October 13, 2021 Editor

Opinion: This climate change contrarian gives us an important reminder about science in general

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Opinion by Mitch Daniels

photo above: Steven Koonin, then under secretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy, speaks at the 2011 CERAWEEK conference in Houston. (Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg)

October 12, 2021

WN: The article highlighted below points to the unsettling claims of “settled science” about climate change . . .

I must add: Que sais-je?–What do I know?

Michel de Montaigne famously coined the question with reference to the early-16th-century- Reformation and the subsequent Council of Trent (1545–1563). We read:

In time, however, Montaigne came to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt that began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, ”Que sçay-je?” (“What do I know?”, in Middle French; now rendered as “Que sais-je?” in modern French).

Que sais-je?” (QSJ) (French: [kə sɛʒ]; literally: “What do I know?”, ISSN 0768-0066) is also an editorial collection published by the Presses universitaires de France (PUF). The aim of the series is to provide the lay reader with an accessible introduction to a field of study written by an expert in the field. As such, they are a good example of haute vulgarisation (high popularization). The sentence “Que sais-je?” is taken from the works of French essayist Michel de Montaigne.–Wikipedia

I guess this question is always sobering . . .


Clichés, however shopworn, can retain their usefulness provided they continue to describe their object with some accuracy. One cliché that has lost almost all value is “speaking truth to power.” These days, it almost invariably is attached not to an act of genuine courage but to its opposite, the spouting of some politically favored bromide. The speaker runs no risk of negative consequences from any power, individual or institutional; on the contrary, lavish praise and short-term celebrity are assured.

Steven E. Koonin is a genuine example of someone daring to challenge a prevailing orthodoxy. Impeccably credentialed both scientifically (New York University physics professor; National Academy of Sciences member; chief scientist for BP, focusing on alternative energy) and politically (undersecretary for science in the Obama Energy Department), Koonin has written probably the year’s most important book.

Not because of its conclusions about climate, about which his contrarian views might be completely wrong. Rather, because “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” is surfacing the anti-intellectual, burn-the-heretic attitude that has infected too much of the academic and policy worlds.

The ad hominem epithets began flying from the moment the book was published last spring. He is a “crank” and a “denier” who thinks climate change is a “hoax,” according to a dozen scientists writing in Scientific American.

That is false: Koonin stipulates firmly that Earth’s climate is changing and becoming warmer, and that human influence is playing a role. He is eager to identify and advocate actions that will address these changes effectively. But he is deeply troubled — “appalled” is one of his terms — by the misuse of science, his life’s work, to persuade rather than inform, and by the near-hysterical pressure to stifle and vilify any deviation from the dogma of the day.

As detailed in The Post earlier this year, the book uses government and academic reports’ own data to challenge the scientific “consensus” — about rising sea levels, droughts, extreme weather — now repeated endlessly and uncritically.

Please click on: Unsettled . . .

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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