Gretchen Armacost: A plea for tolerance on issues of science

Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To the editor:

How do we decide what we should believe? In a fascinating article, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” published in the New York Times Book Review, Jan. 9, 1997, evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin wrote, “when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority ... Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?”

That certainly sounds reasonable. On the other hand, Professor Lewontin continued, “What worries me is that they may believe what (Richard) Dawkins and (E.O.) Wilson tell them about evolution.” He was clearly aware that there was disagreement among people considered “expert” in his own field, and he could hardly doubt that a similar situation very probably existed elsewhere.

Lawrence Solomon, a concerned environmentalist and anti-nuclear activist, understood that “consensus” among scientists is rarely unanimous. His investigation of “deniers” of the theory of anthropogenic global warming began with a bet. A colleague “remarked on the science being settled.” Solomon, though he had not seriously doubted AGW, “thought it likely that some credible scientists disagreed.”

The result of his investigation was the book “The Deniers,” the world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution and fraud.

Was Solomon simply the dupe of conservative politicians or moneyed anti-environmental interests? I have read his book, and I do not believe that he was; others might reach different conclusions.

Yet much of what we read and hear suggests that there is no legitimate difference of opinion on climate science.

I am not asking that you give up your beliefs. And it would hardly be reasonable to expect everyone to seek out evidence on all sides of any question.

Some of us, of course, are unwilling or unable to investigate the conflicting claims of apparently well-qualified authorities.

I’m only asking that you refrain, especially if you have not yourself examined the evidence for views opposed to yours, from assuming that those who disagree with you are necessarily fools or knaves.

Gretchen Armacost



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