Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

The recent decision of the Hamilton City Council to stop fluoridating its water supply caused a bit of discussion among New Zealand scientists. Discussion of the ethical and practical questions related to scientist involvement in political activism.

The Hamilton City council had been exposed to large numbers of submissions from anti-fluoridation activists. Most of them misrepresented the science and gave misleading, often incorrect, information. Scientists could have corrected these mistakes and distortions, but the job was left to a few representatives of the District Health Board and the Ministry of Health.

Many scientist think, as do others in the community, that they must play a greater role countering distorted information and pseudo-science. But the scientific ethos of objectivity, evidence-based debate and peer review conflicts with the political nature of such activism.

It’s a problem that scientists, especially younger scientists, will have to face increasingly in the future. Quite a few of us have solved the dilemma for ourselves by blogging – a sort of half way point between ivory tower science and political activism.

But here is something to think about. Climatologist James Hansen has thought about this issue throughout his life. Sometimes he has opted for pure science, these days he is opting for pure activism. Here’s an excellent video of one of his talks from February 2012 explaining his motivations and history on this issue. It’s also a simple and clear explanation of the climate change problems we are facing now and in the future.

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change 

Hansen has also written about these issues in his book   Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. Have a look at  Global climate – and your grandchildren for my review of the book.

See also: Fluoridation

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32 responses to “Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

  1. It’s a shame that “Death Train Hansen” didn’t visit Westport on his recent visit to NZ so he could meet all the mass murderers who work on the Denniston Plateau

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  2. The bitter comment of a loser?

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  3. Hansen isn’t bitter.
    Is he?

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  4. You are being childish, Andy. Why not discuss the issues and substance instead of attacking a scientist for telling the truth?

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  5. When the Greens get their private members bill through to make binding emissions reductions of 88% by 2050, we will be able to ban all air flights so that goons like Hansen will have to stay at home.

    In fact we will be able to ban all industrial activity. No one will actually live here because there won’t be an economy left.

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  6. And you complain about being blocked, Andy. You are acting like a spoilt child hitting out at a reputable person because they disagree with you.

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  7. Telling the truth? So you think referring to coal trains as “death trains” is the truth?
    Do you think that suggesting that execs of coal and oil companies should be tried for “high crimes against humanity”, just as Hansen has is “the truth”?

    His theories are not working out that well are they? I guess that is why he quit NASA to spend more time with the grand kids

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  8. God, you guys really go in for attacking people, don’t you? Perhaps it’s got something to do with your inhumane ideologies.

    But what a pathetic response to important issues – both that of climate change and that of scientific activism.

    Oh well, I suppose that is your substitute when you don’t have facts and reasoned argument on your side.

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  9. Perhaps it’s got something to do with your inhumane ideologies.

    I find it an interesting exercise in psychological projection when eco-fascists refer to the rest of us as “inhumane”

    So let me remind you Ken, when you have finally ground the economies of the west into the ground, people are starving and dying of cold in their houses, it is the eco-fascists who will be remembered as one of the most brutal and inhumane political forces of recent centuries.

    And if you think this is an overreaction, just look at what is happening in Europe thanks to their deluded “climate change policies”

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  10. Andy, stop frothing at the mouth – it’s effecting your comprehension. My term inhumane clearly applied to ideology, not people.

    But, I have always thought people like you really need to be classified as “alarmist” (if not something more pathological). You are always raving as if the sky was falling in.

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  11. I hardly count myself as “alarmist” when countries like the UK are already committed to soaring energy bills that people will find it very hard to afford.

    Worrying about a few fillings in your teeth will be the least of your worries

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  12. Sound very alarmist to me, Andy. Almost pathologically so.

    But perhaps you are just another grumpy old man.

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  13. Dear Andy,

    We’re fine, thank you.

    Sincerely, Europe

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  14. …..it is the eco-fascists who will be remembered….

    NASA and every single scientific community on the planet cannot fairly be described as “eco-fascists”.
    (shrug)

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  15. Dear Quintin
    We are not fine

    Sincerely

    Scotland

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  16. So Andy, think you as a tourist can speak for Scotland now?

    Those inbreds you talk about – who are they? The seven councillors who got their council into the poo over fluoridation?

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  17. Why do you think I am a tourist Ken? I spent many years in Scotland and. Have been going back every year for some time.

    My patents lived there for 25 years

    As usual, racist comments are to be expected on this blog.

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  18. …racist comments…

    Oh, which reminds me…
    Were you Phil by any chance? He did seem to talk like you. Of course, so did Mick.
    Just asking.

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  19. Well, this is a tad creepy. Denialism deja vu anyone?

    Andy | June 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    I hardly count myself as “alarmist” when countries like the UK are already committed to soaring energy bills that people will find it very hard to afford.

    Mick 2.0 | December 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    Great! Just hang on outside an old folks house in the UK, and watch them wheel the bodies out when they can’t afford to pay for their power bills.
    ………………………………………………………….

    Andy | June 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    As usual, racist comments are to be expected on this blog.

    Mick 2.0 | December 6, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    Your racist comments are offensive Ken
    ……………………………………………………………………………

    Andy | June 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    So let me remind you Ken, when you have finally ground the economies of the west into the ground, people are starving and dying of cold in their houses, it is the eco-fascists who will be remembered as one of the most brutal and inhumane political forces of recent centuries.

    Mick 2.0 | December 7, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    Which, I might add, you are using to justify deaths. As in a previous thread, where I mentioned the fuel poverty that will result as a consequence of green energy policy.You and your little Eco-fachist chums just ignored that…

    Phil | April 22, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    I just love reading the responses from left-wing faschist like Ken and The Vicar
    ……………………………………………………………….

    And that was only after a cursory search. To find that many parallels so quickly is..odd. Hmm. Someone needs new material.

    Links:

    http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/hypocritical-gratitude/

    http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/terrorism-and-the-wests-obsession-with-oil/

    Like

  20. Well Andy, that’s all nice and well, but it’s not exactly evidence of anything. So, your parents can’t pay their energy bills? I empathise with them, but not having the entire story, I remain doubtful of your claims.

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  22. Quentin
    Fuel poverty is massively increasing in the UK

    When the EU large combustion directive forces coal fired power stations to shut down, (which currently provide 40-50% of the grid) then there won’t be any energy to buy.

    Gas provides most of the rest after nuclear, and gas was at a record low recently. The UK govt seems reluctant to exploit its shale gas reserves

    So from where I am sitting it looks pretty bad

    Oh and the “racist” comment was for a laugh, since it is a standard left wing tactic to call someone racist when you have lost the argument or are about to go to bed (the latter in my case). Sort of like a left wing Godwin’s Law

    Intended as irony.

    Like

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