Senators’ Inquisition Attempts to Stifle Science, Debate

Published February 1, 2007

Nicolas Copernicus was condemned for suggesting that the sun, rather than the Earth, was the center of our universe. The Catholic Church feared such knowledge could undermine the belief that Man was God’s most important creation … and ultimately undermine Church authority.

Giordano Bruno was persecuted and ultimately burned at the stake for arguing that space extended beyond our solar system. Again, the Church feared such knowledge would undermine its teachings and authority.

William Harvey was ridiculed by leading medical authorities of his day for suggesting the heart was the center of the body’s circulatory system. His critics knew this would mean the liver had no role in blood production and feared such knowledge could undermine accepted therapeutics of the era, including bloodletting. (After all, if the same blood re-circulated throughout the body, the old rules about the correct placement of leeches would no longer apply.)

Copernicus, Bruno, and Harvey were persecuted out of fear. Each ultimately was proven to be correct.

New Inquisition Underway

Today, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and John Rockefeller IV are engaging in persecution of their own, attempting to silence dissenting voices. Just what do they fear?

Perhaps they fear the solutions they prescribe will eventually be revealed to be the modern-day equivalent of applying leeches.

On October 27, Rockefeller and Snowe sent a letter to ExxonMobil Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex W. Tillerson demanding the company cease funding for two dozen or so organizations and individuals the two senators call a “small cadre of global climate change skeptics.”

Stifling Speech, Science

Although it is unclear which organizations Snowe and Rockefeller are seeking to defund, one thing is clear: This is an attempt to muzzle groups and individuals with whom the Senators disagree. It is an attempt to stifle free speech and, as such, should be condemned by Americans of all political persuasions, both left and right.

The Senators’ letter is fundamentally inconsistent with both the process of scientific method and rational public policy formulation.

Truth, Science Will Prevail

Scientific method isn’t about winning popularity contests. It’s also not about being with the majority opinion. It isn’t supposed be determined by politics. It is about attempting to limit bias or prejudice in the results.

Unfortunately, by attempting to cut off some of the funding for those who contribute to the diversity of both the scientific and public policy debate, Sens. Snowe and Rockefeller are attempting to bias the results.

They will fail, however, because funding from energy companies is not what is fueling the vigorous climate change debate.

What is fueling the debate is a genuine, sincere difference of opinion.

Evidence Is Essential

People of integrity will not change their views because Rockefeller and Snowe or anyone else demands it. People of integrity will not change their views because their funding is threatened or even cut off. People of integrity will not change their views because it is asserted that the “scientific debate is over.”

They won’t even do so when they are equated with Holocaust deniers.

People of integrity will change their views only when they are convinced by the evidence.

David Ridenour ([email protected]) is vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. This article first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission.