Title written mostly in the knowledge that it will make a certain class of reader gasp, shudder, then grimly banish Freeman Dyson from their lives. Not that any of my readers are that particular flavor of blinkered religious fanatic, but this site shows up on Google.
Anyway, this Wired exchange says a lot about how science is done these days…
You’ve developed a reputation as a maverick scientist with contrarian views. Where do you think that comes from?
I think the notion that I always like to oppose the consensus in science is totally wrong. The fact is there’s only one subject that I’ve been controversial, which is climate. I spend maybe 1 percent of my time on climate, and that’s the only field in which I’m opposed to the majority. Generally speaking, I’m much more of a conformist, but it happens I have strong views about climate because I think the majority is badly wrong, and you have to make sure if the majority is saying something that they’re not talking nonsense.
With a majority of scientists on the other side of this issue, what would it take to convince you to switch sides?
What I’m convinced of is that we don’t understand climate, and so that’s sort of a neutral position. I’m not saying the majority is necessarily wrong. I’m saying that they don’t understand what they’re seeing. It will take a lot of very hard work before that question is settled, so I shall remain neutral until something very different happens.
…and I am embarrassed that Wired sent a reporter who didn’t know enough to be deeply embarrassed to even think to ask Freeman Dyson that last question. A scientist isn’t supposed to care about what other scientists say: he or she is supposed to care about what the math and the observed data says. If the data contradicts the consensus, so much worse for the consensus. Science-via-voice-vote is frankly what happens when you let scientists get too much money from a government with political factions; which is to say, all governments throughout time*. I find it a bit of a relief, frankly, that Freeman Dyson still has his wits about him on that score…
*The trouble is, any half-competent government can usually acquire money; and any half-intelligent government knows that giving some of it to the people in the white lab coats can pay dividends.