Paul Krugman's latest column is headlined:
Republicans Against ScienceKrugman writes:
Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, isn’t a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. And that’s too bad, because Mr. Hunstman has been willing to say the unsayable about the G.O.P. — namely, that it is becoming the “anti-science party.” This is an enormously important development. And it should terrify us. . . .So, Mitt Romney says he doesn't know. Is this uncertainty "terrify[ing]"?
In the past, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has strongly endorsed the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern. But, last week, he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but “I don’t know that” and “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.” Moral courage!
The full Romney quote is: "Do I think the world's getting hotter? Yeah, I don't know that but I think that it is." So his basic conclusion is: "I think that it is," but he qualifies this with "I don't know." Isn't this appropriate for a layperson who's deferring to scientific consensus?
I've been reading Richard Feynman's book The Meaning of it All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist. Here's what Feynman said about uncertainty:
It is necessary and true that all of the things we say in science, all of the conclusions, are uncertain, because they are only conclusions. They are guesses as to what is going to happen, and you cannot know what will happen, because you have not made the most complete experiments. . . .Remember, Feynman said this about all scientific conclusions, including ones about much simpler questions than how much the billions of people in the world are contributing to climate change. And he was describing the level of doubt that even scientists should have about their own fields of expertise, let alone the appropriate attitude of a layperson. Feynman said this isn't some weird defect in science, but it's essential to science. If Krugman is terrified at the idea of not "knowing," maybe he's the one who's against science.
Scientists, therefore, are used to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain. This experience with doubt and uncertainty is important. I believe that it is of very great value, and one that extends beyond the sciences. I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right. Otherwise, if you have made up your mind already, you might not solve it.
So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, "How can you live without knowing?" I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing.