Charles Krauthammer Doesn’t Know Science

Charles KrauthammerGoing back briefly to the Jonathan Chait article I mentioned earlier, there is one thing that Charles Krauthammer said that really bugged me. It’s been quoted various places but no one seems to have noticed the contradiction, so I figured that I should point it out.

The thing is that Krauthammer wants it both ways. Pure science that has no political implications is just fine, but applied science that indicates something that conservatives don’t want to do must be held to an impossibly high standard. He wrote:

99 percent of physicists convinced that space and time were fixed until Einstein working in a patent office wrote a paper in which he showed that they are not. I’m not impressed by numbers. I’m not impressed by consensus.

He is arguing that since Einstein changed physics, we can’t know that global warming is true. The problem with this is that there was this thing called the ultraviolet catastrophe. The entire physics community was worried about it. There was also the Michelson–Morley experiment. The entire physics community was worried about it. In the decades leading up to Einstein, physics was in crisis. It wasn’t the case that that physicists were sitting around thinking that they had it all figured out. It was quite the opposite.

On the other hand, now there is a consensus on relativity and quantum mechanics. But why should Kruthammer accept that consensus? After all, he just disregarded the consensus that he made up about late 19th century physics. Why is the new consensus any more believable than the old consensus? Scientists can’t be trusted!

His argument is very simple if we assume that his historical examples are correct (which they aren’t). There was a wrong scientific consensus about relativity before Einstein. Then the scientific community learned the truth and developed a new consensus, which is the truth. Thus, the consensus on global warming is wrong because the consensus in the past was wrong (even though it wasn’t).

What Kruthammer’s argument comes down to is that he doesn’t want to accept global warming as a fact because it will hurt the oil companies and others who he works for. Thus, he will say anything at all to avoid admitting the truth. And in 20 years, if he’s still alive, no one will treat him as the evil lobbyist who helped to stop the world from addressing its most pressing problem.

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