[I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, and the September issue of Scientific American finally provoked me. They talk about exceeding our evolutionary limits, living beyond 1oo, manipulating ourselves to be smarter (but no mention of wiser), and so on. So, another long essay.]
The term appropriate technology was popularised after E. F. Schumacher’s pivotal work Small is Beautiful. Schumacher argued against the modern economic pathology of endless physical growth, which of course cannot continue on our finite planet. He argued further that some technology only promotes endless growth, or it distracts us from more important things in life, and is therefore not beneficial. Technology that supports a fulfilling life and is compatible with a steady-state or slowly shrinking physical economy he called appropriate technology.
As for technology, so for science. A common assumption by scientists is that if a challenge is there then it is fair game to address it. In fact it is commonly presumed that freedom of enquiry, a central ingredient of an open democratic society, justifies such an attitude. However we need to recognise that such freedom comes with responsibility. This seems to be recognised regarding human cloning, for example, where strong legal and social restrictions have commonly been imposed.
The committee charged with examining the quality of the climate science conducted at the University of East Anglia has found “absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever”, according to its Chairperson, Lord Oxburgh.
Accusations of fraud or scientific misconduct have been widespread since emails were illegally hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit last year. Oxburgh continued “whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly”. The committee considered that if there had been misconducted they would very likely have found it.
Although a small percentage of the emails are impolite and some express animosity toward opponents, when placed into proper context they do not appear to reveal fraud or other scientific misconduct by Dr. Jones or his correspondents.
Scepticism about global warming continues, along with outright denial that it is caused by humans, or even that it is happening at all. Informed debate is healthy, but much of the discussion is ill-informed, much of it addresses the wrong questions, and much of it misconceives science as a source of proof or truth.