“When Benjamin Franklin inveted the lightning rod, the clergy, both in England and America, with enthusiastic support of George III, condemned it as an impious attempt to defeat the will of God.” -Bertrand Russell

You’ll often hear charges that science has become too politicized, but it’s the other way around. Science is our best way of drawing conclusions about the natural world, including how natural and human-caused phenomena work and interact together. When politics, biases, agendas or predispositions get in the way, however, they can derail actual knowledge and cause us to live in an inferior fashion. This isn’t new to modern times, but goes back at least hundreds of years, to Ben Franklin.

An artistic rendition of Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image credit: Benjamin West, c. 1816.

An artistic rendition of Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image credit: Benjamin West, c. 1816.

Franklin, who invented the lightning rod, came up with the design that would save countless buildings from fire once that rod was applied. Yet the inability of many dogmatic people – including King George III of England – to accept the reality of the science led to a huge number of disasters and fires, many of which revisionist historians still try and cover up today.

A Franklin-style lightning rod in Germany. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Frank Vincentz.

A Franklin-style lightning rod in Germany. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Frank Vincentz.

The science doesn’t lie, and the safety and efficacy of modern, properly-implemented lightning rods is proof of that. But the story of how science was politicized way back in the 1700s is something we can all learn from.

Comments

  1. #1 CFT
    February 23, 2017

    Ethan,
    Interesting choice of topic,
    But if you are going to make science a political entity, you are going to have to accept all that goes with it, namely, there will be ‘consensus’ driven science…which is not very good at investigating and determining scientific truth. You have even said as much yourself.
    You will also have to accept debate and contention a lot more than you are used to, and expect many of your favorite oxen to get gored…regularly. It might also surprise you which side of many ‘scientific’ arguments is actually being irrational and ‘dogmatic’…it’s often the scientists themselves.
    .
    This is what getting some of your beliefs challenged looks like:

    https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~loeb/sciam3.pdf

  2. #2 Wow
    February 23, 2017

    Uh,science is consensus. Without it everyone is at the “learn how to start fire” stage. Reality is what objectively is there, and absent solipsism, we find out what is real by asking everyone possible “What do you see there?”.

    Oh, and there’s already a shit-ton of that debate and contention in science for, well, the last 100 year or more, so nothing new there.

    What is new is the idea that somehow science has to bow to political pressure, or the “complaint” that it’s been politicised (by those who want to stop science).

  3. #3 Anonymous Coward
    February 23, 2017

    There is consensus, and there is consensus among experts in the field. It’s one thing to have a consensus among non-experts who have at best only superficial knowledge about a particular topic, and quite another to have consensus among a group of people who have spent a significant part of their lives engaged in serious study of that particular topic. The former is not terribly useful, but the latter means that they’re much more likely to be right.

    Now, you may have other recognised experts dissenting from the consensus of their peers. They will of course come under intense scrutiny, since they can mislead the lay public into thinking there is a scientific controversy where there is none, and they are actually crackpots or “experts for hire”. There is also the very tiny chance that these people are a new Galileo or Semmelweis, but this is extremely unlikely. Either way, they need to be carefully examined.

  4. #4 Denier
    United States
    February 23, 2017

    @Anonymous Coward wrote:

    There is consensus, and there is consensus among experts in the field.

    Consensus or consensus-among-experts doesn’t matter in science. Proof is what matters. For example in physics, scientists strive to achieve a certain sigma threshold, not a popularity threshold. If you only have a 1 sigma signal but a 98% popularity rating, you’ve got nothing.

    Consensus only matter in climate “science” because climate “science” isn’t real science.

  5. #5 Anonymous Coward
    February 23, 2017

    You know, if you only have a 1 sigma signal, you aren’t going to convince 98% of the physicists looking at your data that your theory is correct. You will not earn a consensus among the experts unless your data really is compelling enough. As I said, consensus among lay people doesn’t really matter.

