Some Thoughts on Science

by Don Boudreaux on May 14, 2007

in Environment, Politics, Regulation, Science

I very much like this recent essay by Bob Higgs.  And here’s one of my favorite parts:

Finally, we need to develop a much keener sense of what a scientist
is qualified to talk about and what he is not qualified to talk about.
Climatologists, for example, are qualified to talk about the science of
climatology (though subject to all the intrusions upon pure science I
have already mentioned). They are not qualified to say, however, that
“we must act now” by imposing government “solutions” of some imagined
sort. They are not professionally knowledgeable about what degree of
risk is better or worse for people to take; only the individuals who
bear the risk can make that decision, because it’s a matter of personal
preference, not a matter of science. Climatologists know nothing about
cost/benefit cosiderations; indeed, most mainstream economists
themselves are fundamentally misguided about such matters (adopting,
for example, procedures and assumptions about the aggregation of
individual valuations that lack a sound scientific basis). Climate
scientists are the best qualified people to talk about climate science,
but they have no qualifications to talk about public policy, law, or
individual values, rates of time preference, and degrees of risk
aversion. In talking about desirable government action, they give the
impression that they are either fools or charlatans, but they keep
talking―worst of all, talking to doomsday-seeking

In this connection, we might well
bear in mind that the United Nations (and its committees and the
bureaus it oversees) is no more a scientifc organization than the U.S.
Congress (and its committees and the bureaus it oversees). When
decisions and pronouncements come forth from these political
organizations, it makes sense to treat them as essentially political in
origin and purpose.


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