science in decision-making that hinges on the supposition that Science should be the final arbiter. That paradox plays out in places like this headline and abstract from Yale 360. “Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.”
The implication is that environmentalists who reject genetically modified crops (GMOs) or nuclear power are refusing to listen to science itself.
Here’s a more recent (and egregious) blog on Discover magazine’s website that is insistent that rejecting biotechnology is to reject science. Keith Kloor says this: “It’s downright hypocritical of progressives and enviros to call out others for “anti-science” behavior–be it denial of climate change or evolution–when they are the ones leading the crusade against biotech research and GMOs.”
It’s paternalistic on the part of “experts” and pundits to assume that the public is somehow stupid if it questions various technologies. There are crucial differences between climate change science, and genetically modified crops or nuclear power: climate change science is a set of hypothesis, models and predictions that are testable. GMos and nuclear power are technologies. Those who argue that environmentalists are anti-science if they reject genetically modified crops or nuclear power are conflating technologies with the scientific method. It is not that environmentalists are rejecting the science behind the engineering of nuclear power or GMO crops but they are rejecting assertions that these are safe or that they are necessary for solving a societal problem. Neither safety nor necessity can be proven scientifically.
Conflating science with the technologies it produces is bad epistemology and worse policy.