The Philosopher's Eye

News and brain candy for the philosophy community

Our trust in science

The argument that something is “scientifically proven” is, in most cases, enough to persuade most people of the validity of the argument. Since science is deemed to be exact, it seems to be clear that if it gives its approval to research, the outcome will be exact. An article by the New York Times shows how easy our trust in science can be shaken. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report about glacial melting in the Himalaya contains a fundamental mistake. The report about the Himalayan glaciers from 2007 predicted that these glaciers will be melted by 2035. The year was taken from a scientist who had used it in an interview but had never explained nor published the date. Dr. Syed Hasnain had given the interview in question ten years earlier and says that he never claimed 2035 to be an exact date. Now Mr R.K. Pachauri, the Chairman of IPCC is under scrutiny because the IPCC simply used the date without questioning its validity. A mistake in scientific practice and unfortunately a mistake that had raised anxieties in the area of the Himalaya were people are dependent on the glaciers to provide them with water in spring and summer. The anxiety was raised because people believed in the data of an organization like IPCC, especially because the reports of the IPCC are used to influence global policy implementation in the area of climate change and preservation. It is evident that the IPCC did not use false data deliberately to confuse politicians and scare people. But what is evident by the news coverage that the mistake has, that trust in the IPCC, and therefore in the science it represents, is damaged. We have to understand though, that science is ever changing and that mistakes can happen. We still have to believe in science, because if we don’t, we don’t believe in the very thing that makes us and influences every step we take.

Related Articles:

Environmental Ethics: An Overview
By Katie McShane, Colorado State University
(Vol. 4, May 2009)
Philosophy Compass

Consequentializing
By Douglas W. Portmore, Arizona State University
(Vol. 4, February 2009)
Philosophy Compass

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