November 10, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Comfort Your Local Dogmatic Scientist

Scientists need a hug sometimes, too.

You can do a simple act to help an environmental scientist: offer him or her a shoulder to cry on. In Science Magazine, Timothy A. C. Gordon, Andrew N. Radford, Stephen D. Simpson implored readers, “Grieving environmental scientists need support.” They’re depressed. Why? Humans are not doing enough to save the planet from climate change. Not even Darwin can help them.

Rates of environmental destruction are greater today than at any previous point in human history. This loss of valued species, ecosystems, and landscapes triggers strong grief responses in people with an emotional attachment to nature. However, environmental scientists are presented with few opportunities to address this grief professionally.

Environmental scientists tend to respond to degradation of the natural world by ignoring, suppressing, or denying the resulting painful emotions while at work. The risks that this entails are profound. Emotional trauma can substantially compromise self-awareness, imagination, and the ability to think coherently. As Charles Darwin put it, one “who remains passive when overwhelmed with grief loses [the] best chance of recovering elasticity of mind.”

Yes; the loss of ability to think coherently is becoming painfully evident. If they were consistent materialists and Darwinists (which is practically a job requirement in science these days), they would think logically, and figure that Darwin’s theory just says Stuff Happens, so tough luck. Planets come and go; life rises and goes extinct; that’s just the way of things. Nothing is good or bad. It just is.

Many of these same scientists cheered on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish student who cried before the United Nations that her generation was perishing because of lack of action on climate change. An article on The Scientist announces, “Hundreds of Scientists Declare Support for Extinction Rebellion.” Perhaps activism can provide some relief from depression. Ashley Yeager describes the “Extinction Rebellion” as “a declaration supporting civil disobedience protests that urge government action on climate change.”

Grossman and the others who drafted the declaration support the Extinction Rebellion, a non-violent environmental pressure group that formed in the UK about a year ago to protest government inaction on the ecological crises caused by climate change. The group, which sparked similar groups in dozens of countries around the world, has had more than 1,400 protesters arrested in London in the last week alone, and police ousted activists from Trafalgar Square on Monday (October 14), the Associated Press reports.

“We can’t allow the role of scientists to be to just write papers and publish them in obscure journals and hope somehow that somebody out there will pay attention,” Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist at the University of Leeds and a lead author of the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, tells Reuters.

“We need to be rethinking the role of the scientist and engage with how social change happens at a massive and urgent scale,” she says. “We can’t allow science as usual.” 

And yet what do those papers in obscure journals say? For years, we have seen papers that are surprised by new evidence that contradicts the consensus view that humans are causing global warming. Other papers bring up surprising new considerations that were not entered into the models. And how definitive can science be about such complex subjects as long-term climate trends?

Adelie penguins (R. Harrington)

Climate scientists have a bad habit of scaring people with disasters they cannot prove will happen. Just this week, printed a story, “Unless warming is slowed, emperor penguins will be marching towards extinction.” The article begins with a photo of a compassionate scientist, Stephanie Jenouvrier from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, cuddling a big, fat, adorable penguin chick. Who could not love these tuxedo-dressed birds that were the stars of the 2005 documentary, “March of the Penguins”? But is the scare justified? Further reading shows that nobody will know if climate change will cause harm to the emperor penguins until long after Stephanie is dead.

Under the 1.5 degree scenario, the study found that only 5 percent of sea ice would be lost by 2100, causing a 19 percent drop in the number of penguin colonies. If the planet warms by 2 degrees, however, those numbers increase dramatically: the loss of sea ice nearly triples, and more than a third of existing colonies disappear.

The scare tactic is just a “scenario.” Stephanie may be worried about nothing. She couldn’t possibly know for 80 more years. Hugging a penguin chick (or a dog) is probably good therapy for imagined depression, nonetheless. published an article about the uncertainty of science today. University of Chicago academics looked into “pro-science” vs “anti-science” debates and concluded that such terms mislead the public about the messy nature of science.

Recent attacks on “grievance” studies have occasioned renewed attention to the politics of knowledge in the academy. In a wide-ranging survey, Mark Horowitz, William Yaworsky and Kenneth Kickham revisit some of anthropology’s most sensitive controversies. Taking the field’s temperature since the sweltry “science wars” of the nineties, Horowitz and colleagues probe whether anthropology is still a house divided on questions of truth, justice and the American Anthropological Association.

In particular, their study showed that you can predict an anthropologist’s position on science from his or her political views. Mark Horowitz and team looked back to classic anthropology studies that turned out to be flawed.

In the latest issue of Current Anthropology, Horowitz and colleagues discover rich patterns in the data. Disciplinary subfield, gender and, notably, political orientation are all significant predictors of anthropologists’ views. That is, knowing an anthropologist’s politics tells a lot about where they stand on such matters.

Does that apply to other branches of science that deal with equally subjective and complex subjects? If so, it would be wise to determine your local environmental scientist’s voting record before giving him or her a shoulder to cry on.

It is clear that even scientists, as human beings created in the image of God, but fallen into sin, still have a soul and a conscience. If they were truly Darwinists, they would be glad the world is getting destroyed. They would be celebrating the victory of the Stuff Happens Law.

Deep in their consciences, though, they remember a world that its Maker declared to be “very good.” Their hearts stir at the remnants of the Good Earth. What they really need is not a hug, but repentance and faith in the Creator’s plan of salvation. They will learn that the world is going to get much worse before it gets better. There is hope: but it is not up to us. Our mentality should be, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Is the earth a product of design or chance? Photo by David Coppedge


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