    Consensus among experts seems like it is the only way that we who aren’t experts can know what the current state of any science is. For example, there is a consensus among astrophysicists that dark matter is real, and given that so many of these people who have studied it, and studied the alternatives agree that it is the best theory that fits the observations available, who am I, who haven’t done the same degree of study as they have, to disagree? I can go to some site that promotes an alternative to dark matter, but I don’t have the training and qualifications that an actual astrophysicist like our host Ethan has to be able to validate the alternative on its merits, so I can’t honestly say for myself whether it’s any good or not.

    The same is true of climate science. If the vast majority of the experts who have spent their lives studying the earth’s climate, people who have actually done the science themselves, reach a consensus that climate change is real, then I do think that we non-experts ought to listen.

  6. #6 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    “There is consensus, and there is consensus among experts in the field. It’s one thing to have a consensus among non-experts”

    There is also a difference between consensus because everyone who tries gets the same result and voting for what you’d like to be true.

    Deniers, including denier, deliberately conflate the two because they want their own broken opinions given the same weight as facts when reported by experts.

  7. #7 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    “If the vast majority of the experts who have spent their lives studying the earth’s climate, people who have actually done the science themselves, reach a consensus that climate change is real, then I do think that we non-experts ought to listen.”

    They haven, and you haven’t.

  8. #8 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    “Consensus or consensus-among-experts doesn’t matter in science. Proof is what matters. ”

    How do you know that? Because of consensus of what people say.

    But how do you know proof is real without doing the entire field of science? Why is it replicability is such an important thing in science? Because you have to rely on the experts when they have all looked and found the same thing, or have used the results of others and found that their work is consilient with the claims being true.

    Consensus is the result of many people independently coming to the same conclusion on the facts from doing the proofs themselves, so you don’t have to.

    Without consensus, there is no science, and there would be no point to repeatability or indeed falsifiability.

  9. #9 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    re #7, I thought that was a continuation of deniers’ post.

  10. #10 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    “For example in physics, scientists strive to achieve a certain sigma threshold, not a popularity threshold.”

    In climate science they have the same certain sigma threshold too.

    It’s you moronic deniers insisting “there’s still debate on this!” as a fake claim to pretend that we shouldn’t do anything because “it’s not settled yet! We need more proof!” that made the assessment of what the debate is and how far it IS settled that brought up the 97% (of which deniers are 1%, not the remaining 3%) figure. It IS settled. AGW is real and a real problem.

    Adapt by decarbonising our civilisation.

  11. #11 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    I’ve not heard denier complain about the republicans doing this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCScj2h_TT0

    Partisan much, denier?

  12. #12 rork
    February 24, 2017

    The previous method of warding off lighting strikes, supported by Thomas Aquinas, was the ringing of church bells. That bell ringers were often killed by lightening was not taken as a sign though.
    Ben’s own Franklin rod in his house had a small gap, with a bell that would ring when there was enough charge in the sky. The gap was small enough so that lightening could bridge the gap. Evidence mostly from a letter to his wife explaining how to make it stop making noise.
    A thing I find odd, is that how the kite and other experiments actually worked, and what they showed, was never explained to me in high school or university. His “battery” was unknown to me until I turned 50.

  13. #13 Sinisa Lazarek
    February 24, 2017

    Couple of things to note. Science doesn’t start or end at physics, let alone just HEP and inflation. So saying scientists care about sigma… is just as wrong as saying, all people in IT care only about shift registers.

    Secondly, inflation (as much as a buzzword and nice hypothesis) is nothing more than that. An idea.. which is based in science but which isn’t tested, and which might never be tested. So going with inflation might not be correct, but since inflation is not accepted as fact as is hasn’t been scientifically tested.. you can’t really use that as a strawman

  14. #14 Ragtag Media
    United States
    February 24, 2017

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

    Eisenhower’s farewell address

  15. #15 Sinisa Lazarek
    February 24, 2017

    On an off-hand. Looking at the painting of Benjamin Franklin… can’t help but wonder what are those naked boys suppose to represent?? Cherubims.. naked pre-teen dwarfs… minions… that B.F liked little boys.. I mean.. what the wtf 😀

    I’m the first for artistic expression and creative freedom and all.. but would like to have had a chat with the artist behind a mug of alle and ask really.. wtf dude 😀

  16. #16 CFT
    February 24, 2017

    WOW,
    you calling anyone partisan is laughable. I don’t think you understand your own bias, much less anyone else’s, only that you disagree with them and have a strange compulsion to be rude about it.

