Unfortunately, the audio of the debate is not yet available for download, but I have to say, (just this writer's opinion, not having yet heard the debate), Schmidt's reaction seems naive. Of course science doesn't win the day. Not because the science is wrong. Whether it's wrong or right is of utmost importance, but it's immaterial to the debate -- as immaterial as whether or not, in a courtroom, the man on trial is, in fact, innocent or guilty. Guilt or innocence after all is not a matter of objective truth. It is what the jury decides it is, based on two competing narratives. That's why you hire the best lawyer you can find, and not necessarily the most scrupulous one.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not arguing that scientists should comport themselves like lawyers. God no! Just that they should make greater allowance to political reality, especially when they have agreed to engage in a public debate. Reports Schmidt:
The organisers asked us afterwards whether we'd have done much different in hindsight. Looking back, the answer is mostly no. We are scientists, and we talk about science and we're not going start getting into questions of personal morality and wider political agendas - and obviously that put us at a sharp disadvantage....The idea that a scientist cannot or should not get into "questions of personal morality" or "wider political agendas" strikes me as a conceit we can live without. It is like the myth of journalistic objectivity, when objectivity is not what we most want from journalists at all. What we want (what I want) is a reasonable inquiry and honest accounting in a manner that is well-told -- something which is served, not undermined, by showing one's cards.
As fate would have it, the same day the debate took place, the Guardian published this essay by Mark Hulme of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in which he argues a very similar point; namely, that it's time for scientists to stop kidding themselves.
Too often with climate change, genuine and necessary debates about these wider social values - do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time? - masquerade as disputes about scientific truth and error.Hulme concludes (and I obviously agree):
The danger of a "normal" reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. ... If the battle of science is won, then the war of values will be won.
If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage.
If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.Hulme calls this "post-normal" science, and perhaps it is, but it is not ahistorical. There are, after all, plenty of precedents for scientists revealing fully their values and beliefs. James Hansen. E.O. Wilson. Albert Einstein. To name a few.