Column on AGW and Due Process

AGW Science and due process

Tibor R. Machan

        A
powerful and vital aspect of the fully free society would be that only
those burdens may be imposed on citizens that they have been
convincingly shown, via due process of law, to deserve. This is roughly
how the criminal law works. This is why the prosecution carries the
onus of proof and not the defense–all the defense (the skeptic!) needs
to do is point out serious holes in the case being mounted by the
prosecution and the jury will acquit.

        In contrast,
when in the old Soviet Union a police officer suspected someone of
criminal activity, this would pretty much close the case and the
accused would have to try to do something awfully difficult, namely,
prove a negative: "I am not guilty."

        The New York Times
reports in a recent issue that AGW–anthropogenic global
warming–scientists are beginning to mount a defense of their work in
light of the growing skepticism that follows some of the recent (more
or less serious) malpractice by some of them.  As The Times
presents the story, some of the scientists are pretty much baffled by
the persistent skepticism. They appear to believe that their education,
research, and academic credentials should suffice to make the case for
what they earnestly believe. 

        This suggests that the
protesting scientists share the attitude with the police officers of
the former Soviet Union–a suspect is guilty until proven innocent. 
These–though by no means all–scientists appear to want the skeptics
to conclusively disprove AGW. 

        But in a debate about
the AGW hypothesis it isn’t the doubters who owe the proof, just as in
a court of criminal law (as noted above) it is not the defense that
owes the proof but the prosecution.  And this is quite sensible: the
assertion that someone has done the crime is provable if true since
there is a reality corresponding to it; the assertion that someone
hasn’t done the crime is not except for showing that the case in
support of guilt is weak, not true beyond a reasonable doubt. (Proving
negatives is only possible once the argument for the positive is in
place, otherwise on is shooting in the dark!)

        What the
scientists need to realize is that a sizable portion of the public
holds to the idea: the onus of proof is on those asserting the AGW
theory.  And it needs to be a solid proof at that since the
consequences of accepting it imply Draconian burdens to be imposed on
the public, burdens no one ought to suffer unless there is powerful
proof that it is deserved.

        Al Gore & Co. are very
enthusiastic about imposing these burdens not just on Americans and
other citizens of developed countries but on virtually everyone across
the globe, even those whose chances to finally emerging out of poverty
will be severely undermined by them. Given the prospect of such public
policy consequence, the pro-AGW scientists simply must realize that
many of us don’t want a plausible theory, not even a probably true
one.  What we want is something that nails the case firmly, without any
reasonable doubt left.  But this of course the scientists haven’t
managed to produce and there is evidence that among them there are
quite a few skeptics–e.g., reportedly among physicists. In other words
the pro-AGW scientists need to realize that they don’t run the show and
cannot expect to lord it over the rest of us merely because they have a
strong suspicion about AGW.  That will not suffice for free men and
women, not by a long shot.

        Perhaps it is a sign of the
waning influence of the classical liberal political and legal tradition
that we are witnessing with these scientists insisting that their
current case alone should suffice and we need all comply, never mind
reasonable doubt.  That would be a devastating development for it could
establish a precedent that is completely antithetical to how a
government in a free country must treat the citizenry.  It would, in
short, begin to usher in dictatorship.  I doubt even scientists
confident of their belief in AGW want something like that to happen.

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