Ike’s Warning: Beware the Corruption of Science | Ricochet.com | 05.20.13

Just before he left the presidency, Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the nation that “[i]n the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

In that same address, he offered a less heralded warning:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Surely the most notorious example of this corruption of and by science was the 2009 University of East Anglia global warming scandal. Publication on the Internet of hacked emails revealed a global conspiracy of scientists facilitated by strategically-placed researchers at the British university that served as the international clearing house for climate change data. A multi-continent network of scholars had suppressed climate change findings and inquiries that conflicted with a theory that promised power and a steady flow of public dollars to their community.

In the next edition of The American Spectator, I review a brilliant new account of the climate change issue, The Age of Global Warming: A History by British policy intellectual Rupert Darwall. The prescience of Eisenhower’s warning is on full display throughout the story — from the gaming of computer models to the stacking of the peer review process to projections of catastrophic harm made to sound imminent but in fact nearly a millennium in the future.

But my question here is: can climate change be the only area in which science has been corrupted by politics and money? In recent years we have seen reports of scientists linking with activists in other areas, attacking new technologies based on studies — the data and methodologies they would not share — but reaping grant support as a result.

The link of science and public money may be here to stay, but shouldn’t receivers of public dollars come under a more critical public scrutiny? Shouldn’t it be required, for example, that findings be independently replicated, that data generated at public institutions be publicly shared, that data showing an absence of correlations and test results that disprove or call into question theories be published?  In other words, shouldn’t we expect more searching scientific debate over the methods and results of publicly-funded science?

None of what I am suggesting is new. But it seems to me that Eisenhower’s warning about the corruption of science and the danger of a scientific-technological elite capturing public policy needs to be taken much more seriously.

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