Postmodern Climatology

By Sean Carroll | February 26, 2008 2:26 pm

Arts & Letters Daily is a useful website, sort of a proto-blog, that brings together links to all sorts of interesting articles about, you know, arts and letters. If you follow it just a little bit, a decided political bent becomes clear, as you read headlines like “Do professors indoctrinate students by expressing a political ideology in the classroom?” and “Ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single woman what she most longs for, and she likely won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waist: she wants a man and a baby…” The site’s impresario, Denis Dutton, is a right-tilting philosopher and entrepreneur, who occasionally enjoys ranting against the postmodern obscurantism of the left-tilting academy.

But Prof. Dutton has apparently discovered that a touch of relativist anything-goes-ism can be useful in certain circumstances: in particular, when science is telling you something you don’t want to hear. These days, science is telling us that we are bollixing up the planet by dumping tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The very idea that the unchecked engines of capitalism could somehow lead to something bad, rather than all-pervading and unalloyed good, offends Prof. Dutton’s free-market sensibilities. So he has launched Climate Debate Daily, where both “Calls to Action” and “Dissenting Voices” are given equal time in a different free market, this one of ideas.

Some scientists might object that giving equal credence to all possibilities is not always appropriate in a scientific context; that one position may be “right,” and one might be “wrong,” and a preponderance of evidence may convince us which is which and allow us to act accordingly. But this sort of old-fashioned objective-reality based thinking has been left behind by such advanced intellects as Prof. Dutton, who delight in overturning hierarchies, casting suspicion on metanarratives, and problematizing binary oppositions all over the place.

At least, sometimes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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