As I’ve said before, I don’t care if GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz doesn’t believe that human beings are causing climate change. It’s GM’s behavior that deserves our scorn, not the mental states of their executives.
But (per Kate below) the defense of Lutz offered by GM’s Tom Wilkinson cannot stand.
God knows what a corporate flack is doing deploying the work of Thomas Kuhn (author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) to defend the troglodytic comments of one of his company’s execs … on an internet message board. Anyone’s who’s ever read or studied Kuhn knows that ham-handed, pop-culture misapplications of his work are exceeded in number and egregiousness only by abuses of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
And yet. Wilkinson references Kuhn to argue that the theory of global warming is "only a paradigm" and that "paradigms need to be challenged." The alternative, apparently, is a "high-school-level understanding of science" that "assumes that what we know today will be the same forever." Apparently environmentalists could "benefit from a good Philosophy of Science course."
I guess "only a paradigm" is "only a theory" on steroids.
Suffice to say, no one who’d had the benefit of a good Philosophy of Science course would go out in public saying silly stuff like this. What deniers like Lutz are doing is not offering an alternative paradigm — no climate skeptic questions our basic physical, biological, and chemical understanding of the world. No climate skeptic has pointed to evidence that is inexplicable within the reigning paradigm. Think of it like arguing about why the Red Sox lost — you aren’t arguing about basic ways of viewing the world, you’re arguing about which forces and events from your common shared understanding of the world bear the most explanatory power.
Skeptics are arguing within a larger paradigm, and they are failing. While there are many interesting unanswered questions in climate science, the skeptics aren’t generally asking those — they’re going after the rudiments, like the fact that human CO2 emissions are driving the process. Those rudiments are well established enough, have enough explanatory backing and evidential support, that rejecting them is evidence of willful ignorance or non-scientific motivation, not brave intellectual independence. (The Renegade Scientist is largely a creature of pop culture myths anyway. Science is collective and incremental 99.9 percent of the time.)
And guys like Lutz don’t even deserve that much credit. He’s simply refusing to accept the best scientific understanding, not on the basis of any good alternative understanding, but based on the culture-war resentments and anti-regulatory biases of political conservatism.
The reigning scientific paradigm is not The Man, and people like Lutz who question it are not brave renegades. They’re politically motivated anti-rationalists. Kuhn’s got nothing to do with it.