    Here’s something I don’t hear democrats complaining about too much. I guess your partisan bias is showing too:
    .
    http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/31322/
    .
    Many things believed by consensus (including in science) are often wishful thinking leading into near mindless idolatry. As an example, many educated people think solar cells are a great source of green energy, they aren’t.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ9-jYfpwfw&feature=youtu.be
    .
    And you should tone down the rhetoric about 97% of scientists consensus nonsense. Most of what is called ‘climate science’ isn’t, it’s mostly silly computer models based on simplified gas forcing equations with next to no climatic predictive power that people such as yourself have not bothered to inform themselves very much about.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THg6vGGRpvA&feature=youtu.be

  17. #17 Wow
    February 24, 2017

    SL, it’s just artistic license.

    As to Franklin’s experiment it was considered heresy since it was still supposed that god made lightning and his experiment was both proving that wrong and for the religious it was making god work to your beck and call (because, well, the bible CAN’T be wrong, ‘cos god wrote it!). So the cherubim there are also pulling god to make him act for Franklin.

    PS Ragbag, stop talking bollocks. The closest you’ll get to what you whine about are the private industries’ scientists, not because they’re bad people but that the corporation who owns their work refuse to let anything bad out.

  18. #18 Sinisa Lazarek
    February 24, 2017

    @ Wow

    yup.. know what cherubims represent. is just that i find it maybe a bid odd that the expressive force of ultimate creator in some christian art comes in a form of naked young boys.

    Odd thing is that cherubims, cupids etc are mostly drawn with wings, or oreols.. indicating some divine presence… these around old BJ do look like regular little kids.

  19. #19 Denier
    United States
    February 24, 2017

    @Anonymous Coward

    You will not earn a consensus among the experts unless your data really is compelling enough.

    As in all things polling related, it depends on how you ask the question. If physics worked like climate science, all you’d need to prove a quantum theory of gravity is to send out a questionnaire asking physicists if they believed their existed a quantum mechanical explanation for gravity. You wouldn’t even need a model that matched reality with reasonable accuracy. Just show everyone the results of your polling and demand some grant money.

  20. #20 Denier
    February 24, 2017

    @Sinisa Lazarek wrote:

    Science doesn’t start or end at physics, let alone just HEP and inflation. So saying scientists care about sigma…

    I never said they did. What I said was the scientists care about scientific proof while climate “scientists” care about consensus. I only used physics as an example.

  21. #21 dean
    leedwitt@gmail.com
    February 24, 2017

    “I never said they did. What I said was the scientists care about scientific proof while climate “scientists” care about consensus”

    Of course climate scientists are scientists, and your comment about them is completely false, motivated by three things:
    – you don’t understand the science
    – you have no clue about statistical analysis
    – you don’t like the results so they must be false

  22. #22 Denier
    United States
    February 24, 2017

    @dean wrote:

    Of course climate scientists are scientists

    Mid-way up California is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a science and engineering-centric university. Their New Freshman Profile page is enlightening:

    https://admissions.calpoly.edu/prospective/profile.html

    Cal Poly doesn’t consider Environmental Sciences to be Science. Moreover, the kids going into that program are the dumb ones. Business and Liberal Arts are harder to get into than Environmental “science”.

    If a school whose purpose is training scientists doesn’t consider climate “scientists” to be scientists, why should I? Why should anyone?

  23. #23 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    February 25, 2017

    @Denier

    Cal Poly doesn’t consider Environmental Sciences to be Science.

    It’s listed under “Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences”, and the qualification on graduating is a B.S. so your claim is a lie. Cal Poly DOES regard it as a science.
    If you make a statement that is such an easily disproven lie why should anyone believe anything you write here.

