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Why Climate Scientists are Motivated to Disprove not Support the Consensus: Personal agendas beat political agendas every time

I try really hard to understand multiple positions on debates. In fact, I argue it’s what we need most today.  But I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand climate deniers. Maybe that’s why I find them so fascinating. 

Their argument always rests on conspiracy theories.  For instance, Trump explained on 60 Minutes that he didn’t believe climate science because scientists have “a very big political agenda.”

What I find so perplexing about their logic is how they can view the left as both stupid and naïve yet also capable of pulling off incredible, large-scale collaborations to near perfection on a whole range of social issues on a daily basis without anyone spoiling it. 

To conspiracy theorists, the left are like literary depictions of the devil, simultaneously subhuman and superhuman. 

But if your position requires people to be anything other than normal human beings, with the same failings, limits, and desire for fame and fortune as everyone else, then you can be sure that your position is wrong.

Scientists are just like everyone else

People, whether conservative, liberal, or centrist are at their core the same… they’re self-interested.  And nowhere is this more so than in science.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned being around scientists is that they’re ordinary people.  No better, no worse.  And since there’s little fortune in the research lab, the drive for fame and prestige is what makes the scientific machinery go round.

And there is no better way to achieve scientific fame than to prove the consensus wrong.

Science does tend to reproduce itself

Don’t get me wrong, science definitely has a tendency to reproduce itself.  If you want to be an everyday scientist who goes to the lab and punches the clock for a salary, then yes indeed, reinforcing the consensus is definitely the way to go.  

Science requires peer-review, meaning that other scientists must give their seal of approval.  Obviously, they’re going to like it if you reinforce what they already believe and are probably doing themselves. 

It’s win-win for both scientists, the reviewer and the researcher.  The reviewer gets more evidence that they’re right and the researcher also gets satisfaction by being told they’re right and gets to publish their research which is what keeps them employed and earning that paycheck.

Plus, once you do it enough, the methods for exploring this same bits of knowledge becomes routinized.  Once certain types of research become formulaic, not only does it become easier to crank out more of the same studies that build a consensus but after it’s gone through so many iterations, no one really questions the methods any more.  It becomes an easy reproduction machine churning out largely the same results with almost trivial changes.

And the opposite is also true.  Arguing against the consensus is really hard. Tell someone, especially an expert, why they’re wrong and they’re going to use all their brainpower to figure out why you’re wrong.  It’s human nature.  And again, my main point is that scientists are normal people.

Plus, to go against the consensus you have to come up with new ideas and methods.  So even if you gto an open-minded reviewer, often they simply don’t understand what you’re saying since all their scientific understanding developed from the existing consensus.

So if you take an honest look at the nature of scientific knowledge, it’s pretty easy to see how the vast majority of science simply reinforces existing understanding.

Science uses our limited, self-interested nature to overcome our limited, self-interested nature.

While many, including climate deniers, focus only on the reproductive aspect of science, they’re missing a huge issue.  A much more important element.  The core reason why we rely on science despite its shortcomings.

Science uses our limited, self-interested nature to overcome our limited, self-interested nature.

Scientists are just regular people.  They don’t have a political agenda because like most Americans, they simply don’t care about politics.  They care as much as the average American does which is not much at all. Maybe they care to the extent of water-cooler small talk and dinner-table debates over drinks.  But that’s about it.

What scientists really care about is money, power, and prestige.  Their own personal agenda, not some abstract political party’s agenda.

That is the nature of human beings.  Personal self-interest.  And no political agenda is going to supersede people’s self-interested nature.

Science rewards scientists most when they disprove the most

While everyday science tends to reproduce itself, to become famous… and I mean really famous…  to be engraved into the history books, to be jet-setting across the globe to give academic talks, you have to disprove the consensus not reinforce it.

Think of all the greatest scientists throughout history.  Every single one is famous because they showed how our understanding was wrong then pointed us in the right direction. 

And the more wrong we were, the more glory and fame they receive.

Scientific fame is proportional to how much you disprove the consensus.

Einstein is arguably the greatest scientist of the modern era.  And the reason he’s so famous is because he showed how 200 years of Newtonian physics was wrong.  And it wasn’t just that our math was wrong.  Our understanding of the basic nature of space, time, reality was wrong. 

A great example of how this works is the history of the 2005 Nobel Prize in medicine that went to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren for showing that bacteria and not stress causes ulcers.

The scientific consensus was so strong that stress caused stomach ulcers that attempts to publish their research were rejected.  Since no one believed them, they were prohibited from doing experiments on people that would have shown that they were right.

Feeling trapped by the scientific community, he took drastic action.   He took the ulcer causing bacteria (H. pylori) from the gut of one of his patients, mixed it up, and drank it himself.  He gave himself gastritis (the start of an ulcer) just to prove the consensus wrong.  And as they say, the rest is history.

So, if anyone tells you that scientists have a political agenda or that science only reproduces the consensus, you now know why this is flat-out wrong. This approach not only misunderstands the nature of science, it misunderstands the nature of human beings.

When the greatest rewards go to the greatest usurpers, there will always be seekers of fame and fortune.  If global warming can be disproven, you can rest assured that there will be fame seeking climate scientists out there doing their very best to be the ones to do it out of pure self-interest.

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