  24. #24 Anonymous Coward
    February 25, 2017

    Seriously, Denier, is that the best you can do? I looked at your link, and took a closer look at the college’s organisation. The reason why Environmental Sciences is set apart and included with Agriculture and Food is because they have a whole freaking College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences. Is it because they don’t think of it as science? Hardly. And no, if you look at the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences Department, it seems that they don’t even have a major for atmospheric science or meteorology: their focus is on geology, watershed, and wildfire, and fuels management. You’re barking up a blind alley.

    Maybe you can try to look at a university that actually does offer a meteorology major, like, say, Cornell, and try to explain from Cornell’s EAS Department’s website how Cornell University does not consider climatology a science.

  25. #25 CFT
    February 25, 2017

    Dean,
    You really should look into the ‘statistics’ of those GCMs you are defending as science. The entire Climategate fiasco occurred because a statistician couldn’t reproduce the results of a climate model, and revealed some pretty shoddy excuses for statistical sampling. One of the youtube video links I posted is actually about how the statistical analysis of GCMs reveals how they are making rather simplistic error correction errors with reiterative calculations, as well as entirely ignoring what error bars tell them about the predictive ability of their models.

  26. #26 dean
    United States
    February 25, 2017

    “You really should look into the ‘statistics’ of those GCMs you are defending as science.”

    No CFT, the “facts” you cite are bogus. The major analyses have been replicated multiple times, and “Climate gate” was a non-event – no evidence or fact of bad behavior turned up.

    Peddle your lies somewhere else.

  27. #27 dean
    February 25, 2017

    “Cal Poly doesn’t consider Environmental Sciences to be Science. Moreover, the kids going into that program are the dumb ones. ”

    Good lord you are an ignorant ass. Did you not read any of the information from that link, or did the big words put you off?

  28. #28 dean
    February 25, 2017

    “why should I?”

    We know why you don’t say it is a science: you don’t understand any of it and don’t like the results.

  29. #29 Wow
    February 25, 2017

    “You really should look into the ‘statistics’ of those GCMs you are defending as science”

    Well, yea, I have. Have you? Because they’re doing damn well, and you don’t seem to know about it:

    http://skepticalscience.com/comparing-global-temperature-predictions.html

    Pretty shitty lie you have there, quift.

  30. #30 Denier
    United States
    February 25, 2017

    @Anonymous Coward wrote:

    it seems that [Cal Poly] don’t even have a major for atmospheric science or meteorology

    They call it ‘Environmental Earth & Soil Sciences’. From their Dept page:

    The core of the earth and soil sciences curriculum is composed of geology, geography, soil science, and remedial basic science courses. The program is strengthened by a diverse array of related topical and technical specializations in climate change studies

    http://nres.calpoly.edu/es/

    That last bit has to hurt. Even their own department calls it climate change ‘studies’. It is like gender studies. All it does is set you to be a slightly more intelligent whiner with a boatload of student loan debt.

    Is it any wonder the Cal Poly Science Department won’t let them any where near them? The dim bulbs over there would ruin their contribution and post graduation employment statistics. I hope their climate change studies courses teach the proper way to ask “do you want fries with that?” so they can at least get a job.

    I’m agreeing with Cal Poly that the whole field should properly be demoted from climate “science” to climate change studies.

  31. #31 dean
    February 25, 2017

    In which denier demonstrates that in addition to being clueless about physics, math, and statistics, he is ignorant of the the fact that not all universities use the same naming schemes for programs.

  32. #32 Wow
    February 25, 2017

    “They call it ‘Environmental Earth & Soil Sciences’. From their Dept page:”

    And therefore call it a science, dumbass.

  33. #33 Anonymous Coward
    February 25, 2017

    Gosh, not only is this topic supposed to be literally about lightning rods, the whole idea of politicising of science is a figurative lightning rod in itself!

  34. #34 Denier
    United States
    February 25, 2017

    @Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the internet in 2017. EVERYTHING is a lightning rod.

  35. #35 Wow
    February 26, 2017

    Well that was a meaningless and vapid post, denier. Care to try something actually pertinent, or are we just not able to manage AC’s point and want to “reply” without saying anything? You sure as shit aren’t going to concede the point, are you.

New comments have been disabled.